10 Smart Money-Saving Tips for Time-Strapped People

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Woman and daughter shopping for apples at a grocery store
AlamyA trip to the store can turn into a long price-comparing excursion. Use shopping apps to quickly find the best deals, or order from Amazon Prime instead.
By Karen Cordaway

Many times saving money equates to trading time. If you take time to research the best deal, you can find it. If you take the time to make meals from scratch, it will usually cost you less than eating out. We all know these tips work, but many people don't have time to implement these strategies.

So what does a time-strapped, money-conscious person do? Here are tips to still save money when you're short on time.

1. Make smarter shopping decisions in the moment. If you like to shop in person to find the best prices in your area, try using the StockUp app. This is the first app that allows users to update the deals. This way, shoppers can discover all of the available deals in-store through a community of users who update the database. There are two ways to spend less using this app: Scan a bar code on a product you are interested in purchasing, and the app will provide you with real-time price updates. It also helps you plan your savings while creating a shopping list on the app. When you add needed items to your list, the app lets you know if any of them are on sale.

2. Have a default plan. If you only have a certain window of free time to shop and getting to the store is hard, Amazon.com (AMZN) can be your default plan for finding low-priced items. If you're an Amazon Prime member, you can take advantage of the free shipping and cheaper pricing offered to those with the membership. Also, if you have to shop in spurts, you don't have to worry about losing money on shipping because you didn't buy everything at once. Amazon Prime members can always benefit from free shipping no matter how much they spend.

3. Draft under the gurus. Have you ever been secretly envious of the savings scored by the couponers and deal seekers of the world? Many of them have their own websites where they share their insight and aggregate the best deals for you. If you'd like to come close to replicating their methods, a little time and effort can get you some of the best hand-picked deals. PennyPinchinMom.com has a slew of resources available on her site, which is organized in such a way that it serves as a one-stop shop to spend less on needed items you are looking to buy.

Also check out another site called PocketYourDollars.com, which includes back-to-school deals and shares insight about paying less for organic items and how to make a shopping list to maximize savings. Other sites such as RainingHotCoupons.com, TheKrazyCouponLady.com, BargainBriana.com and many others update the latest deals like these on a regular basis.

4. Get rewarded when necessary. Whether you manage to find sales online or at brick and mortar stores, you can continue to get rewards or cash back by using rewards credit cards responsibly. WiseBread.com community manager Ashley Jacobs suggests using rewards credit cards to pay for necessities. "This way you can accumulate rewards without spending money on things you don't need," Jacobs says. "Be sure you only use your credit card if you are able to pay it off in full each month. Otherwise the rewards points you rack up won't translate into savings – they will translate into debt."

5. Make a note to self. If paying the bill tends to escape your mind after all the work you did purchasing items, set up reminders to pay on time. Glen Craig at FreeFromBroke.com explains how online calendars are your friend. "Don't be late with bills anymore. If you're not ready to automate payments, at least make sure you aren't paying late," he says. "I personally set up reminders in Google Calendar before certain bills are due to make sure I get them taken care of in time." Craig also points out that many credit cards and banks will let you set up reminders. Doing so helps you avoid late fees or interest charges, which would cancel out the savings you gained.

6. Save on in-season produce. Many articles will tell you to buy in-season produce. This is an excellent tip that works, but if you don't know how to use the fruit or vegetable, it can end up in the garbage can. I once bought a waxed turnip just because it was on sale. I stared at it every day on my counter wondering what I was going to do with it. Then, like most people, I used the magic of search engines to get ideas. I picked the simplest recipes and used it in a slow cooker recipe that would normally call for potatoes. Do the same with other in-season produce to reap the benefits of spending less.

6. Bookmark economical recipes to save time and money. Pick a few recipes that you know you can manage. I recommend bookmarking those types of links so you can quickly access them again and don't spend extra time looking for them through search. You can set up Pinterest boards for seasonal recipes just for this reason. Then you can have go-to recipes on hand, so you can actually eat those in-season fruits and vegetables you buy.

7. Pare down on ingredients. Make recipes that call for fewer ingredients. You save time by not looking for loads of ingredients in the grocery store, and that also equates to spending less. Check out sites such as 5DollarDinners.com and AllRecipes.com for these types of recipes, or literally search for "5 ingredient recipes" or whatever number of ingredients would be ideal to save time and money simultaneously.

8. Substitute ingredients when it doesn't compromise the flavor. If you attempt to make a certain dish and realize you're out of a few items, see if you can substitute those ingredients. Resist the urge to make a trip for one or two items if you can help it. You may not have to purchase anything. For example, if you are making a dish that requires onions or garlic and you don't have those items available at home, try to substitute onion or garlic powder. This works well for many slow cooker recipes.

9. Nonperishables come to the rescue. Pastas and items for making Mexican food are usually low-cost, but you can get them even cheaper if you stock up when they are on sale. LaTisha Styles from YoungFinances.com advises: "Don't buy when an item is for sale, buy when it's on sale." Styles notes that many store sales are cyclical. When these items are on sale, stock up. Bulk purchases on nonperishables at these times can save you time and money. When it's time to make that tasty lasagna, you will only have to purchase the meat or veggies instead of looking for all needed ingredients every time you shop. Casseroles and other pasta dishes also do well with this method.

10. Use what you buy. It's one thing to spend less when shopping, but the savings don't count if you don't use what you purchased. Be sure to eat your food before it goes bad. Plan meals, so you know you will use the groceries you purchased, and use perishable items earlier in the week.

Karen Cordaway is a teacher and writer who currently shares money saving ideas on her website, MoneySavingEnthusiast.com.

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10 Smart Money-Saving Tips for Time-Strapped People
The best deals of the week go to loyalty card users. These items often include what are known as "loss leaders" -- items sold at little or no profit for the store. Why do stores do this? To draw you into the store, with the hope that you'll pick up other items as you shop. Some stores also reward you for spending more. Safeway (SWY) and Stop & Shop offer discounts at partner gas stations. Deals are also advertised in the weekly circular, and you can scan those savings onto your smartphone through apps such as Spoofee.com or SundaySaver.com.
You might like to see and feel every apple or potato you put into your shopping cart, but you can save as much as 36 percent by buying bags of produce. The same is true for multipacks of grocery items such as soap, toilet paper, soda and yogurt, especially at stores such as Walmart (WMT) and Target (TGT).
Many popular deli meats and cheeses sliced fresh at the deli counter may cost less than the pre-packaged variety. SmartShop found the same brands (including Boars Head and Alpine Lace) as much as 30 percent cheaper at the deli counter. You also get to buy the exact amount you need, reducing potential waste.
These racks, usually found in the back of the store, include a hodgepodge of items marked down by as much as half. That's because there is an imperfection in the packaging or the item is being discontinued. Check the expiration date to make sure that you're not buying something that's been sitting on the shelf too long.
Several new subscription services rival Amazon.com's (AMZN) Subscribe & Save service. ShopSmart likes FamilyCircle.com, Plated.com and Target Subscriptions. FamilyCircle.com offers organic produce and seasonal items that can be shipped to your home weekly. It's only available in Washington state, Idaho, Alaska and San Francisco, but there are plans to expand. Plated.com provides measured ingredients to make a chef's recipe from scratch. Target offers household and personal care items at a 5 percent discount (10 percent for REDCard holders). It also offers food, even though the selection is limited. The best thing about them: membership is free.
Shoppers can save as much as 60 percent by choosing the store brand over a national brand. Many people find the taste and quality of store brands to be just as good as the more costly brand names.
Walmart and Target, the big players in this category, offer savings of up to 70 percent on toiletries, drugs and other items. A recent Consumer Reports survey ranked Target better for customer service, quality of perishable items and cleanliness, while Walmart came out slightly ahead on price. Both will price match items you find cheaper at other stores.
There may be a stigma to shopping at dollar stores, but if you can get past that you can find some real bargains. Many leading dollar stores have been increasing the number of food items they sell. Family Dollar Stores (FDO) -- which agreed this week to be acquired by Dollar Tree (DLTR -- recently added 400 food items. Savings of up to 28 percent can be found at dollar stores over supermarket prices.
Club membership is down, but Costco (COST), Sam's Club and others are still great places to save if -- and this is a big if -- you have the space to store bulk purchases. ShopSmart found savings of up to 63 percent on some items. It also gives high ratings to some of Costco's Kirkland brand, including its bacon, laundry detergent and toilet paper.
Most times it makes economic sense to buy the large size package of cereal, paper towels, etc. But there are some items that you get just as much bang for your buck on the medium size. Check the unit price. SmartShop found the medium size price is the same as the jumbo size for Cheerios, Hellman's mayonnaise and Skippy peanut butter, but go for the super size of Heinz ketchup and Folgers coffee.
Boxed gives you warehouse prices (and sizes) without paying a membership fee. Checkout 51 offers weekly specials on items such as Campbell's (CPB) soup or Prego sauces. You also get cash back for every $20 you spend. Flipp is great for checking store circulars for weekly specials. You can put items right onto your shopping list, and the app helps identify the best deals. All three of these apps work on Android and Apple (AAPL) phones and tablets.
Competition is heating up and that means more selection and better deals. Peapod and FreshDirect were among the first to hit the market, and they're still going strong. Now you can also check out Farmingo.com for farmers market products, DoorToDoorOrganics.comGoodEggs.comRelayFoods.com and Spud.com for organic and locally grown food. Of course, Amazon (FreshAmazon.com or Amazon.com/primepantry) and Google (GOOG) (Google.com/shopping/express) are trying to use their gigantic size to dominate this market. These services have varying order shipment minimums, delivery fees and subscription fees.
Convenience stores and drug stores may be easy to run into and pick up some essentials, but you'll pay top dollar for that convenience. ShopSmart's price check found these stores consistently charged a lot more, often more than double the price at supermarkets, Target and Walmart on basics such as milk, bread and eggs. A half gallon of milk at 7-Eleven costs $3.12. Compare that to the average supermarket price of $2.30. And a loaf of whole wheat bread at CVS (CVS) cost $2.91. At a dollar store the same loaf costs -- yes, you guessed it -- $1
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