Five Tips for Saving Money and Time Shopping Online

Posted by · October 20, 2011 9:04 pm

This is the first post for our new column, “The Cheap Sherpa,” where bargain-hunter Gary Weyel takes a look at how to save money on tech, or use tech to save money. Because everyone likes to save money. 

I love a bargain. Always have. In fact some have come to calling me their “Cheap Sherpa” for my knack at finding the best price on the planet for a product.

Of course, the Cheap Sherpa couldn’t do what he does without the internet. The internet has been a boon for cheapskates everywhere, with a wealth of reviews, price comparisons and bargain sites at our fingertips. But the flip side of this treasure trove of data is it can lead to endless hunts for deals, indecision and frustration.

So what’s the budget-conscious soul to do? Here are a few simple guidelines for saving money and time when shopping for internet bargains.

Weigh the effort against the reward.

While it may seem obvious that spending two hours searching for a 45-cent item to round out your Amazon order* and qualify for free shipping is a bad use of time, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment. Consider the item up for purchase. A new car? Sure, you should probably spend a fair amount of time doing your research. A box of diapers? Maybe not.

As a rule of thumb I try to consider the savings at stake as my hourly wage. Do I want to spend four hours away from my family and hobbies to save what amounts to $1.50 an hour? Probably not worth it.

*On the bright side, these days you can use an Amazon filler item finder like ClickFiller to quickly and easily top off your shopping basket. Or even better, you can get three to six months of Amazon Prime free if you’re a student or a primary caregiver.

Consider long-term and recurring costs.

Some people will scour online for weeks when purchasing a new HDTV but won’t think twice about paying their cable company $130 a month. Our modern world is saturated with monthly fees that nickel and dime us out of our hard-earned cash. On top of the phone, water and trash, we’re paying for internet, cable, cell phones, Netflix and more.

Take a good look at your recurring monthly costs and evaluate what you’re actually using. If you only watch a few hours of Netflix streaming a month, check out the Hulu library and see if you can watch similar shows for free. Cut services that aren’t useful and try to renegotiate your fees and shop for alternatives where you can (like cable and wireless). Saving $30 a month on one service can add up to big savings for minimal effort fast.

Limit your inputs.

The seemingly infinite amount of information available online can stop even the most hardened bargain hunter in her tracks.  I’ve found that relying on a handful of trusty resources has helped me improve my search efficiency. For example, I use Google Products advanced search, Worth Monkey and eBay closed listings to get a quick baseline price of an item. I use the DealNews app, SlickDeals and CNET’s Cheapskate to stay tuned in to hot last-minute deals.

You’ve probably got a few sites you already favor; experiment with a few test products (when you’re not emotionally attached) and see what you can keep in your toolbox for quick reference.

Set a deadline.

The corollary to limiting your inputs is setting a deadline. Some deadlines are natural (like buying Christmas gifts) but sometimes bigger projects and purchases can be put off because they’re a bit scary.

My wife and I tackled a DIY kitchen remodel last summer, but we began mapping out our purchases six months in advance with the target deadline of August 2011. We bought a number of our appliances online and did our due diligence comparing prices using the tools above, but since we were on a deadline we couldn’t wait two months for that magical once-in-a-lifetime deal.

Have fun searching and saving.

I’ll admit it—I get a buzz off saving money. Maybe for you, bargain hunting is somewhat of a hobby (if I’m honest with myself I’d admit that’s the case with me). If so, it may not be the worst thing to spend a few extra hours searching for the best deal.

But while saving money matters, it’s not worth it if it’s stressing you out. Saving money should feel good. If the search is becoming burdensome to you (or your loved ones), try constraining your online bargain hunting using the tips above.

What about you? What online tools do you use to save money? Share yours in the comments below!

Follow the Cheap Sherpa’s adventures in saving money on Twitter.