The rules to the shopping game are changing.
Retailers used to hold the power to give you a discount or not. But now, you can create your own discount and save more than retailers expect you to.
You can learn to shop smarter without a big time investment and without coupons. For the little effort you put in, you stand to win big.
And you might even get a little cocky about how good you are at swerving and ducking every store’s marketing gimmicks. That’s when you know you’ve reached pro status.
Here are the rules:
1. Every store is fair game even if you don’t think you can afford it.
Say buh-bye to thinking that you have to make six figures to afford a Coach purse. If you want these things, you can have them. You just need the tools to know what to look for and when to shop.
(Even if you don’t care about a Coach purse, you can learn how to save more at stores you’re already shopping.)
Here are our best tips for shopping popular stores and brands:
- 13 Ways to Get the Best Price on a New Coach Bag
- These 16 Victoria’s Secret Shopping Strategies Will Save You Hundreds
- 29 Ulta Hacks That Will Save You Serious Cash
- 22 Insider Hacks from a Sephora Employee
- 29 Genius (and Accurate!) Kohl’s Shopping Hacks
- 43 Must-Read Macy’s Store Hacks
- 16 Insider Secrets from a Seasoned Gap Employee
- 22 Bath & Body Works Hacks That’ll Blow Your Mind
- 26 Hobby Lobby Hacks That’ll Save You Hundreds
- 27 Michaels Store Hacks You Need to Know
If you have a friend with a Costco membership, you can ask them to buy you a Costco gift card so you can shop there without paying for the membership fee.
Or if you’re much nicer than I am, you can offer to split the cost of a Costco membership with your friend and pay her to buy you gift cards so you can shop free.
Avoid paying for Amazon Prime by making sure all of your orders are over $25 so you can get free shipping. This may include combining multiple purchases, but it’ll save you what’s soon to be $119 a year (increased from $99 a year starting in May).
3. Free store loyalty programs are mandatory.
Signing up for your favorite stores’ free loyalty programs is absolutely necessary in order to rack up points that can often be converted into store cash or discounts. This is one of the biggest ways you’re leaving money on the table. Kohl’s Yes2You Rewards and Kohl’s Cash are a great example. Speaking of which. . .
4. Never shop Kohl’s unless you have a couple promo codes or Kohl’s Cash or both!
Since you can stack up to four promo codes at Kohl’s, you should definitely shop online and only when you have at least two promo codes. If you have Kohl’s Cash, even better.
In fact, you can save up to 80% when you shop a store like Kohl’s only during big sales. Learn more about shopping smarter at Kohl’s.
5. Don’t pay for airline tickets — get them free instead.
Yes, mileage rewards credit cards. No, you don’t spend more money on your credit card to earn more miles.
6. Use store apps against each other.
Most of the stores you’re shopping at have their own app, which probably isn’t news to you.
But many of these apps have a price scanner tool you can use to compare with online prices, or use against another store. For example, you can use the Amazon app to find out if an item Target is selling is actually cheaper on Amazon. Then ask Target to match the price.
Also, when you stack coupons with app or mobile discounts, you stand to save more than the store expects you to. #win
7. Book a hotel, but never settle for the price you paid.
Book through any platform and then email your booking to DreamCheaper. They’ll search for a lower rate and rebook you if they find one. Just be sure to book rooms with a free cancellation policy, because DreamCheaper will cancel your hotel and rebook the cheaper room.
DreamCheaper takes 20% of the difference they saved you. (Fine by me!)
8. Only dine out when Kids Eat Free or you have a discounted gift card to use.
When you’re shopping smarter, eating out is suddenly affordable. You can save up to 50% on your meal when you pay with a discounted gift card from Gift Card Granny. And then get even more savings by choosing a restaurant that lets kids eat free.
9. Don’t plan your weekly meals around Pinterest. Shop around sales instead.
This one takes self-control, so it’s a little harder than the rest. But if you can buy large quantities of main staples like meat, pasta, tortillas, freezable produce, etc. when they’re at their lowest price and then plan your weekly meals around what you have on hand, your grocery budget will be able to breathe again.
Weekly trips to the store will consist of grabbing filler items, because you’ve got a rotating stockpile of expensive staple foods that you paid a fraction of the price for.
10. Triple-dip every purchase so you get three times the money back when you shop online.
You can get cash back three times on one purchase when you follow this strategy:
- Link your rewards or cash-back credit cards to Walla.by, and it’ll tell you which card to use for every purchase in order to maximize your points. For example, some cards may offer more points when you use them on groceries or fuel.
- Shop with that card through Ebates to get 2-5% cash back.
- Link your credit cards to Drop in order to earn points toward gift cards for your purchases. Drop is like a universal loyalty program where you choose five stores you frequent and then you start earning when you shop there.
In the end, you’re getting the maximum possible from your credit card rewards, 2-5% back from Ebates, and gift cards through Drop on each purchase.
11. Never, ever pay for shipping!
There are two reasons why you should never pay for shipping.
First, there are so many stores that offer free shipping with no minimum purchase. Shop those.
Second, you can opt to shop online and pick up your item in store instead of paying for shipping.
12. Learn how to decode price tags.
Most price tags have a story to tell. Is the item newly marked down? Is it on its final markdown? When you find out how to read price tags, you’ll get really good at answering these questions with just a glance at the tag.
For example, at Macy’s, yellow price tags ending in 6 are final markdowns while blue tags ending in 3 are second-to-last markdowns. When you see a blue tag, you’ll know the item is due for one more markdown, and you can decide if it’s worth waiting for or not based on inventory. Sometimes it’s better to buy before a final markdown if you really want the item!
13. Skip Williams Sonoma — you can get their exact items on Amazon.
I found 10 Williams Sonoma items for less on Amazon recently. I’m certain there are more, so if you’re considering splurging on something for your kitchen, always check Amazon before you throw money at Williams Sonoma.
14. Only buy a Starbucks drink when you’re at Target.
You’ll save 5% in addition to whatever “star” points you’re earning through Starbucks’ loyalty program.
How? Sign up for a Target REDcard (it’s a debit card, not a credit card) and buy a Starbucks gift card with it. Upload your gift card to the Starbucks app, and pay via app to earn your star points.
15. Don’t see a single movie in the theater without MoviePass!
MoviePass is $9.95 per month, and for that price you get to see four movies. That ends up being about $2.50 per movie.
I promise it pays for itself after one movie a month since an average showing is close to $10!
16. Always take a picture of your grocery receipt before you throw it away.
Rebate apps like Ibotta, Fetch Rewards and Checkout51 want to give you money when you buy certain items, take a picture of your grocery receipt and upload it to their app. With Fetch you don’t even have to buy certain items. You just need to upload your receipt!
You can usually cash out after you’ve earned a certain amount of money. Learn everything you need to know about rebate apps.
17. Don’t pay full price for Apple products.
You can expect to save up to 70% on smaller Apple devices like Apple Watch and iPad when you use Kohl’s Cash and get a sale price.
And you should aim for up to 15% savings on Mac computers and iPhones at the Apple Store.
18. If you see a cheaper price online, ask the store to give you that price.
This is called a price match, but it’s not a price match with a competitor, it’s a price match with a store’s own website. Many stores offer this perk but people don’t realize they can do it.
It’s worth showing the store associate the item on your phone and asking if they’ll give you the online price.
19. Buy high-end brands like Free People, Hudson, and Michael Kors at discount sites like 6pm.com.
It’s all real stuff — not knockoffs! You’ll get up to 80% savings on top brands like Free People, Michael Kors, Coach, Hudson Jeans and more.
This is one of the biggest shifts in retail — discount e-commerce sites beating out major brick-and-mortar retailers’ pricing on items. I recommend you get cozy with 6pm, because there are a lot of deals there on items you’re probably overpaying for.
20. Make Nordstrom Rack your new BFF.
Speaking of discount retailers, don’t overlook an individual retailer’s discount site, because there are savings that rival and sometimes even beat Amazon prices!
Nordstrom Rack is a great place to buy Spanx, The North Face gear and more. Don’t be intimidated by the name. It’s infinitely cheaper than the full-line Nordstrom store, and if you don’t have a Rack in your city, shop online! Find out how to hack the Rack.
21. Get high-end kitchen brands like Calphalon, All-Clad and LeCreuset at T.J.Maxx, and save up to 60%.
I don’t mean to pick on Williams Sonoma so much, but this is another reason to be content to just window shop.
T.J.Maxx has so many high-end kitchen brands that there’s truly no reason to pay full price. See all the name brands T.J.Maxx offers for less than a department store.
22. Browse Milled to find a promo code, and take a hard pass on all that junk email.
Milled will show you every promo code you want, without having to get on email lists at all your favorite stores. Say no to junk email, and browse Milled instead. Plus you can search through months’ worth of emails to figure out when a store last had a big sale.
23. Pick five Amazon items you need every month, and use Subscribe and Save to pick up 15% savings.
If you’re a Prime member, the discount nudges up to 20% off. I recommend using Subscribe & Save for diapers, toilet paper, and anything else you know you’ll need on a monthly basis.