Shopping the frugal way

May 25, 2012

Story time! My mum is the definition of frugal. My parents separated when I was 12 and for a while my mom took care of the 5 of us by herself. Single income, 4 kids isn’t easy. What’s even harder is paying a mortgage that you assumed why going to be half of what it is. I don’t give my mom enough credit. She never let on that anything was wrong. We never knew that money was an issue, but then again we 12, (and the oldest) so we didn’t know anything. Our financial situation made her very creative and frugal in her ways. She made sure that we were fed, happy, involved in extra-circulars, and never felt left out.

When I went on my “pay -off my student debt” phase, I looked to my mom for guidance. The days of her financially struggling are long gone, but some of those habits still remain. And I wanted to learn to be more like her, a frugal shopper.

A frugal shopper has skills and ways of looking at things that help him or her take advantage of the money-saving opportunities in life. There are six of these techniques below. You can learn them in a matter of a day or two, practice them for a few weeks, and then save money for the rest of your life.


1. A frugal shopper studies other people. Do you know someone who always gets the best deal on cars, boats, or whatever? Ask him how he does it! Some people will tell you that the cheapest coffee in town is $3 per cup, while others will say 50 cents. There are probably people near you living a good life on half of what you make. Learn how others do things, so you’ll know your options.


2. Frugality requires knowledge of values. It’s tough to get a great deal on a car if you don’t know what a great deal is. Start educating yourself on prices, especially before you’re ready to buy anything that costs a lot. To her, its also about spending a bit more while knowing that the product will last longer.


3. Frugal shoppers pay cash. Things are cheaper when paid for in cash instead of credit. Want that new patio set? The price divided by the number of weeks you can wait to get it equals how much you need to set aside each week. You’ll not only save on interest when you pay cash, but you’ll often get a better price. You can also barter at certain places if you have cash.


4. A good shopper looks for alternatives. Maybe you’d have just as much fun taking that discounted trip to the Bahamas as you would going to Jamaica. If you happen to enjoy pizza just as much – or more, skip the expensive restaurant and call Dominoes. This is one of the reasons, I rather go to Cuba twice than Jamaica once. The beaches are better and it feels the same when you’re down there.


5. Frugal shoppers tell people what they need. Just mention it in conversation. Do you know how many people get free or cheap things, just because they talk? My neighbor wanted to upgrade her living room set, and was thrilled that I would take her 3-month-old couch off her hands for $30. Glad I mentioned I was looking for one. I also ask for discounts at the counter when checking out. You’d be surprised at how many times retailers tack on an extra 10% discount.


6. Do the math. You didn’t really save $400 on that car if it costs you $500 more in gas each year. Also, be aware that some stores are cashing in on shopper’s assumptions that larger is cheaper. Yes, the gallon of pickles might actually cost more than four quart jars. Be ready to do the math if you want to be a frugal shopper. I love Costco, but sometimes it costs way more to shop there, and people don’t pay attention to cost per unit at all.



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  • Justin @ The Family Finances May 25, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    Comparing the unit price on things is probably the best grocery shopping strategy there is, though I don’t remember where I learned it. Even as a kid buying snack cakes at lunch I would check to see which one gave me the most ounces for my quarter.

    • Marissa May 25, 2012 at 6:08 pm

      Ha! I have the hardest time watching Costco shoppers buy things without research.

  • Modest Money May 25, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    My mom recently passed on a bunch of shopping strategies she used when we were younger too. She was also paying a mortgage all on her own while taking care of kids. So she had to be quite frugal. At the time though, I didn’t even notice. I like your first tip in particular. If you ask around you are bound to find people getting great deals on all kinds of stuff. Maybe they just know the best store to get something or maybe they have other strategies to share. Or better yet, maybe it turns out that they know someone at a specific store who can hook you up with a better deal too.

    • Marissa May 25, 2012 at 6:07 pm


  • Money Beagle May 25, 2012 at 11:57 am

    Excellent article. Sounds like you learned a lot of great lessons and I’m sure your mom is proud for your great thoughts. I think you have to look at the rewards that frugality brings, and some people can’t see that. They see the car or the gadget that they don’t have, but don’t bother looking at the money they do have or the payment they avoided. If you can focus on the positive elements, you’ll have greater success living a frugal lifestyle.

    • Marissa May 25, 2012 at 6:09 pm

      Exactly. I’ve made those mistakes, too, but the older I get the happy I am with the simpler things.

  • Eric J. Nisall - DollarVersity May 25, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    My mother is the one who taught me how to shop, and it’s all due to her that I can afford to add to my wardrobe without sacrificing much money. And the refrigerator/pantry as well.

    Not so sure that I agree with the cash bringing down prices as a generalized blanket statement. Maybe when it comes to shopping for certain items, or little mom and pop shops or sheisty places, but in national (or international) chains the prices are the same no matter what the method of payment–of course if you sign up for their charge card you get a discount…but that’s another story for another day.

    • Marissa May 25, 2012 at 6:07 pm

      I agree. I meant more at farmer’s markets and individual stores. I got discounts off my furniture because I was willing to pay in cash.

  • Jai Catalano May 25, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    Frugal shoppers can also feel the deal. They know as an impulse which is the right way to go. I love frugality when used as a tool for enriching oneself and not for being cheap. Sounds like mum and you both have the craft down lovely.

    • Marissa May 25, 2012 at 7:16 pm

      We try!

  • Michelle May 25, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    A 3-month-old couch for $30?! Now, that’s a good neighbor! Your mom taught you well.

    • Marissa May 25, 2012 at 10:11 pm


  • femmefrugality May 25, 2012 at 11:03 pm

    Good lessons from momma! I try to practice many of these myself, especially since I started blogging. It’s amazing how much you can learn if you’re just ready to listen to others!

    • Marissa May 27, 2012 at 5:07 pm

      I agree! I learned so much over the last year!

  • Paul @ The Frugal Toad May 26, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    Great point about the larger sized portions not always being the best deal. I went grocery shopping with my daughter and was able to show her how buying the smaller portion was actually a better deal when you compare unit prices.

    • Marissa May 27, 2012 at 5:07 pm

      I call it the Costco effect.

  • Early Years May 30, 2012 at 6:50 am

    I’ve tried to plan a menu for the week and buy accordingly, but found that I spent MORE buying items I’m only using for one meal… what tips do you have for frugal shopping and list making? Do you plan the entire month out?

    • Marissa May 31, 2012 at 2:52 am

      I would suggest planning per week or two.

  • Early Years June 1, 2012 at 8:16 am

    Shopping centers, and other places close and be replaced by thrift stores? Is thrift shopping a national trend and going to become dominant? Will buying used become the only way to shop?