"Never pay retail" is a common mantra amongst frugal shoppers. While I think most of us don't want to inconvenience ourselves so much as to never pay full retail prices for items, there are some items that are so easy to get at a steep discount that no one should pay full price for them. With all the bargains available right now, the post-holiday shopping season is a particularly good time to put this mantra into practice.
1. Holiday decorations and cards - There's no reason to buy these items on December 1st each year for full price when you can buy them on December 26th for half the price. True, the selection will be smaller, you'll have to store your purchases all year (and remember where you store them), and you may have to dig through some disorganized piles to find what you're looking for, but these minor inconveniences are a small price to pay to save a significant amount of money.
2. Wrapping paper - Immediately after Christmas is the best time to buy not just your holiday paper for the following year, but all of your wrapping paper for the following year. Mixed in with the snowmen and Christmas trees, you'll find more generic looking paper, ribbon, and gift bags that can be used for birthdays, graduation, and any other occasion. Even festive colors like red, green, and blue can be made to look unseasonal with the right ribbon--red paper is just as good for Valentine's day as it is for Christmas, and green paper with yellow ribbon is just right for a spring birthday.
3. Cardboard boxes and other packing and shipping supplies - Whenever you buy something online, you get a free box with your purchase. Don't toss the boxes, bubble wrap, or any other materials you receive, and you'll always have shipping supplies on hand when you need them. If you need larger boxes, you can pick used ones up for free at retail stores, which always have more empty boxes than they can use due to all the merchandise they receive (you may have to visit several stores or make special arrangements to make this work, so don't wait until the last minute). Finally, don't forget about the free priority mail boxes available at the post office.
4. Clothing (shop on weekends at department stores, end of season sales, thrift stores, always cheap stores, stores with very frequent sales)
5. Cars - The biggest decrease in a car's value occurs the moment you buy it and drive it off the lot. Buying a car that's even a year or two old from someone else will save you thousands of dollars. Read more about saving money on your next car purchase here.
6. Cell phones - It's so easy to get a cell phone for $20 or less by renewing your contract or shopping on eBay. Just don't get caught up in the bidding frenzy and pay more than the phone is worth--with cell phones, there's always another phone auction right around the corner. With some patience, you will be able to get a good deal, even on a newer model. If you're willing to settle for a used older model or no-frills model, you can pay as little as $10, including shipping.
7. Portable storage media - Blank DVDs, blank CDs, and flash drives are almost always significantly on sale or free with purchase somewhere. Websites like Dealcatcher will help you spot these deals. You can also look for the freebies yourself in the weekly ads for office supply and electronics stores.
8. Books and Textbooks - The most expensive way to get a book, especially a textbook, is at a brick and mortar bookstore. In my experience, the cheapest way to get a book, especially a textbook, is to buy it used through Amazon or Half.com. Sometimes you can even get new, unread books at a discount through these sites by purchasing from third-party vendors.
If you're not content to check only two sources, use a book comparison shopping tool like AddAll. If you have books of your own that you don't want anymore, you can even get free books through Paperbackswap.com. I also recommend seeing if your local library has a book you're interested in before you decide to purchase it. With library catalogs being available online these days, you can look for a book in just a few seconds without even leaving home.
9. Magazines - The simplest way to avoid paying retail for a magazine is, of course, to subscribe. A magazine subscription costs around $1 - $2 an issue, while the cover price is generally $3 and up. If you just need some easy reading material for a plane, why not sign up for free trials of a couple magazines that interest you instead of forking over $4 or more for a newsstand copy at the airport? If it's a full year's subscription you're after, you can probably find a deal online if you keep your eyes peeled or do a Google search. Sometimes after making an online purchase, you'll get a popup offering you up to three free magazine subscriptions. The catch is that the company offering this deal wants your credit card number and the subscriptions will automatically renew in a year, so if you think you'll want to cancel and you know you won't remember, skip deals like this.
10. Frozen food - because it's non-perishable, you can easily stock up on frozen food when it's on sale and use it as needed. I've noticed that the sale prices on frozen food in particular will save you quite a bit over the regular price--so much so that I can't bring myself to pay the $7 regular price for a frozen pizza anymore, knowing that it will only cost me $2.50 if I can wait a week or two.
Photo by Paul Keleher