With a bit of careful planning you can shop for groceries online and save money on your food purchases without the added costs of shipping impacting your discounts. Below are a series of tips on maximizing your online grocery shopping dollars to save big. Some tips are basic while others a bit more involved. If you have any questions or need clarification on a point, please feel free to ask questions below.
Buy in Bulk
When you shop online, you will typically save the most money by buying items in bulk. Even Amazon.com offers you the best savings when you buy a quantity of items. For example, a box of my favorite casual tea, Constant Comment, costs at least $3.00 in my local grocery store, but I can buy a pack of 6 boxes on Amazon for $12.75 or approximately $2.12 per box for a total savings of $2.25. In other words, I’m grabbing a free box. Now, if I was only a casual tea drinker, this deal wouldn’t be worth it as it would take me so long to consume the tea that my savings would be diluted. Luckily, this is a good savings for me because we go through tea fast, just like we do many other products such as our favorite cereals and supplements.
Avoid Adding On to Add-On
Many sites such as Wal-Mart and Amazon now require a minimum purchase in order for you to earn free shipping. Even Amazon Prime members now find themselves needing to spend at least $25 to buy an add-on item (which many products under $10 are now classified as) while Wal-Mart’s minimum order of $45 to earn HomeFree shipping forces you to choose between a higher postage cost or buying items you don’t need in the immediate future. If you have deep pocketbooks or a definite need for a large quantity of a few items, you can save money this way, but for most of us operating with a limited budget, it isn’t practical to spend $40 plus dollars on cereal or other basic household bargains all at one time to save $5 over the span of five months.
Use Google Shopping
Don’t just browse standard shopping sites like eBay.com, Amazon.com, and other mass merchants to save money. Visiting shopping.google.com will allow you to compare prices between these larger venues and many smaller marketplaces. Often, the big boys have the lowest prices but occasionally a smaller site will offer the better price, free shipping, or an item you just can’t find anywhere else.
Look for Coupon Codes
Looking for coupon codes is something I don’t always remember to do, but really berate myself for forgetting. Many online stores like Sephora, Barnes & Noble, Harbor Freight, and thousands of others have several coupon codes in play at any given moment. Before you hit the final checkout button on any site, check out a site that features a coupon code directory, such as Retail Me Not . Locate your favorite retailer, click on the coupon code, follow the redirect to the site you are shopping, and then checkout. I always use coupon codes at Sephora and have received dozens of miniature perfume bottle samples and other freebies as well as cash savings of 10% or more at select retailers.
One thing you may not realize is that some online stores actually utilize a digital version of the traditional coupon. On Amazon, these discounts are viewable at this Coupon Page. Each coupon can be snipped digitally and is applied to your order at checkout. If you don’t snip, you don’t get the deal. Always click around on a site to see if they offer coupons or directly inquire via a “Contact Us” form, email, or Twitter @ message, or ask on a brand’s Facebook page.
Monitor a Few Deal Sites
To maximize your online shopping experience without giving yourself a money-saving headache, browse several deal or coupon based websites and monitor their content for approximately a week. Then, pick two or three general sites to follow via email, Facebook, or Twitter and rely on these for your discount news. Any more than that and you will be swimming in too many deals – both relevant and irrelevant. Fewer, and you may miss something. While I wouldn’t recommend adding on more than three general purpose sites for all bargains, picking more niche deal sites to follow (such as “bargains on organic baby products”) is always a good idea.
Use a Return Policy
You can really save money shopping online by treating e-commerce exactly like you would treat retail shopping. If you buy something at Wal-Mart that doesn’t work out, I doubt that you have a problem walking to the service desk and returning it. Returning a product online is rarely more difficult than that. Most e-tailers will provide you with a postage paid mailing return label that you can either drop off with the USPS or leave on the front porch for the UPS person to pick-up on the next business day. Some e-commerce stores will even process your refund as soon as the return is requested (with the proviso that they will recharge your payment method if the item is not mailed by a certain date).
Consider Your Efforts
Saving money by shopping online also requires that you keep tabs on the effort you are expending to pay less. If you hunt deals for 5 hours one day to save $10, you can equate that to earning $2 per hour – not good. You are likely better off paying full price and spending your time doing something more personally or monetarily fulfilling. Develop a system such as a quick coupon check prior to checkout and a quick search for coupon codes, and avoid looking for deals for the sake of deals. Seek discounts on products you are already buying to maximize your time.
Consider the total cost and savings of buying online versus in-store. If you are paying $9.95 online for an item you would normally pay $7.95 for in-store, you may still be saving money when you factor in the cost of fuel, wear and tear on your vehicle and any personal hassle. Use the IRS standard mileage deduction of 56.5 cents per mile to get a ballpark figure of how much a trip to the store for a few dry goods will actually cost you. For example, a 5-mile round trip out for a pack of paper towels that cost $5.95 would actually end up costing $8.78 (product price plus mileage). Unless the paper towel pack is priced at more than $8.78 online, it is cheaper to buy online and wait for delivery (if you aren’t in a super pinch) if you can grab free shipping.
Don’t Forget Shipping and Sales Tax
Speaking of shipping…Don’t forget to factor in the cost of shipping and sales tax when browsing items online. You may find yourself actually spending more when you base your budget on the displayed item price only. Many stores now offer free shipping on orders of a certain dollar figure. Presuming you reach this total, you still need to factor in the sales tax you will owe on the items. Even if a retailer doesn’t charge you the sales tax at checkout, it is your responsibility to pay the sales tax owed to your state at the end of year when filing your Individual Income Tax return. Always keep these totals in mind when shopping and hang on to your receipts for year-end tallies.
Please let me know if you have any further questions about shopping for groceries online.