PEOPLE’s Real Tips for Real Life presents practical answers to some of the most commonly asked questions around finance, employment and preparing for the future—even when that future can seem very uncertain.
Back in pre-coronavirus pandemic days, when Suze Orman actually went to the grocery store, if she forgot to give the cashier her phone number when she checked out, Orman’s wife sent her back to get the savings. “She made me go back and do it again,” Orman says. “I’m not kidding.”
Similarly, if Orman throws away the junk mail, her wife, Kathy “K.T.” Travis, yells at her for trashing the coupons. Travis keeps her stash of direct-mail coupons and deals stuffed into the side pocket of the couple’s car. “Suze goes crazy that I save all this stuff,” Travis says, noting that her finance expert wife hates clutter. But together, they make money saving fun: After Travis grocery shops, the couple plays a game where Orman guesses how much money Travis saved – oftentimes 20 to 30 percent.
PEOPLE spoke to Orman and Travis and other shopping experts about how to find the best deals no matter how you’re shopping.
“With this pandemic, not only are people wanting to maintain social distance, but they’re also concerned about money,” says Joanie Demer, 37, co-founder of www.thekrazycouponlady.com. “Even when this pandemic is over, shopping is going to look different because of this time when we were all forced to consider options.”
Here are 7 tips on how to find the best deals whether you’re shopping online, in person or curbside.
Tip 1: Be Patient
When Orman and Travis shop online, they put an item in their cart – but they don’t click Buy. First, they wait.
“We let it sit there and sit there,” Orman says.
She almost always gets an email from the company within a few days, offering a promo code or a discount for her “forgotten item” if she completes the purchase.
Along those same lines, many online purchases arrive in a box that has a coupon included for 20 percent off the next purchase, Orman says.
“So if we want four of something, we order one,” Orman says. “We get it, then we get the ’20 percent off your next purchase’ coupon, and then we order the other three.”
Tip 2: Shop Curbside.
The best way to save money buying groceries is to schedule curbside pick-up, says Demer, the Boise-based co-founder of thekrazycouponlady.com.
There are never any fees – and you can still use a lot of manufacturer and retail coupons, she says.
“Kroger sometimes has better deals from the parking lot than they have in the store,” Demer says.
Other grocery store chains, including Giant Eagle and H.E.B., still accept coupons too for curbside pickup, she says.
Demer prefers to avoid shopping delivery apps like Instacart and Shipt. “I don’t like their fees,” she says.
But if you are looking for ways to save, many online delivery services offer promotions for first-time customers; maybe they’ll waive the first three delivery fees. On Costco.com, for example, same-day deliveries are powered by Instacart, and delivery is free with a $35 purchase.
Plus, online delivery services offer their own coupons and deals – be sure to click on them, as sometimes they include free delivery.
Tip 3: Price Compare
At the moment, there are some things you can’t wait to buy. If you see toilet paper or disinfecting wipes online, for instance, they might disappear if you waste a couple days trying to get a better deal. But many things are worth taking the time to research and price compare, says Sara Skirboll, shopping and trends expert at RetailMeNot.
“Make sure you are getting the best deal before clicking the first offer you see,” Skirboll says.
Tip 4: Use a Money-Saver App, No Matter Where You Shop
“I buy everything through Rakuten,” Orman says. Rather than going directly to a retailer’s website, she instead first logs onto Rakuten and clicks on a link to her preferred vendor from there. Rakuten then offers a percentage kickback on the purchase in the form of real cash back: They cut you a check or make a PayPal deposit.
“It’s highly lucrative,” Demer agrees about Rakuten. “It’s something to consider.”
Demer also recommends the rebate app Ibotta, which you can use for Instacart, Target or Wal-Mart purchases.
“The way these apps work is, you upload a photo of your receipt. The coupon value is credited to your account as a rebate,” she says. “You’re saving real money.”
She also suggests downloading Checkout 51, which works for online shopping.
“Checkout 51 is one of the only ones to take your online confirmation as a receipt. It works with delivery packing slips,” Demer says.
Another app she likes is Fetch Rewards, which allows you to scan your grocery store receipt – and for everything you buy, you earn points that you can then redeem.
“It’s points-based,” Demer says, “but the points convert into dollars.”
RetailMeNot, for example, offers a browser plug-in called Deal Finder that detects every available coupon for a website and automatically applies it. She also suggests the app SnipSnap, which allows you to take a photo of a print coupon and convert it into a barcode.
Skirboll also suggests downloading the investment app Acorns. Every time you buy something, it rounds up to the nearest dollar and invests the difference. The spare change will add up before you know it.
Tip 5: Tip Your Delivery Person – but Also Tip Yourself
Quarantine life is hard – so reward yourself. Create a tip jar, and give yourself a reward every time you accomplish a major goal, Skirboll says. Whether it’s doing a yoga video, completing a work project, or having a killer homeschool session, put some money away to enjoy later.
Tip 6: Shop in Places You May Not Have Considered Pre-Pandemic
When the first toilet paper rolls disappeared from shelves, people were finding they could buy them at Home Depot or OfficeMax. Check out drug stores – they’re running some of the best deals on essential items, whether you buy them online or through the pharmacy window at Walgreens, Demer says.
“Walgreens will run their same crazy drugstore promotions they do in-store. It’s made for some incredible walgreens.com deals,” Demer says. “They’ve had toilet paper online in the last 10 days. It never sticks around.”
Demer isn’t advising anyone to shop in stores right now due to many state’s shelter-in-place orders – but many parents she speaks to tell her that for whatever reason, they prefer to “glove and mask up” and go to the store and buy things themselves. If you are doing that, she says, consider a drugstore instead of a big box store or grocery for non-perishables.
“There will be fewer people in the store,” Demer says, plus, “You can grab those essential items and get a better price.”
Tip 7: Shop with a Credit Card that Pays You Cash Back
Though you should be using your credit card wisely during these uncertain financial times, when shopping for essentials, you might as well get an even better deal by shopping with a credit card that gives you cash back. Not sure which credit card you should use? Check out Bankrate.com or Nerdwallet.com to compare cards and choose one that makes sense for you, Orman says.
She personally loves her Discover and American Express cards because they give her three and five percent cash back – which is like an additional discount on the item, Orman says.
Demer loves the 5 percent back that the Target store card offers. She also receives 5 percent back when she uses her Amazon Rewards Visa offers on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases.
“That helps get those prices down,” Demer says. Right now, she has accrued $1,500 in rewards on her Amazon Visa.
She also loves that the American Express Blue Cash Preferred card offers 6 percent cash back — up to $6,000 on groceries (and some streaming services) each year.
“That’s really going to add up,” Demer says.
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