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Smart Shopping 101

10 Ways to Shop Smarter This Year

A financial expert shares insights into how we can spend more wisely this year.

By Lee Eisenberg
Illustration of girl on a bicycle with a shopping basket on her head Brian Cronin


 4. Beware of the freebie. Think quick: You’re offered a choice between a free $10 gift certificate and a $20 gift certificate for $7. Which would you take? When behavioral economist Dan Ariely tested shoppers at a Boston mall, they overwhelmingly opted for the free gift certificate, even though that meant losing out on a $13 profit. It’s easy to fall for free! but a price tag of zero can be costlier than it appears.

 
 5. Choose shopping partners wisely. Hitting the stores with a gaggle of pals can be a pleasant way to spend a Saturday afternoon, but don’t lose sight of how others can influence your buying decisions. This phenomenon is often referred to as “group-level consideration,” meaning that the group, not you, establishes the spending norms and defines what is acceptable and condonable. So if the consensus holds that it’s reasonable to pay $600 for a pair of pumps, you may just find yourself out on the town in heels that scream (to you, at least), “What was I thinking?”

 
 6. Think twice about express checkout lanes. Sometimes spending wisely means keeping an eye on your money and your time―especially if you pay for parking or have to be somewhere, like work, where your time is worth more. You might think it’s more expedient to get in the 10-items-or-less lane. But Dan Meyer, a math researcher and a blogger, has found that when faced with a medium to long regular checkout line and a slightly longer express line, you should generally opt for the regular one. Why? It takes more time to do more individual transactions.

 
 7. Let your mouse do the walking. Preshopping online is natural for many of us. To the rest: Get clicking! Even if you prefer to buy at brick-and-mortar stores, you can earn savings with sites that seek the best deals (shopping.com, pricegrabber.com), offer customer reviews (epinions.com, tripadvisor.com), or publish wholesale and market prices to help you haggle (like edmunds.com does for cars).
 

 
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