Couponing, haggling, comparison-shopping: Really, who has the time?
These tried-and-true tricks for saving money are great strategies, but they take time -- a lot of it. When you're squeezing in a trip to the grocery store between work and soccer practice, and your kids are clamoring for that checkout Snickers bar while you're arguing with the cashier over the sale price of cereal, it's enough to make even the most frugal person throw up her hands in defeat.
So, how can you save money without spending hours clipping, arguing or comparing? Read on for nine clever hacks.
Use apps and other digital tools. Your smartphone is a goldmine of money-saving tools, though it's tough to know which ones actually work and which ones just spam you until you change email addresses. Among the more reputable shopping apps are ShopSavvy for price comparison between in-store and online retailers, Cartwheel for Target shoppers seeking extra coupons and deals and Flipp for easy comparison of sale prices and weekly deals between grocers and other retailers.
In addition to apps, there are a host of digital tools that help you save money seamlessly. The Honey browser add-on automatically finds and applies coupon codes to your order. The Invisible Hand browser add-on alerts you when a product you're looking at is cheaper elsewhere. Paribus requests price adjustments when something you've purchased online drops in price and gives you the difference, minus a 25 percent finder's fee.
Create lists for every shopping trip. Lists aren't just for groceries. They can be for apparel, home decor, storage solutions and other items. By recording exactly what you need for every shopping trip, you're less likely to pick up items on impulse and focus more intently on what you actually need. What's more, an app like Google Keep makes it easy for family members to make updates to lists while shopping, so they don't have to make multiple trips for items they forgot.
Receive price matches effortlessly. Competition among retailers is fierce, and consumers can come out on top using store apps. Many stores, including Best Buy, Target and Wal-Mart, now price-match Amazon. So, the Amazon PriceCheck app for iPhone users is useful in showing store associates better pricing to receive a price match. Wal-Mart's app features Savings Catcher, a tool that scans your receipts and issues store credit when something you purchased is cheaper elsewhere.
Just ask. One of the easiest ways to get a discount is to simply ask. This may seem daunting (especially if you're shy), but most salespeople are happy to help. In fact, most will tell you exactly what sales and savings are available after you cross the store threshold. This works for online shopping, too. Open a live chat with a representative and ask about available deals, or share a screenshot of the same item priced better elsewhere. Your efforts will likely be rewarded with a discount code, free shipping or price match.
Get fraud protection. The more you swipe your credit card, the more vulnerable you are to credit card theft and identity theft. While complete avoidance is impossible, you can set up alerts, so you learn exactly when your account has been compromised. Most credit cards give you the option to enable alerts, which notify you when any transaction, or charge over a certain amount, is made to your account.
Shop with discount gift cards. For built-in savings, shop with discount gift cards. This may seem like a too-good-to-be-true scam, but the secondary gift card market has been around for more than a decade. GiftCardGranny.com is a go-to website to compare discounts across several reputable resellers. For example, you can save up to 21 percent on gift cards to T.J. Maxx, up to 17 percent on cards to Old Navy and up to 11 percent for gift cards to Home Depot. Pair these card with sales and coupons, and you've got effortless and significant savings.
Track prices without the work. With prices fluctuating as often as they do, it's tough to know when to make your purchase for the most value. Enter MyAlerts (formerly TrackIf), an online tool that does all the tracking for you. Simply save products you're looking at and receive an email notification when that product drops in price. Amazon shoppers will love CamelCamelCamel, a site that functions much like MyAlerts but is for products sold on Amazon. And don't forget Google Flights, an online tool for comparing and tracking airfares to help you book at the right time or request a price adjustment when a purchased itinerary drops in price.
Get cash back while shopping. Whether you're shopping online or making your weekly trip to the grocery store, there are ways to actually earn cash while spending money. Ebates.com is a cash-back portal through which you shop at your favorite stores and earn anywhere from 2 percent to over 10 percent cash back on your purchases. Ibotta and Checkout 51 are mobile apps designed to offer cash back on common grocery purchases, including produce.
Take advantage of complimentary services. Select retail stores offer free hemming and personal stylist services to ensure that what you buy is actually the best fit. For example, Lululemon hems both pants and tops for free within seven days of purchase. Lands' End offers free cuffing and hemming of trousers and pants. J. Crew, Madewell and Nordstrom all offer free personal styling services. There's no sense in paying for these perks if your purchase includes them for free.
Kendal Perez is a spokeswoman for CouponSherpa.com, a popular source for online, in-store and mobile coupons. She also blogs at Hassle-Free Savings and enjoys yoga, decluttering, craft brew and obsessing over her dogs.