With the current cost of living in South Florida, getting the most for your dollar has become more important. Savvy shoppers can save hundreds, even thousands, of dollars by shopping carefully.
Using coupons is one way to save on groceries, but it’s not the only way. Timing your purchases to take maximum advantage of sales can save you even more. Buying clothing at thrift shops and consignment stores not only saves you money but sometimes provides you with a bigger selection, since the clothing is not just from this year, but many years.
You can save on electronics by buying used and refurbished. And, not only is furniture significantly cheaper on Craigslist and at yard sales, the transient nature of South Florida ensures that there are always many quality choices.
If you want to buy new, shopping clearance sales is always an excellent strategy, as is shopping at discount and outlet stores. Ordering online? Look for a promo code first.
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Joining mailing lists and loyalty clubs is a smart way to get additional coupons and deals — if you don’t shop more because of all the reminders. One strategy is to direct all your sales emails into a hidden file and only look at them when you’re shopping for something specific.
Looking for a new car? You’re better off buying one that is a few years old, because cars lose the most value in their first few years.
The Internet makes shopping much easier than it used to be, sometimes too easy. Before you hit the stores, compare prices online to find out where you can get the best deal. Be sure you read the descriptions carefully so that you compare identical items.
Here are the strategies that will serve you best in 2016.
Food / toiletries
We all need groceries, and savvy shopping can save an average family hundreds of dollars a month. Coupons help, but shopping store sales can save you even more. Many items go on sale in a predictable cycle (monthly, every three months, every six months). Keep an eye on the items you use regularly, and time your purchases so that you buy them only when they’re on sale.
If you buy toiletries, paper products, cleaning products, pet food, granola bars, candy or cereal, clipping coupons is worth your time. To save the most, use the coupons when your items are on sale. You can find coupons in the Sunday newspaper, online, in stores and in mail flyers. Publix and Winn-Dixie allow you to clip coupons electronically. Target has its own coupon app, as does Whole Foods. The Ibotta app gives you cash back on purchases of groceries and household products if you’re willing to scan and upload your receipts.
You can find each store’s coupon policy online, and it pays to study up. Publix, for example, will accept two manufacturer’s coupons on BOGOs, one for each item. That gives you two items for less than the regular price of one. (You will need printed coupons as the digital coupon app allows you to clip only one coupon per product.) Publix accepts competitor’s coupons, but which ones varies by store. Most South Florida grocery stores will not accept coupons shown on a mobile device, but you can often use their apps to add electronic coupons to your account while you’re in the store.
Walmart and Target are among many stores that match prices, but the items have to be identical, and the price-matching policy comes with a long list of rules. Walmart’s app even includes a price-comparison tool that allows you to scan your receipt to determine whether you are eligible for a refund. PetSmart accepts competitor coupons.
Don’t forget value stores such as Aldi, Save-a-Lot and even dollar stores when you’re shopping for food. Those no-frills stores have smaller selections but often excellent prices. Aldi’s, for example, offers its own brand of many products as well as low prices on produce.
Some store-brand products are cheaper than name-brand products with coupons, so you’ll have to decide what works best for you. When you’re comparing products, be sure to look at quantities; some containers of ice cream, for example, are bigger than others. If a store is out of an advertised special, ask for a raincheck that allows you to get the same price later. Some stores, including Publix, will let you use a coupon that has expired but was valid when the rain check was issued.
Some stores reserve sale prices for members of their loyalty programs. Those include CVS, PetSmart and Pet Supermarket. The programs are free to join, and most allow you to tie your phone number to your account so you don’t have to carry membership cards. Combine sales prices, manufacturer coupons and store coupons for the best deals. At CVS, be sure to print out your coupons at the machine near the entry.
Winn Dixie’s Fuel Perks programs gives gasoline discounts at Shell and other participating stations based on your grocery purchases. You can join the program online or in the store.
If you want to get serious about couponing, print out the coupon and price-matching policies for the stores you frequent and carry them with you, so you can point out details to clerks if needed. You can also check online for coupon matchups (search for “coupon matchup” and name of store) to find the best deals, store by store, matching coupons to sales.
Prescriptions / medical care
These days, more of us are paying for medication out of pocket, even when we have insurance. It pays to check online for coupons before you shell out big bucks for a drug. Or, if you are buying the drug yourself, you can check for the best price online or with an app. One favorite is GoodRX.com, which sometimes has coupons. (A generic ear drug with a $184 co-pay with my insurance was $24 with a coupon from GoodRx.com, but I had to tell the pharmacy not to run the purchase through the insurance at all to get that deal.)
If you are buying a common drug, check generic equivalents, often available for $4 or less at stores such as Walmart, Target, Walgreens, Kmart and Publix. (Each has its own list of low-price drugs, so it pays to shop around.) Publix even provides some drugs for free, including common antibiotics, metformin for diabetes and two drugs for high blood pressure.
When you visit a doctor, ask whether there is a cheaper drug that will work just as well. Doctors unfamiliar with prices will sometimes give you two prescriptions, one for a new drug and one for an older drug. Rather than having your prescription called in to the closest pharmacy, you may prefer to get it on paper and shop around. Or you can shop around and have it called in later.
Clothing and household goods are so frequently discounted that you should never have to pay full price. Gently used — and sometimes new — clothing is available for a few dollars in thrift stores, while consignment stores offer upscale or designer clothing at a significant discount. Thrift stores also are a good place to find home décor items, such as lamps and bedspreads.
Major retailers run frequent clearance sales, and you can save even more at stores such as Macy’s and Kohl’s with coupons and savings passes from the newspaper, online or in the store apps. Because brick-and-mortar stores have suffered from online shopping, you can sometimes find even better deals in-store than on the Internet.
Stores that buy overstock and last-season styles — such as Marshall’s, Ross and T.J. Maxx — always offer clothing and household goods at a discount, and those prices get even lower on clearance. Target and Walmart also offer inexpensive clothing — some of it better than you may think. Nordstrom Rack offers higher-end clothing for less, and all clothing stores can offer great values if you shop the clearance racks.
You can find less expensive clothing at outlet stores, such as those in Sawgrass Mills and Dolphin Mall. Be aware that much of it is often a cheaper line manufactured specifically for the outlet store.
If you’re looking for something for your home, search for it online. You’ll be easily able to compare prices from Amazon, local stores and outlets such as Overstock.com and Wayfair.com. Before you hit the “checkout” button, do a search for promo code or coupon and the place you’re shopping. You may find an additional discount.
Electronics / furniture
You can get furniture in good condition for a fraction of its original price on Craigslist or Facebook groups, from yard sales and via friends and neighbors. People who are leaving town and leaving their furniture behind offer great deals every day.
Furniture at thrift stores isn’t always as nice, though the Habitat ReStores in Miami and Fort Lauderdale often have nice used furniture at good prices, and Miami’s Bargain Barn typically has a large selection. Slightly used office furniture in good condition is also available from a number of stores, including AMC Liquidators in Tamarac and Office Furniture Warehouse in Miami. Many such stores advertise on Craigslist. Furniture rental companies also sell used furniture, though it’s not always the best quality.
Used appliances can also be a bargain; also check the clearance sections at Home Depot, Lowe’s and other big-box stores for deals. Many stores have clearance centers for furniture and appliances, including Best Buy, City Furniture, Rooms to Go, Sears and Macy’s. BrandsMart and hhGregg routinely offer values. Sometimes the price is negotiable, especially if you are buying more than one item. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
While some of the furniture at Ikea is a bargain, some is not. If you go, be sure to check the clearance section for already assembled furniture at a discount. (Tip: If you buy or borrow an electric screwdriver (less than $20), Ikea furniture is much easier to assemble.)
You can buy refurbished electronics on eBay and Amazon, as well as from companies such as Apple and Dell. Those products come with the same warranties as new models, but you get a discount. Once you find a product you like, check prices online and in stores to see which outlet offers the best deal.
When new models of phone, tablets and other electronics are released, the older models are discounted and often will serve you just as well.
If you’re shopping for a computer, check with local shops that build to order as well as the online outlets of major computer makers. Those deals are often better, or the products are more customizable, than what you can buy in a retail store. Store demonstration models are sometimes available at deep discount.
Costco offers good deals on electronics, though you have to be a member. Plus, Costco extends the warranty on computers, TVs and major appliances at no cost.
One thing you almost never want to pay for is an extended warranty. Stores push those hard because they make a lot of money from them. But the extended warranties may duplicate manufacturers’ warranties. And, Consumer Reports points out, products seldom go bad during that warranty period. You may find that your credit card gives you an extended warranty free.
Teresa Mears is the publisher of Miami on the Cheap, Fort Lauderdale on the Cheap and Living on the Cheap. She has been bargain shopping in South Florida since 1985.
Though some of South Florida’s most beloved thrift stores are now gone, many good ones remain. They include:
▪ Goodwill Stores: Clothing, housewares and furniture, located throughout Miami-Dade and Broward counties. goodwillsouthflorida.org.
▪ Lotus House Thrift Store: Clothing and furniture; proceeds benefit program for homeless women and children. 2040 NW 7th Avenue, Miami; lotushouse.org.
▪ Miami Rescue Mission Bargain Barn: Massive warehouse of furniture and knickknacks; proceeds benefit Rescue Mission programs. 2233 NW 1st Court, Wynwood. Miamirescuemission.com.
▪ Out of the Closet: Clothing and housewares stores in Davie, Wilton Manors and downtown Miami; proceeds benefit AIDS Healthcare Foundation. OutoftheCloset.org
▪ Red White and Blue Thrift Stores: The Hialeah store is known for its designer finds; there’s also a store in North Miami. redwhiteandbluethriftstore.com
▪ This ‘N That Shop: Coconut Grove thrift store supports outreach programs of Plymouth Church. 3155 Commodore Plaza.
CONSIGNMENT & VINTAGE STORES
▪ Consign of the Times: Second-hand designer clothing, in Miami Beach and South Miami. consignofthetimes.com
▪ Consignment Bar: Luxury and designer clothing just north of the Miami Design District. 5580 NE 4th Court, #41. consignmentbar.com
▪ Fly Boutique: Vintage clothing and furniture, in MiMo District. 7235 Biscayne Blvd. flyboutiquevintage.com
▪ Miami Twice: Long-standing boutique focusing on vintage and modern clothing. miamitwice.com
▪ Second Time Around: Upscale clothing consignment shops in Fort Lauderdale and Miami; 2ndtimearound.com
▪ Select: Vintage furniture and accessories; 7646 Biscayne Blvd. selectdecoratives.com
▪ Twice: Vintage and contemporary clothes and jewelry; 4040 S. Red Road, Miami. http://www.twiceconsign.com
RENTING DESIGNER DUDS
Whether you’re hankering for designer goods you can’t afford to buy or prefer to wear an outfit only once, rental sites offer alternatives.
Some sites offer maternity wear as well. Some services allow you to buy clothing you really like at a discount off the retail price.
Here are websites where you can rent designer dresses or handbags. Most offer free shipping and laundry service.
▪ www.gwynniebee.com. For a subscription fee starting at $49 per month, this service allows women sizes 10-32 to choose, wear and return. Members can also keep the clothing for an additional fee.
▪ www.Renttherunway.com. You can rent special-occasion clothing by the garment or sign up for unlimited clothing rentals for $139 a month. For instance, the Nicole Miller Tempted by You Gown, which retails for $995, can be rented for $90. The Escada Jazz Train dress, which retails for $4,525, can be rented for $650.
▪ www.Letote.com. Three garments and two accessories start at $59 a month.
▪ www.themrcollection.com. Clothing for men can be rented starting at $49 a month.
▪ www.bagborroworsteal.com. For purse fanatics who don’t want to pony up thousands. Rental of Louis Vuitton handbags starts at $150 per month; the Gucci XL Tote — available for sale for $2,490 on the Gucci website — rents for $300 a month. Used bags are also offered at a discount off the regular price.
WHAT’S ON SALE, WHEN
Sale seasons are less significant than they used to be, and they vary by year depending on how much product stores have left after the high season. DealNews.com, one of our favorite sites for finding deals, publishes a monthly roundup of what to buy and what not to buy. Consumer Reports created a list in 2014. Drawn from these lists, and some auto advice from Edmunds.com, here are some guidelines.
January: Exercise equipment, linens, toys, TVs, winter clothes, Christmas décor items
February: Furniture, tax software, winter clothes, TVs
March: Digital cameras, small electronics, winter sports equipment,
April: Computers, lawn mowers
May: Athletic apparel and equipment, carpet, lawn mowers, small electronics
June: Carpet, computers, furniture, kitchen wear, swimsuits
July: Furniture, outdoor furniture, swimsuits
August: Outdoor furniture, cars
September: Bicycles, digital cameras, gas grills, small electronics, cars
October: Bicycles, computers, lawn mowers, cars
November: Baby products, toys, TVs, bicycles, cars
December: Bicycles, home appliances, toys, TVs, small electronics, cars