April is an important month when it comes to spending money: Soon-to-be grads prep for the "real world" as parents contemplate the rising costs of summer camp for their kids.
Homeowners tackle pricey improvement projects during more favorable spring temperatures while others face the looming tax deadline for paying outstanding debt. With all the mounting financial woes Americans face this time of year, no wonder April has been dubbed National Financial Literacy Month in hopes of promoting financial health among consumers.
The journey towards financial wellness starts with a critical review of your spending habits. To get on the right track, brush up on these basic buying skills:
1. Research, research, research.
Scoring a good deal takes a little effort and doing your homework will pay off in the long run. Research reviews posted on product pages or through consumer review sites like Epinions for feedback on quality and reliability. Don't forget to compare prices among retailers since you never know who may be offering a better deal or sale. Check PriceGrabber.com for online purchases and download the barcode scanning app, RedLaser, to get instant price comparison feedback on your phone when shopping at brick-and-mortar stores.
2. Don't buy on impulse.
Buying on impulse means you haven't had the time to compare prices or read reviews. Such purchases usually lead to buyer's remorse since money was spent on an unneeded item. If sales and markdowns tempt you into spending, ask yourself if you'd buy the item at full price. If the answer is no, you don't need it and should move on.
3. Use coupons to cut costs.
You don't have to slave over the Sunday circular to save money these days. Thanks to technology, coupons can be quickly accessed from the Internet, through social media sites or even downloaded to smartphones. If there's a "promo code" or "coupon code" box on the checkout screen, odds are there's a discount out there to save you money. Check FreeShipping.org for coupons like $5 off orders of $50 or more at Target, and even set up notifications for when free shipping and other discounts are available from your favorite retailers.
4. Negotiate; It can't hurt.
Though this bargaining skill won't work at every store -- grocery stores and mass retailers like Target have fixed prices -- there are certain places and purchases where it's appropriate to haggle. Shopping for electronics, appliances or jewelry usually offers an opportunity for negotiating. If you find the sales associate isn't much help, ask to speak with a manager or supervisor who may have more authority to issue a discount. Don't forget to point out product damage or lower competitor prices for leverage during the haggling process.
5. Extended warranties aren't worth the cost.
Consumer Reports found that most major appliances don't break within that extended coverage period and, if they do, the average price of repair costs the same as the warranty itself. Though you may feel obliged to protect a pricey gadget, electronics have a rapid depreciation value so it's better to replace something down the road than repair it. Protect your investment from the get-go by purchasing big ticket items with a major credit card that doubles the manufacturer warranty for free.
6. Store cards do more damage than good.
Sales associates love to tempt shoppers with bonus discounts for opening store cards. Don't be fooled by the initial discounts: Store cards are notorious for carrying high-interest rates that lead you to buy more than you ever intended. What's more, requesting a new line of credit will also temporarily lower your credit score, making future car or mortgage loans harder to negotiate and more expensive.
7. Buy used.
Though the thought of new and untouched material possessions beckon our wallets, there are plenty of items you should consider buying used to save some cash. From garage sales to consignment clothing to online reselling sites like eBay and Craigslist, it's easier than ever to get your hands on cheaper, second-hand goods at a huge discount. Not sure what items to buy used? Consult this list of 40 used product recommendations.
Andrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized consumer and money-saving expert who helps consumers live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. From smart spending tips to personal finance advice, Andrea transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers.
I'm a former 7th grade Science teacher turned stay-at-home mom that lives in Houston, Texas. I am married to my college sweetheart and have a beautiful daughter named Riley, who definitely keeps me on my toes! I am also involved in starting a small business which would both manufacture and sell an invention that I've patented, called Toothpaste 2 Go. I love interacting with my readers and hope to learn as much about you as you learn about me!