15 Golden Rules to Save on Every Purchase

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By Maryalene LaPonsie

All told, the average American household spent $53,495 in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While the bulk of that money went for housing, we still spent more than $1,786 on apparel and services, $2,728 on entertainment, and another $2,787 on food away from home. Then there is that mystery category, "all other expenditures," where we rang up, on average, $3,548.

Wouldn't it be nice to spend a little less?

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Fortunately, there are a number of tried and true ways to save money on virtually everything you buy. In fact, we call them our 15 golden rules to super savings, and here they are.

1. Never buy new what you can buy used

To start, if you want to save money on everything you buy, you should never buy new. Well, nearly never buy new. You might possibly want to buy new underwear from time to time.

But for most everything else, let someone else take the depreciation hit. The average new car loses 11 percent of its value the moment it's driven off the lot according to insurance site TrustedChoice.com. After five years, new vehicles typically lose about 63 percent of their value.

Cars might be the best-known example, but virtually everything depreciates over time. Jewelry, furniture, appliances, and even video games and movies can depreciate faster than you can say "impulse buy." Check out Craigslist, eBay and Half.com for practically new items being sold for a song.

2. Save big with bulk purchases

Let's say you use a lot of batteries. Why buy four batteries when you could buy 40? Buying in bulk can be an excellent way to lower your per-unit cost. Check out Amazon prices on Duracell AA batteries as an example. As of this writing, you can buy 10 for $8.35, get 20 for $10.10 or splurge on 40 for $14.70. (The 40-pack comes out to about 37 cents per battery compared to the 10-pack, at 83 cents per battery.) Plus, bigger packages come with free shipping. Bonus!

However, not every bulk buy is a steal. If you're thinking about going the warehouse route, read this article on what to buy at warehouse stores before you start shopping.

3. Tame impulse buys with a list

It's hard to put a number on how much impulse buying costs us each year, but 84 percent of confess to making a purchase on the fly, according to a 2016 CreditCards.com survey.

Tame the tendency to impulse buy by limiting yourself to what's on your shopping list. Don't think that list is only for groceries either. Create an ongoing list of planned purchases. When you notice your shoes are wearing thin, add shoes to the list. When you decide you need a bigger slow cooker, add that to the list.

Then when you are tempted to buy something on the spur of the moment, refer to your list. If it's not there, remind yourself that you don't need it and that money spent on impulse takes away cash that could be used to buy something you really want.

4. Remember that generics equal more green in your wallet

If you're buying a brand name, you're likely spending extra cash and may not be getting much in return.

Consumer Reports compared name-brand and store-brand grocery products and found that consumers can save anywhere from 30 to 52 percent by buying store brands. In addition, the study revealed that in blind tests, most items tied in terms of their taste and, in some instances, the store brand was actually preferred over the name brand.

Then there are generic drugs. The Food and Drug Administration says consumers can save 80 to 85 percent by buying generic prescriptions. No need to worry about their safety either because generic drugs must meet the same quality standards as brand names and must also include the same active ingredients in the same strength as their more expensive counterparts.

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5. Negotiate for the lowest price

You're missing out on great savings if the only time you negotiate is when you're buying a new car or are at a yard sale. Read Stacy Johnson's "Confessions of a Serial Haggler" for a rundown on the fine art of bargaining. Also check out this story offering tips for successful negotiation.

6. Stop being the early adopter

Always having the latest and greatest gadget might make you the cool kid in your circle of friends, but it's also going to empty your wallet in a hurry. You're paying top dollar for something you could probably get for significantly less a short year later.

Why do you need to upgrade anyway? Why buy a 50-inch TV when your 37-inch one works perfectly fine? The Internet exploded during the 2013 football season when Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was photographed using a — gasp! — flip phone. Some people laughed, saying he was behind the times, but he's a billionaire so, really, who's getting the last laugh?

7. Make a habit of sharing purchases

Is there really a need for everyone on your block to own a weed whacker? If you are going to rent a carpet cleaner for an afternoon, could a friend or neighbor use it, too?

Make a point to look for ways you can share purchases with others. Maybe that means something as formal as creating a neighborhood co-op where families come together to make shared purchases, or it could be as a simple as calling up your friend and asking if she wants to go in on a purchase or rental of a particular item.

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8. Consider whether you can make it or do it yourself

You can save a boatload of money if you do things yourself rather than paying someone else. From making your own laundry detergent to home repairs, many of the things you buy could be replaced by your own ingenuity or a little elbow grease. That said, we don't recommend do-it-yourself dentistry.

9. Compare, compare, compare

Knowledge is power, and your money will have more buying power if you take the time to do a little research. Never make a purchase without first checking prices at other retailers and online. Websites such as PriceGrabber, Shopzilla and Nextag make it easy to find the lowest price.

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10. Don't let can't-miss deals fool you

Of course, slick salesmen and retailers won't want you to shop around. They may pressure you for an immediate sale, arguing that prices have never been so low or their manager is making a special deal for you that will only be available for the next 15 minutes.

They are toying with you, my friends. Like a cat plays with a mouse, they are trying to back you into a corner where you feel you can't possibly say no. But competition is fierce, and the reality is there will always be another sale.

Don't buy unless you've done enough research to know the deal is good. Plus, going back to strategy No. 5, walking away can be your most powerful negotiating tool.

11. Try doing without

You may be inclined to run out and buy something as soon as the old version has worn out or breaks. However, wait a couple of days or, even better, a couple of weeks before making a purchase. You may find you can do without the item, or you may discover you have another item that can work as a perfectly acceptable substitute.

12. Look for a coupon

We all know about coupons for grocery store items, but that's not all these little money-savers can be used for. Coupons are available for everything from auto repairs to online purchases.

If you dine out regularly, see if a coupon book or key card would be a good investment. These are often sold as fundraisers through schools and clubs, but you can also buy Entertainment Books online. Be sure to check which coupons are included to ensure they match your tastes. Often, these programs provide more discounts to local, independent establishments than to chains.

You can also get coupons by signing up for the mailing lists of your favorite stores or agreeing to receive mobile alerts.

Finally, don't forget to search for coupons and promos when shopping online. For more information, read our "Definitive Guide to Promo Codes, Coupons and Deals."

13. Drop the bottom line with online rewards

In addition to coupons, you can save money by taking advantage of online rebates. Our favorite is Ebates, but a simple Web search will turn up many others. You can also use rewards programs. You may not get savings upfront, but you can receive a nice check or other rewards later.

14. Use a rewards credit card

Like rebate websites, rewards credit cards don't drop your initial cost, but they do provide overall savings on your purchase in the form of cash back or rewards points that can be redeemed for merchandise, gift cards or travel.

The one caveat of rewards credit cards is their interest. If you don't pay off your balance in full each month, the amount of interest you pay could negate any rewards you receive.

If you don't already have a card, you can find a comprehensive list of rewards credit cards here.

From our Solutions Center: Find a better credit card in seconds

15. Only pay cash

Finally, if you really want to save money on everything you'll ever buy, only pay with cash. Research shows that using cash discourages spending, while credit cards and gift certificates may encourage it. In addition, spending cash keeps you accountable by ensuring you only use the money you have on hand rather than basing your purchases on some vague notion of what might be available in your bank account or on your credit card.
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