But not all money-saving ideas are created equal. Have you ever considered that you could be undermining your own thrifty goals with false economies such as buying in bulk and excessive bargain hunting? Here are some ways you might be spending more money in the long run than you need to.
Joining big-box membership stores
People fall in love with big-box membership stores, says Julie Cole, mother of six and owner of Mabel's Labels. But she points out that not only are you paying for the privilege of shopping, you're also more likely to buy stuff you don't need.
"You think your membership will save you money, but you get sucked into buying things you never would have considered buying. Sometimes your efforts to save money make you end up spending much more," she says.
Before you sign up, consider giving the store a test drive with a family member or friend who is a member – many clubs allow guests – to see if the yearly fee will be truly worth your while, and whether you need to buy big quantities. Which can also lead to the potential false economy of…
Buying in bulk
In theory, buying in bulk is ideal. Supposedly, you'll end up with less packaging and you'll make fewer shopping trips. However, it won't necessarily save you money.
Many bulk food items are not necessarily cheaper than your local grocery store, and the purchase will go to waste if the food spoils or you get sick of it. I remember buying a pricey two-pound bag of smoked almonds. I couldn't finish the last quarter-pound before it got hopelessly stale.
"Mothers often get stuck with products they don't need," warns Cole. "The classic example is diapers – you buy them in bulk because the price is great, then halfway through the supply, your kid is onto the next size. You end up giving the rest of the diapers away. Don't buy all products in bulk – your kids will grow faster than you realize!"
Page 1 of 2 – Discover ways to save money on cars, sunglasses, items for baby and special sales on page 2.
Purchasing a well-worn car
A decade ago, my husband purchased a ten-year-old car. It wasn't flashy or luxurious, it was a just an affordable, sporty little coupe. And it was in great condition. For about a month. Then the alternator blew and soon thereafter it needed expensive parts and labour every month.
My uncle, a mechanic had warned us, "If you buy that 10-year-old used car, I can guarantee you'll be fixing it all the time." Why don't we listen to our elders? Sure enough, we did the math after a year of owning this clunker, and calculated we could have leased a shiny new BMW for the same price.
Buying cheap sunglasses
"I used to be a buyer for sunglasses for a major department store, and I know that you really can't beat quality," says Tamra Shurgin, who writes the popular blog The Frugal Mom. "But even so, I admit that while on vacation I left mine at home, so I purchased cheap sunglasses at a discount store. I quickly learned my lesson as they broke within two days. I went and bought another replacement pair and again it broke quickly. The pairs that I left at home cost me much more, but were of much higher quality and have lasted me at least eight years so far," she says.
Also, keep in mind that good sunglasses from a reputable store will often carry a warranty, which is usually not the case for discount shades.
Going for bargain baby stuff
"I learned early on that it is not worth trying to save money on some things. This is from my unique perspective as a mother of six children," says Cole.
"For example, I spent a lot of money on a very good single stroller and double stroller. Both have been going strong after ten years of being used every day. If I had tried to save money and buy a less expensive stroller, I would be on my third or fourth by now and in the end it would have cost me more money. You think it will save you money to buy less expensive products, but in the end it costs you more."
On the flip side, you don't want to shuck out for expensive kids' products, only to have them lost or accidentally taken home by another family, which was the impetus behind Mabel's Labels. "It was driving us crazy buying our kids nice things and having them disappear!" says Cole. "We found that even in the recession we did well because people saw our labels as an investment – spend 20 bucks on labels, and your kids' $100 shoes don't get lost at school."
Driving around for sale items
Trekking to another town to save $15 on an electronic device, driving from one grocery store to another to take advantage of various small coupons – sometimes the thrill of the hunt can outweigh the savings amassed, especially if you factor in the cost of gas and the wear and tear on your vehicle.
Don't forget that in winter months you'll be spending much more for fuel, and the cold starts are much harder on your car. In the summer, if you're blasting the car's air conditioner on buying trips, you're eating into your savings, too.
Inexpensive wardrobe basics
"When buying basic items for your wardrobe I have learned by trial and error that it's worth spending a bit more money for quality if you want them to last," says Shurgin, a mom of three children.
"I had gone the cheaper route when I first started working and noticed seams would unravel quickly, and the fabric would be of much poorer quality. When washed [the items] would get shiny or pilly," she adds. "But when I had spent a little bit more money on items they lasted, and I build on that wardrobe each year." Fellow mom-of-many Julie Cole agrees. "Don't cheap out," she advises.