I know myself well enough to know that I like to shop. I like getting new things—picking them out, bringing them home, hanging them up or displaying them on a table (or lining them up in my fridge or pantry). It’s fun. Unfortunately, buyer's remorse is not quite so fun. Over the years, I’ve been able to cut back on the volume of "oops" purchases I make by using the two lists of questions here. If you’re prone to impulse shopping like I am, you may want to give them a try!

1. Can I get a discount?

Here, the key is to ask someone with the power to say "yes." You can most certainly ask your cashier, but the best way to get an affirmative answer is to ask a manager.

2. Do you have any coupons for what I'm purchasing today?

Even for the keenest eyes, if you don't know a store's layout well, it’s all too easy to miss seeing in-store coupons when you walk in the door. Asking simply ensures you aren't missing out on savings the store already offers.

3. Can I get an extra discount if I buy this item in bulk?

While it’s easy to think of "buying in bulk" as something that only happens at super warehouse chains like Costco, any store potentially has the ability to sell an item in bulk quantities, even if it’s not advertised. If you know you will need more of the item, find out whether a bulk buy is even possible, how many of the item would qualify, and what your discount would be.

4. Did you know I can get this item cheaper at (competitor's name)?

If you don't know if the store matches prices, ask. If you have seen the same item advertised for less, mention it. Since you’re already there at the store, you can save yourself a trip (including time and gas) by getting it at a discount.

5. Do you have any buy back, swap, trade-in or trade-up programs for this product?

Trade-in and trade-up programs are often offered for electronics and technology (phones, laptops, eReaders), but can also be available for appliances, gaming systems, and even clothing. As customers get more choosy about whom they shop with (due to having so many options) businesses get more creative in keeping customer loyalty—but you won't know if you don't ask.

6. Do you offer any special deals for members of (name organization)?

Many companies will offer discounts if the customer is a member of AAA, AARP, NEA, and other well-known associations and organizations. Some companies offer discounts to particular groups of people (for instance: moms, teachers, military). And many companies of all sizes negotiate special deals and discounts for their own employees.

7. Do you have a customer loyalty program or rewards club I can join today?

As the global marketplace becomes ever more hotly competitive, customer loyalty programs and rewards clubs are becoming big business in their own right. Most retailers—both for products and services—offer some type of incentive-based programs to encourage customer loyalty. Often this is in the form of buying so many of something and then getting a discount or freebie.

8. Can I use this coupon even though it’s expired?

Retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond are famous for honoring expired coupons, but many retailers would rather honor a coupon that is past its due date than lose out on the sale. It can't hurt to ask!

9. Do you know if any of these items will go on sale soon (if so, would you hold it for me)?

Finding a friendly employee or manager and inquiring about upcoming sales is an easy way to discover if that full-priced item you have your eye on this week will be half-price next week. If the answer is "yes," ask if the store has any kind of option to hold or reserve the item for you.

10. Do you have a mailing or email list that will alert me about upcoming discounts and sales?

Finally, the easiest way to stay alert for savings is simply to get on an email or mailing list for your favorite stores. KCL recommends setting up a separate email account just for your email lists so you can sign up at will without worrying you will clutter up your regular inbox.

5 Questions to help you avoid overspending

1. How many work hours does this item represent?

When I was waiting tables, I used to relate to purchases based on how many tables I would have to wait on to earn enough to pay for that-thing-I-want. Today, I calculate it based on how many articles I would need to write to afford it. When I was a contract employee, I would look at an item's price tag and see 2 or 5 or 10 hours of work. This is a great tactic to really feel how much the item costs—and avert overspending.

2. What else may I have to forego in order to buy this?

If you’re facing a situation of "either/or," thinking in terms of what you give up in order to gain the desired purchase can give you a better sense of where your spending priorities really are.

3. Is this one-of-a-kind (or can I get one just like it for less somewhere else)?

One-of-a-kind items are in their own class when it comes to purchase decisions. But if the item you want is carried by a store with several brands (for instance, Marshall's and TJ Maxx are under the same corporate umbrella) it may be worthwhile to do some local price checking before making a purchase.

4. Do I feel peaceful (or anxious) about this purchase?

If you are not rested; if you feel stressed about other issues in your life; if you are hopped up on caffeine; if you are recovering from allergies or illness, these are moments to steer clear of all but essential spending decisions.

5. Can I name at least three (preferably more) reasons why I MUST buy this?

The more (valid) reasons you can list for why you absolutely must have this particular item, the more likely it is you are making a truly useful, reasonable purchase.


15 Key Questions to Help You Score Extra Savings and Avoid Overspending