Are you feeling the pinch of the economic downturn? You don’t have to compromise your lifestyle to save up to thousands of dollars each year.
Everybody loves a good deal, especially in belt-tightening times like the ones we find ourselves in right now.
By Archie D’Cruz »
With the economy going south and the forecast being for even tougher months ahead, there has never been a better time to put the squeeze on your spending.
The one upside of the current recession is that it has come in the Internet Age – making it easier than ever to save big without compromising your lifestyle. Featured below are our 20 top tips to stretch your dollar to the max.
1. Coupon sites make savings a snip. A number of sites have sprung up in recent years that allow you to access coupons for brand-name products that you probably already use. The added advantage over coupons that you receive along with your community newspaper is that, when on the website, you can type in the name of the products you use and see if there are savings available. Some sites, like frugalshopper.ca, offer printable coupons, others like save.ca will mail you the coupons you request. Also check out canadianfreestuff.ca and canadianshoppingdeals.com for more coupon links.
2. Explore free online classifieds. Forget the newspaper classified ads, the best deals to be found today are on Craigslist (craigslist.com) and eBay-owned Kijiji (kijiji.ca). Unlike with newspapers, it costs nothing to post an ad on these sites, so there are literally thousands of products and services being offered on any given day. Many of the posts are by commercial businesses which offer new products at deeply discounted prices. Craigslist even allows you to restrict your search to sellers in York Region.
3. Join Canada’s bargain hunting community. If you’re constantly on the lookout for bargains – used or new, in-store or online, you simply cannot go wrong with Red Flag Deals (redflagdeals.net). Easily the biggest site of its kind in the country, it has everything you can ask for, from coupons and deal alerts to price comparisons, contests and freebies. With close to 200,000 members, the forums are always humming with activity. Bookmark this site - you’ll love it in December when they sneakily post all the big-box retailers’ Boxing Day flyers up to a couple of weeks before Christmas!
4. Look for online coupon codes. An increasing number of Canadians now shop online. Many major retailers, like Sears, Office Depot and Best Buy, allow you to enter a coupon code for additional savings before checking out. Don’t have a coupon code handy?
That’s where sites like retailmenot.com, goodbazaar.ca and couponcraze.com come in, listing currently working codes for dozens of Canadian retailers.
5. Love books? Buy them online. Remember that book you saw in store for $45? You just might find it online for less than half the price. It’s a little known secret that Chapters’ (chapters.indigo.ca) online prices differ from those in store (because of the competition they face in cyberspace, according to one source). Shipping is free for orders over $39 (pre-tax). Another great site for bargain books is St Catherines-basedbookcloseouts.com, with discounts of up to 90%.
6. Why buy when you can trade? New websites are making it easier for people to trade books, movies, music and video games. It’s a simple system where you earn points for mailing a requested item and you can spend the points on titles you want. All you really pay for is the postage. The two most popular sites in Canada are titletrader.com and bookmooch.com, while other major US trading sites like paperbackswap.com and swaptree.com are expected to invite Canadian members soon.
7. Fill up on Mondays and Thursdays. Statistics show that gas prices in Canada tend to be at their lowest in the morning on Mondays and Thursdays. If possible, time your fill-ups to coincide with these days. To find the lowest price for gas in your area on any given day, check gasbuddy.com. To find out if it’s better to fill up today or wait until tomorrow, visit Liberal MP Dan McTeague’s website (mcteague.ca) - he reveals the price at the pumps 24 hours in advance!
8. Don’t buy two if you don’t need to. See those “2 for $10” promotions at big-box stores like WalMart? If the price is right and all you need is one, don’t bother with buying two. Most store checkout systems aren’t equipped to scan a single item at a higher per-unit price, so don’t waste your money.
9. Refinance your mortgage. Interest rates are at their lowest point in years. If you’re paying a higher rate than you can currently get, now might be the right time to refinance. Even accounting for penalties for ending your current term early, you will likely come out way ahead in the deal. For exactly how much you would save, use the Refinance Calculator at gmacmortgage.com. In most cases, your existing lender will be happy to refinance and maintain you as a client.
10. Bank smart. When you’ve got cash to spare, don’t leave it lying around in your bank account where it earns little or no interest. Banks like ING Direct (ingdirect.ca) and ICICI (icicibank.ca), which have low overheads since most of their transactions are online, offer significantly higher interest rates, with no monthly fees, no minimum balances, and easy transfers to and from your existing bank.
11. Green and free. Canadians have never been more environmentally-conscious, which is why movements like Freecycle (freecycle.org) make so much sense. Essentially, it allows members to recycle or acquire that special something for free. There are Freecycle groups in most major cities in Canada.
12. Buy off-season. It’s a widely-known fact, but surprisingly few people take advantage of it (except perhaps on Boxing Day). Prices of seasonal items are at their lowest point right after the event, and for products without an expiry date, this is the ideal time to buy. Whether it’s winter gear, kids’ Valentine’s Day cards or Halloween masks, it pays to think a year ahead.
13. Use price-matching. Many leading retailers, including Future Shop, Home Depot and Staples will match the price of a competitor, some will even offer an additional discount. If you have a preferred retailer you wish to buy from (to take advantage of loyalty points, for example), this is the way to go.
14. Don’t pay for extended warranties. Most electronics and consumer appliance retailers will push you to buy an extended warranty when you make a purchase. There’s a good reason not to waste your money. The independent Consumer Reports (consumerreports.org) has published data that shows appliances almost never break down during warranty periods, and when they do, the average cost of repair is roughly the same as the cost of the warranty.
15. Buy electronics accessories at smaller stores. Retailers like Best Buy and Future Shop often have good deals on electronics, but when it comes to accessories like cables, connectors and batteries, you can usually get comparable quality at your corner electronics store or even a WalMart.
16. Compare before you buy. When buying computers, electronics or appliances, it pays to compare prices before you decide where to buy.
Thanks to sites like pricegrabber.ca, shopbot.ca and pricecanada.com, you can find the lowest price from the comfort of your home.
17. Call long-distance for cheap. Do you make a lot of long-distance calls? Companies like Skype (skype.com) and MagicJack (magicjack.com) use VOIP technology to offer excellent low-cost plans. Skype offers unlimited calling to any phone in Canada or the US for just $2.95 a month, while MagicJack, already hugely popular in the US, will set you back US$40 the first year (including the hardware), $20 a year thereafter.
18. Call long-distance for free. You can now make free long-distance calls to select cities in Canada, including any of the 905 areas to the west, plus Vancouver, Edmonton, Montreal and Halifax. The only catch is that you have to listen to a short commercial message (typically just a few seconds). To use the service call 416-644-3733, for area coverage and more details, visit 644free.com and zerocents.ca.
19. Shop at no-frills stores. Don’t turn your nose up at low-cost grocery chains. Go ahead and purchase your meat and veggies at the stores you trust, but when it comes to that $6.47 Dr Oetker frozen pizza at Hi-Price Mart, you can bet it will taste exactly like the $3.99 Dr Oetker frozen pizza at Valu-Store.
20. Dare to experiment. Product price-points are determined at least in part by marketing departments, who are aware that a more expensive product is generally perceived by consumers as being better than its competitors. Rather than take this for granted, use product reviews and expert comparisons to guide your buying decisions. The W Network’s (wnetwork.com) Shopping Bags section has an extensive product reviews section that is worth exploring. For user-reviews of products, take a look at epinions.com, for expert comparisons try consumerreports.org.
The lesson we can take from this: You need a computer with internet access to do all those things mentioned above. But don't fret, there are public libraries offering internet access for free or at an affordable cost. Enjoy shopping!
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