Many people are too busy or too distracted to ensure they are getting the best prices when they shop for consumer goods, like groceries, clothes and household items. Also, some retailers – on purpose or inadvertently – overcharge customers or provide less product than advertised for a given price.
This guide was created for you to help others save real money on everyday shopping. By following a few simple steps you can teach others to take actions that will save them money – a key service during a challenging economic time. This guide will also help you make others more aware of consumer protections that assure that you get what you’re paying for.
By sharing knowledge about how to find the best prices on everyday goods, and how to spot and challenge questionable pricing tactics, you can help others save money while shopping.
It takes as little as 5 minutes to share this project guide with others; up to a few hours to help people find Internet coupons and regulatory resources.
THE BASIC STEPS
This section addresses two related – but distinct – actions: Helping Others Save Money and Helping Others Get What They Pay For. Steps 1 through 4 address saving money; steps 5 though 8 focus on helping others get what they pay for.
STEP 1: SELECT TWO OR THREE FRIENDS OR NEIGHBORS
These are the first people you will help. Choose people you know who don’t mind taking advice from you. This will help you hone how you deliver the information in this guide.
STEP 2: SHARE THE "SHOPPING" AND "CONSUMER" TIPS CONTAINED IN THIS PROJECT GUIDE
After you review and understand these tips, share this project guide with the people you selected to help. Also see the “Additional Resources” section below for a wealth of information on how to be a savvy consumer.
STEP 3: EMBRACE TECHNOLOGY!
If you or the people you are helping have a computer and/or a Smart Phone, you can access an abundance of tools for checking prices, getting coupons and otherwise saving money shopping. One example: a Smart Phone app lets you scan a bar code on your phone while in one store and then shows prices for that same item at nearby stores.
Some major grocers, like Safeway, offer email coupons while others publish their weekly coupons on their Web site.
Any complaint you make to the store, to the producer or to a responsible government oversight agency will also help all those customers that come after you.
STEP 4: BUILD A TEAM
Once you are comfortable helping others with basic money-saving tips, organize a core group and show them how easy it is to help others become smarter and more aware shoppers. Consider organizing a neighborhood or community “Shoppers Workshop” or “Coupon Traders Club” where attendees can obtain coupons on the products they regularly use and offer coupons they won’t use to others.
Such events could help broaden your help to those truly in financial need and can also be convenient reasons to socialize with friends and neighbors. AARP in your area or a consumer watchdog organization may offer free speakers who can brief your group on consumer issues, like how to recognize scams or complain to a retailer.
STEP 5: KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
Every state has a Division of Weights and Measures (DWM) that inspects all retail measuring and dispensing devices for accuracy and places stickers on all such devices to indicate that they are providing accurate readings. This includes all retail scanning registers, deli and produce scales, gas pumps, parking meters, laundry and parking lot timers and numerous other devices consumers encounter. If DWM isn’t doing its job you may be getting shorted - at the gas pump, the deli, the grocery store.
If you don’t see an up-to-date device inspection sticker, or if you are overcharged by a scanner checkout, complain to both the store manager and DWM.
If you feel a retailer is a repeat offender of shady pricing, you can ask DWM to do a store “price verification audit.”
The DWM also ensures that products contain the advertised amount of contents. If you find that a package labeled to contain 10 items really holds only nine, or that a supposed 11-ounce bag of potato chips is actually only 8 ounces, you should complain to DWM. Also complain to the merchant; you might be offered free items as an act of good faith.
STEP 6: KNOW YOUR PRODUCTS
Start to make mental notes of the typical weight or count of products you buy regularly. It is legal for producers to reduce sizes or counts, as long as they state clearly on the label how much is in each package. Your awareness of downsizing will alert you and your friends to the fact that it may be time to switch brands and to complain loudly to the producer’s toll-free phone number on the package. Sometimes during a transition to the downsized package, the retailer may have the old and new products shelved together. Then you can truly see how much less you get for your dollar.
STEP 7: KNOW THE LAW
Learn about your state’s Sales Tax Law, which will tell you what’s taxable, and at what percentage. It’s not unusual for a retailer to tax a non-taxable item or to miscalculate tax on items bought on sale or with coupons. Trusting the retailer may well cost you more than you should pay. Your state’s Department of Revenue or your state legislator’s office should be able to make the tax list available to you.
You should also learn the rules for taxing, such as calculating the tax on the sale or discounted cost versus its original gross cost. Get in the habit of reviewing sales receipts for tax accuracy. If you find errors, complain to the store’s management and demand a refund. Doing your homework may enable you to know more about the sales tax laws than the store does.
STEP 8: LEARN HOW TO COMPARISON SHOP
Check local publications and the Internet to compare prices on items. Consider subscribing to Consumer Reports (online and/or in print), which reports on the value of consumer goods.
Also, see the Related Links section below for more intelligence on saving money and avoiding consumer scams and fraud.
Remember, it pays to complain when warranted – it may benefit you and others who shop.
STEP 9: INSPIRE OTHERS ON CREATETHEGOOD.ORG!
KEEP UP THE GOOD!
Visit www.CreateTheGood.org for a range of opportunities to use your life experience, skills and passions to benefit your community.
TIPS FOR SAVING MONEY ON PURCHASES
SAVE MONEY ON GROCERY ITEMS
- Sunday newspapers are packed with coupons. Also check in-store flyers (usually found near the entrance) and use the Internet to search for downloadable coupons. Manufacturers like Pillsbury, Betty Crocker, General Mills and others offer coupons directly from their Web sites. The coupon site Pocket Your Dollars has details on when and where coupons appeared in newspaper inserts.
- Discipline yourself to stick to your grocery list and carry all your coupons with you. If your grocer splits the price of items being sold on a “Buy 1 Get 1 Free” basis you can use two coupons and they may even double the value.
- Comparison shop 2 or 3 stores – the Internet is best for this, provided your local grocers have Web sites.
- Shop thrift and warehouse grocery stores when possible. Be willing to try an unfamiliar brand if the price is markedly lower than your usual brand.
- Whenever you find a real bargain, consider buying several for your future use. The largest sizes aren’t always the best deals, especially when you have double coupons – i.e. when stores honor coupons at twice their face value.
- Drugstores are increasingly stocking grocery items. Review their weekly flyers for potential deals.
- Weigh the benefits of frequent shopper cards and gasoline perks from your favorite stores. A reduced price on gasoline for being loyal to a store may not really save you.
- Always check your scanner receipts for accuracy. Errors sometimes entitle you to free items or a discount.
SAVE MONEY ON CLOTHING AND GIFT ITEMS
- Thrift stores, resale and overstock shops and mass merchandisers are usually lower in price than department store chains.
- Buy season-ending store clearance items for use in the future or for seasonal gift giving. You can frequently save up to 90% on after-season sales of things like holiday greeting cards, summer clothes and novelty items.
- Department stores usually put percentage-off coupons in the Sunday papers. These sales are extraordinary when they allow the coupons to be used on already reduced clearance items. You can outfit your grandkids a year in advance with discounts of up to 80% on name brand first quality merchandise.
- Get to know the stores that handle the brands you prefer and run good sales.
- Many clothing specialty shops run good sales and discounts.
SAVE MONEY ON PRESCRIPTIONS AND OVER-THE–COUNTER DRUGS
- Get your hands on the formulary lists from the stores that offer $4 monthly prescriptions and $10 three-month prescriptions (many pharmacies offer these set, low prices on certain drugs). Review the list to find drugs that you regularly use.
- Review your prescriptions with your physician to learn if you can switch to low-cost or generic versions of your medications.
- Most people don’t know that a chain drugstore will frequently match the low $4 or $10 prices from their competition. Your doctor should give you new prescriptions for them.
WATCH THOSE SCANNERS AT THE CHECKOUT
It is against the law to advertise or promise one price and then charge a higher price.
Know the price of each item you are buying and ensure that the correct price is charged at the register.
If you are overcharged, speak up immediately. If the clerk says he or she cannot offer the lower price – for example, because, “That’s the price it read off the barcode, so that’s the price we have to charge.” – simply say you don’t want to buy that item. Then ask for a manager and ask if the store has a scanner guarantee policy that offers customers a discount or even the item for free if the wrong price is charged. Many retailers (including Sears, J.C. Penney and Office Depot) have such policies.
The Bureau of Weights and Measures in the Department of Agriculture has oversight of price accuracy in stores. They must inspect stores annually or when they receive a complaint. You can call the toll-free number at 1-877-TEST-007 (1-877-838-8007) to complain about being overcharged in a particular store.
You can also complain about a misrepresentation of price in a store by calling the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection hotline at toll free 1-800-441-2555.
If the overcharge occurs in a supermarket or convenience store, you can also complain to the Scanning Certification Advisory Board by calling toll free 1-888-SCAN-SCP or 1-888-722-6727.
Join AARP’s Savings Challenge Group! – http://community.aarp.org/t5/Budget-Savings/bd-p/bf37
How to budget and save money – www.aarp.org/money/budgeting-saving/
Money saving tips for retirees – www.aarp.org/money/budgeting-saving/info-04-2011/money-saving-tips-for-retirees.html
12 ways to be cheap – www.aarp.org/money/budgeting-saving/info-04-2011/get-a-cheapskate-makeover.html
Do outlet malls really save you money? – www.aarp.org/money/budgeting-saving/info-04-2011/outlet-malls-factory-stores.html
Food prices are rising – www.aarp.org/money/budgeting-saving/info-04-2011/paying-more-for-food.html
Are you throwing your money away? – www.aarp.org/money/budgeting-saving/info-04-2011/trashcan-autopsy.html
How to save at the supermarket – www.aarp.org/money/budgeting-saving/info-03-2010/my-generation-ultimate-cheapskate.html
Healthy foods that costs less than $1 per pound – www.aarp.org/money/budgeting-saving/info-11-2009/foods_under_a_dollar_per_pound.html
How to avoid impulse buying – www.aarp.org/money/budgeting-saving/info-10-2010/savings_challenge_tips_for_impulse_shopping.html
Don’t spend what you don’t have – www.aarp.org/money/budgeting-saving/info-11-2010/khalfani_cox_dont_spend_what_you_dont_have.html
Websites that help you save – www.aarp.org/money/budgeting-saving/info-09-2010/savings_challenge_share_and_save_alike.html
Consumer complaint checklist – www.aarp.org/money/budgeting-saving/info-04-2011/consumer-complaint-checklist.html
Money saving advice from AARP Savings Expert Jeff Yeager – www.aarp.org/money/experts/jeff_yeager/
A web of free stuff – www.aarp.org/money/budgeting-saving/info-10-2010/savings_challenge_free_stuff_on_the_internet.html