Five Tips For Shopping on a Budget

Sticking to a budget is hard enough, but malls, outlets and grocery stores don’t make it any easier; with countless promotions, sales, and strategically-placed impulse-buy items, it’s easy to get sidetracked and overspend. Willpower and discipline are great tools to combat overspending, but many people find it hard to maintain them when faced with a great sale. Never fear, there are a few simple tricks and tips you can use to help keep you on track and overcome the temptation to overspend.

1. Always take a list.

While seemingly simple, and even obvious, this is a great way to help keep spending on track. If you have a specific list of items you need, you can shop with more purpose, and avoid unnecessary browsing (which all too often leads to unnecessary buying).

2. Consolidate shopping trips.

Whenever possible, it’s best to combine all your shopping into one day. This is a great way to make sure you don’t spend extra time in a given store, browsing unnecessarily, or getting sidetracked from your pre-set shopping agenda. Plus, consolidating your shopping into one big outing will save gas in the long run, which is always a good thing, both for your budget, and for the environment.

3. Clip coupons.

Check your weekly paper for circulars and coupons. Be sure to have your list ready when you do this, to avoid adding unnecessary items (remember, just because it’s on sale doesn’t mean you need it). While you may not find coupons for everything you need, you’ll likely find savings somewhere. Over time, even a few dollars a week will add up big time. Look at it this way: if you save just $4 per week, you’ll end up with an extra $208 each year.

4. Plan ahead; shop accordingly.

Food is arguably one of the largest costs in any family’s budget. It’s one that can’t be skipped or compromised, and with costs of everyday items like milk rising considerably, it can be a huge drain on any spending plan. While there’s no realistic way around this need, there are ways to help maximize your spending. Planning meals a week in advance can help you make the most of your purchases; simply plan consecutive meals that use the same primary ingredients. Buy those ingredients in bulk to save even more. And always, always save (and use) leftovers.

5. Reward yourself.

Regardless of the best intentions, it’s easy to get sucked in to unnecessary spending; it’s practically human nature. An unexpected sale at your favorite store, a discount on an item you don’t need, but have wanted for some time. You can curb overspending by operating on a rewards system. Set goals for yourself, like limiting spending to a certain amount, and make room in your budget for a special treat or reward when you reach your goal. If you don’t achieve the goal, leave the reward money in place and try again for next month. Having something special to look forward to will make it easier to exercise self-control and avoid splurging on items you don’t really need, or even particularly want.

The Rise of Social Shopping and User Reviews

Why I think customer reviews and social shopping are important. Social shopping is an interesting concept which divides opinion amongst web commentators.

Most are agreed that social shopping is a specific type of web service with its roots in the social explosion of Web 2.0.

In their purest form the best social shopping sites provide an open independent platform where users can add products, post a review or provide a product rating. The sites are service orientated, providing the tools for others to use and as such rely heavily on user generated content to set the agenda.

In essence the opportunity now exists for consumers to band together, discuss specific products and brands and provide an authentic alternative voice to the brand led marketing activity and conventional expert reviews we are all subjected to in other media.

By sharing product knowledge and experiences, creating useful content, an empowered community consensus can emerge, highlighting the gems and warning against the over hyped duds – the products which disappoint and fail to deliver.

This type of user generated content has a real value and satisfies an important element of the online shopping process – research, which accounts for 80% of consumer time when they are shopping online.

Social shopping sites combine social elements such as a social networking community features with aspects of shopping such as product reviews, ratings and deal hunting.

Some of the more agile social shopping sites are making use of the Twitter API and Facebook Connect to tap in to the online conversation, providing context for product related Tweets on Twitter and distribution of product opinion via Facebook.

Social shopping sites can be viewed as a value added evolution of the affiliate model – as they seek to monetize website content (the user generated product reviews and ratings) by sending traffic to third party merchant sites where they can purchase product.

My starting position is to agree with the mantra that “customer recommendation is the Holy Grail of Advertising”. We know this is true in the real world – if your friends and neighbours enthuse about their new car, lawnmower, laptop or digital camera – it will have weight, you take note.

The same holds online – reviews and recommendations are very powerful; especially those from people with status in a community, and those which are provided weeks and months after the purchase; only the scale and dynamics of relationships differ. The potential then of social shopping and what it offers us as consumers, product designers, specialist retailers and brands which really focus on and respond to their community is very exciting.

Some statistics and predictions from rantorave.

According to a global Nielsen survey of 26,486 Internet users in 47 markets, consumer recommendations are the most credible form of advertising among 78% of the study’s respondents. (Nielsen, “Word-of-Mouth the Most Powerful Selling Tool”).

83% of shoppers said online product evaluations and reviews influenced their purchasing decisions. (Opinion Research Corporation, an infoGROUP company, July 2008).

76% of US retailers said user-generated content would have a greater impact on their marketing goals in the near future. (SLI Systems/Zoomerang, November 2008).

56% of UK website owners say that user-generated content lifts conversion levels; 77% say it increases traffic; and 42% say it increases the average spend on site.(eConsultancy survey of 360 website owners across all sectors, November 2008).

By 2020, 84% of marketers agree that building customer trust will become marketing’s primary objective, and 82% agree that collaboration with customers will prevail over marketing. (1to1 Media survey April, 2008).

Top 10 Social shopping sites: (note I am only allowed to submit an article with 4 links)

  1. Kaboodle – a great site, arguably market leader geared towards female consumers. Now owned by Hearst Digital Media.
  2. ThisNext – another strong site with an emphasis on female consumers, this site feels like a great window shopping experience with expert Maverns on tap
  3. Tribesmart – this site is making use of twitter and Facebook connect. There are some great tools such as the personal list builder and community messaging features based on the ‘Tribes’ idea. Like Veedow, Wists and Crowdstorm it could appeal to both sexes and this is potentially where the gap in the market is as Kaboodle, OSOYOU and ThisNext seem to have marked out a claim on the younger female market.
  4. Veedow – a slightly confusing site, a neat idea, still yet to realize it’s full potential in my view
  5. Stylehive – feeling less like a pure play social shopping site these days, it has a strong emphasis on wannabe celebrity fashion/lifestyle writers who you follow – it is not as vibrant as twitter although you can see where they are going with it
  6. Jungle Raft – a new entrant, included as it is a new concept with a clear proposition in terms of pulling the best deals from Amazon
  7. Stylefeeder – offers to help users discover products based on their unique tastes. The looks a little off the pace and has some annoying and tacky pop up ads. All a bit old skool.
  8. Crowdstorm – the site is a Digg type site for products, it is based on buzz and an expert opinion network- although it does seem to have gone quiet in the last 12 months
  9. Shopstyle – feels like an ecommerce site with price discounts on display. Lacks obvious reviews or community features although the stylebooks feature is really nice enabling people to put looks together and share these – the ‘sale alert’ feature could be useful though and the site has hooked up with Elle magazine in the past.
  10. Wists – a trending site about what is new and what people plan on buying

There are many others, sites like Shopcorn and Naturalbornshoppers to name but two.

Ideas For Shopping in Bangkok

During your Thailand trip, you’ll be expected to haggle at all of the stalls in the street markets of Bangkok. A good amount to start at is half the asking price. If you want to have a little fun, you can bluff by starting to walk away – if the seller doesn’t call you back you’ll know that your opening bid was too low.

Khao San Road: Situated in the heart of Bangkok, Khao San Road is a hub of somewhat crazed activity and an essential part of any Thailand tour or trip. It’s home dusty silver shops, stalls selling fisherman’s pants and t-shirts, Pad Thai vendors, a fast food joint or two and the occasional elephant! This is a great place to pick up cheap books, CD’s and souvenirs such as the infamous croaking frog while you’re travelling in Thailand.

Pat Pong night market: Located in the most famous neighbourhood in Bangkok, you should make time in your Thailand travel agenda to go least once in the evening. This is where you’ll find everything from fake watches to imitation sunglasses. The market itself lies in the middle of the red light district- but it’s not dangerous. We found prices here very high compared to other markets, so haggle hard. It’s quirky, and another really authentic Thailand experience.

Siam Square: This is the heart of the business centre, full of western brands such Hard Rock Cafe and McDonalds and you’ll find many expats in this area. This is a good place to be if you fancy going to the cinema (just stand up for the national anthem!). All the big superstores can be found here as well, with all sorts of software and DVDs at incredibly cheap prices. It’s the flipside of Thailand and will give you a totally different perspective on your Thailand trip.

MBK: At eight stories high, this shopping center hosts around 2,000 shops and services, including the 4-story Tokyu department store, restaurants and entertainment areas. You can buy anything from ‘designer’ jean, to shoes, to DVD’s, to mobile phones, all at a really great price. While you’re travelling in Thailand, you should definitely try to squeeze in this experience.

Chatuchak: Chatuchak weekend market covers over 35 acres and is well worth a visit. It is very busy, with a huge variety of stalls and gets quite hectic by lunch time. You can easily spend an entire day there and not get to every stall. It is best to get there early to avoid the crowds and the searing heat of the midday sun. You can find clothes, souvenirs, shoes, food, T-shirts, and even pets (dogs, rare birds, fish, and even snakes). The market only takes place on Saturday and Sundays and it’s a great place to pick up gifts before the end of your Thailand trip.

Chinatown: Packed with market stalls, street-side restaurants, Chinese medicine shops and probably the highest concentration of gold shops in the city, Chinatown is an experience not to miss. This historic area is as old as Bangkok itself, its growth spawned by waves of Chinese immigrants who left communist China, settled down here and continued what they did best: trade.

Got you thinking? Try building your own Thailand Travel Plan and make time for shopping in Bangkok.

How to Shop While Traveling Abroad

Though it might sound superficial and most of us don’t like to admit it, traveling abroad is the perfect excuse to shop. It’s a feeling that whatever you purchase you will be unable to find back home because it is one of a kind and unique to its country of origin (and the classic mind trick also helps when prices look a lot lower because you conveniently forget to convert the currency. Why do math on vacation?).

Whatever your excuse, a vacation simply compels one to shop. While touring the Vatican or Buckingham Palace may hover on the agenda, let’s face it – you can’t bring those home with you and wear them over and over. With summer looming on the horizon, it seems only appropriate to visit the rules of shopping abroad.

Where do you draw the line between necessary and frivolous? There are a few things to keep in mind while shopping abroad that can save both your time and your wallet.

I know, touring the Spanish Steps can seem somewhat mundane when Yves Saint Laurent and Prada are calling your name right at the base, but rule number one, don’t buy designer abroad. Yes, the thrill of owning Prada from Italy or Vuitton from France is certainly alluring, but the exchange rate will make the already expensive items even more absurd, and, with the dollar at it’s weakest, it’s probably best to steer clear of unneeded expenses. When you can get the same thing in the states minus the currency exchange, it’s only the memory that you’re paying extra for. Visit the boutiques to window shop, but actually make the purchase back home. Contrary to the myth, designer is not actually cheaper in it’s homeland; quite the opposite, actually.

Rule number two, don’t waste your time shopping in places you can find in the states, and don’t be fooled by the trés chic European names. I’ve been to Harrods three times and it’s time to face the reality – it’s nothing but a supersized Bloomingdales.

With the exception of a few designers, most of the vendors Harrods carries are the same ones you’ll see inside any Bloomies or Neiman Marcus. Not to mention, the department store is a mad house and you’ll be lucky to navigate your way through without getting lost, frustrated or trampled by the amount of people, leaving you wondering if you’re actually in central London or on a safari in the middle of a stampede.

Skip it. If you want the same department store feel, Fortnum & Masons is much more accessible. It has the same feel to it, but with less crowding and unique-to-Britain products. The bottom level is produce, the middle has home décor and the top has lingerie, with various other categories interspersed in between (and not to mention a delicious old-time ice cream parlor). The same can be said of other countries. Avoid the mall-type venues; they’re nothing more than bigger, more hyped up versions of our American department stores.

So that brings us to rule number three, try to spend your shopping time buying things that are truly unique to the country that you honestly can’t buy at home. Of course every Paris visitor wants to check out the famous Saint Germain shopping district, but don’t spend all day there. Get lost on the backstreets of Paris, navigate your way through the cobblestones of Rome and don’t miss the old bookstores hidden through London’s Covent Garden. The local shopping may not be what your magazines are hyping, but they’re the most affordable and most rewarding spots to shop. There’s something incredibly memorable about bringing back a 3 Euro Parisian scarf from a shop in Montmartre, or a Venetian glass ring from a hidden store off the Grand Canal – those are truly the items worth purchasing items you can’t find anywhere else.

Truth be told? My favorite travel purchase will always be the one made at 31 Rue Cambon (the address of the original Chanel store), but it still can’t beat the memories conjured up when someone asks me where I got the 10 Euro glass ring on my hand, and I lose myself in memories of canals and gondoliers.