A woman standing in front of a statue

Savvy Shopper Tricks and Treats

You think shopping is what you do when you buy things. That’s true, but it’s more than that. Shopping is a competition with you on one side and retailers on the other. And whenever the store gets more of your money than you planned to leave behind, they’ve executed a brilliant shopping trick. They win.

What follow are the tricks that retailers don’t want you to know. Learn them well and you’ll you’ll turn the tables on them. You’ll start winning at the shopping game!

A woman standing in front of a statue

TRICK: Buy only the loss-leaders and get out of there

A loss leader is something retailers sell so cheap, they’re losing money on the deal. Buy-one-get-one-free (BOGO) is a great example. It’s like bait to get you into the store because they know if they can do that, you’ll buy other stuff at full price. The trick is to take just enough cash so you can buy up all of the loss leaders you will use and then get out of there.

Why stores hate this trick. Retailers hold sales to increase their cash flow—not to save you money. They do anything they can to get you through the door. Statistics tell them that once you’re in the door, there is a high statistical likelihood that you will pick up enough full-priced items to more than make up for that loss leader. It’s a risk on their part and when you don’t follow their plan, they lose. You win.

TRICK: Say NO to the extended warranty

This is all you need to know: The profit margin on an extended warranty is HUGE—much greater than the profit on the item itself. It is in the store’s best interest to get you to fall for the warranty. Just keep saying: “No thanks, the manufacturer’s warranty will be sufficient.”

Why stores hate this trick. Retailers count on the easy sell and added profit bonus extended warranties provide. Short of telling you the item is a piece of junk and sure to fail, they need to do whatever they can to scare you into buying. Just say No. You win.

TRICK: Grab the amazing deal, but pay it off ahead of time

Sometimes stores offer zero-interest and no payments on big-ticket items when you pay off the balance in full within a specific period of time. The trick is to always pay it off during the time limit.

Why stores hate this trick. Statistics say you won’t pay it off on time, even though you are sure you will when you enter into the deal. They’re even betting money that you won’t. They’ve got their fingers crossed that something will happen between when you make the purchase and that payment date. Then, you will have no choice but to accept their kind offer to extend the payoff time at 29.99 percent interest or more—which, by the way, will be retroactive to the date of purchase.

And, they won’t care one bit about socking you with that very big bill. You’ll become part of the statistic that says most people (like 72%) plan to pay the balance in full before the due date, but then have to change their minds and move to huge monthly payments. Beat them at their own game by paying the balance in full—even ahead of time! You win.

TRICK: Wait to buy seasonal items at clearance prices

Retailers put seasonal stuff on sale at the close of one season or after a holiday to make room for new, full-price merchandise. They don’t do this so you can buy stuff—decorations, clothes, candy, gifts—at huge discounts and then put them away until the next season or holiday. But that’s exactly the way to trick them.

Why stores hate this trick. Retailers are in the business to make big profits on full-priced items. They want you to feel compelled to buy new stuff each season and each holiday. Doing otherwise foils their plan. You win.

TRICK: Pay with cash

Unless you are paying by mail or online, pay with cash. We’re talking about food, gasoline, clothes, restaurants and all of your day-to-day spending. Cash is the real thing. Everything else (checks, debit and credit cards) is just a “stand-in” in the same way that poker chips are stand-ins for money in a casino.

Retailers invest a lot to get you to spend more. They know that if you pay with a check or plastic, you shop more carefree. You don’t pay that much attention to price tags and are less apt to keep track of how much you are spending. Stand-ins ease the pain of paying.

Why stores hate this shopping trick. While retailers don’t have to pay any fees when you pay with cash, they hate it. They know that if you pay with a stand-in you will spend at least 30%  more and that more than covers their merchant fees, and boosts their bottom line, too. You win!




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3 replies
  1. Emily Booth says:

    I recently traveled to Canada. Because everything I read recommended using a CC for the best conversion rate to USD, I converted enough cash to use at cash only businesses and used my CC for everything else. I spent more. There is a disconnect with reality when using CC. It does feel freer.

  2. Anne says:

    We pay with a credit card that rebates a percentage, AND we pay it in full each month, faithfully — have been doing this for MANY years and have never paid a penny in interest. Still shop frugally, during good sales, and using the tricks you talked about — so its a win-win, Does take discipline, but after all these years, it is just automatically the way we do it.

  3. Mark Shoenfelt says:

    I always use a credit card that pays me a percent of my purchases. I never carry cash unless I want to buy a lottery ticket. I know you would tell me that a lottery ticket is a waste of money, but in Pennsylvania lottery proceeds are used to fund programs for seniors. I was happy to spend some money to fund programs for seniors so that they would be there when I became one. Now that I am one, I continue to support the programs. A caveat is that I only play Powerball and Mega Millions when the jackpot is more than $200,000,000. I don’t have to play every week, but I do get some enjoyment from fantasizing about what I would do with the winnings and checking to see if I won. It’s cheap entertainment.


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