By Kristen Castillo

January 5, 2018 6 min read

Why spend extra money if you don't have to? When buying food, clothes, toiletries and household goods, small adjustments to shopping habits can add up to big savings.

*Splurge or Save?

Everything has a price, but it can be hard to tell what's really a good deal. So, what's worth the money?

"When it comes to clothing, save on trendy pieces that are only in style at the moment, and splurge for classics," says Natasha Rachel Smith, personal finance expert at Smith notes that classic items, such as designer handbags, rarely go on sale.

Trends are always priced to sell.

"'Fast-fashion' stores such as Zara and H&M carry trend clothes that last for one to two seasons," explains Smith. She advises shopping for basics at lower-priced retailers and splurging for higher-quality classics at big-budget retailers.

*Compare and Come Out Ahead

You can save significantly at the grocery store, big-box stores and pharmacies by purchasing store-brand products. These are the generic alternatives to the big names you know for items ranging from toothpaste to crackers to soda.

Consumer Reports says shoppers can save an average of 25 percent by buying knockoffs of brand-name products.

When Consumer Reports conducted tests comparing 19 private-label products with their brand-name counterparts, they found deals such as 5 percent off frozen lasagna to 60 percent off ice cream. Their sensory experts reported that for 10 of the 19 products, store brands tasted just as good as name-brand foods. Those products included Greek yogurt, cranberry juice, peanut butter, cheese crackers and wheat bread.

Other store-brand products Consumer Reports say are worth trying include bagels, kitchen trash bags, pickles and toilet paper.

Smith agrees generics can offer great deals with comparable quality.

"If you're skeptical of the two, check the ingredients or materials before purchasing a generic brand to be reassured you're getting the same product," she says, recommending buying generic for medications, cereals and spices.

For some items, a splurge, not a save, is in order.

"Spend a couple extra cents or dollars on name-brand items such as alcohol/spirits, contact solution and beverages/snacks like Coca Cola and Oreos," she says. "The generic options don't measure up!"

*Stock Up

Getting a good deal often means buying in bulk. These days many stores offer big savings on bulk purchases, from buying meat in "family size" packages for a cheaper-per-pound price to stocking up on soup for a "buy 10 and save" deal.

Do the math per item to see if stocking up is really worthwhile. If you're only saving pennies on those soups, it may not be worth it, especially if it'll take you months to use those cans.

"Buy a membership to wholesale stores such as Costco or BJ's to take saving money to the next level," says Smith, who suggests buying bulk for nonperishable necessities like spices, flour, mashed potatoes, vinegar, oil and beans.

*Timing Is Everything

"Shop at the right moment," says Smith. "Timing is key when it comes to finding the best deals and steals."

She says shoppers should compare prices at major designer retailers and then "stack" sales and coupons to get the largest discount possible.

Shop grocery aisles the first day of a sale. This is particularly important for produce so you'll get the freshest fruits and veggies at the best prices.

*Month-by-Month Savings

Mark your calendar for savings, too. Each month, grocery and discount stores have major sales on certain items.

January: Diet products go on sale, as do linens, towels and pain relievers.

February: Stock up on snacks this month, since they're on sale during Super Bowl season. It's also a good time for deals on winter clothes.

March: Cleaning supplies are on sale just in time for spring. Buy luggage this month, too, as well as frozen fruits and veggies: March is National Frozen Food Month.

April: Get new kicks this month, since sneakers are often on sale. Snag deals on TVs and other electronics.

May: Load up on summer skin care products, such as bug repellents and sunscreen. It's also markdown time for barbecue sauces and picnic supplies.

June: Fill up your cart with low-priced dairy products, such as ice cream and yogurt. June is National Dairy Month.

July: Party and picnic supplies, including salad dressings and condiments, are great deals this month.

August: Bathing suits are on clearance now. It's also smart to load up on crafts and school supplies, as well as dorm gear, including minifridges and futons.

September: Get ready for back-to-school time with savings on school supplies like glue, scissors and paper. You'll also find bargains on kids' clothes and accessories.

October: Snag deals on candy this month. Barbecues and summer pool and patio items are on clearance, too.

November: Save on cooking and baking supplies, as well as sweets and snacks.

December: End-of-the-year deals include savings on toys, games, bikes and appliances.

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