Whenever you shop without a clear idea of what you need — be it online or in a store — it almost always results in overspending, and you may even forget important items. Knowing that most Canadians are feeling immense pressure to be better prepared for tighter restrictions as COVID-19 cases rise, I’m sharing a methodical approach to ensuring you’re stocked up and at the same time save some money.
Day 1: Make a list of what is essential for you and your family
Find 30 minutes in your day to draft a list of what you need (leave your wants off for now). Essentials would include things like medications, formula, diapers, hand sanitizer, cleaning products for your home and the interior of your car, canned and dried foods, pet food, toothpaste, paper products, feminine supplies and coffee. Next, set that list down. Revisit it in 24 hours, which is enough time for you to add the items you forgot in the first draft.
Don’t forget that the seasons are changing, which means your essential needs could also include a bag of salt for your steps (in case of snow or ice), or a pair of mittens for your toddler.
Day 2: Inventory what you have to reduce spending
If you have doubles or triples of something, don’t buy more! Put that money in your emergency fund instead. Doing a quick inventory is your opportunity to dig into the back of your cupboards, medicine cabinet and junk drawers to figure out what you still have left over from the stockpiling you did back in April. For me, I still have an untouched package of light bulbs and floor cleaner, and so those items have been nixed from my list.
Day 3: Compare prices, inventory and convenience online
You won’t know who has the best prices if you don’t compare, and let’s face it, every dollar matters right now given the continued economic uncertainty. Grab your tea and hunker down at the kitchen table for 45 minutes to review deals before stepping foot in a store or paying for your online cart. If you’re planning to have everything delivered, factor shipping fees into your budget, too. If you’re going to a physical store (or two), factor in your time as well as proximity. People who take a moment to compare prices save an average of 15 to 20 per cent relative to those who don’t. Also, if you were a convenience buyer, this is the perfect time to switch to a discount retailer.
Days 4-7: Start shopping, but pace yourself
This is the part where I strongly recommend using all of your gift cards and loyalty points to pay for purchases and apply coupons at the checkout. You may be up against inventory shortages at certain items, which means stocking up can take time. But pacing yourself is probably a good thing as it spaces out your spending, new deals might present themselves, and you can continue to evolve your list of essentials. Rushing to get everything all at once, also known as panic buying, is bad for your bank account.
When it comes to loyalty points, they generally become less valuable over time, which is why hoarding them is not financially savvy. My suggestion is to quickly review all your options for cashing them in, even credit card points, to see where you’ll get the greatest value; groceries, gas, etc.
Allocate savings toward your emergency fund
Having a financial buffer is doubly essential this fall. Certainly the expanded EI and recovery benefits will help provide an additional safety net for the next six months, but having personal savings will shore up the difference between the costs you have relative to the income you’re bringing in. If you’ve never saved before, you may find it helpful to e-transfer a small amount, like $ 10, each day into your savings account. Another way to think about it is if you didn’t buy coffee, lunch, another package of floor wipes, or an audio book you won’t listen to right away, you could save that money instead. It takes time to build up emergency reserves, so just stick with it.
Being mindful of our spending as we move through fall will also help to reduce stress and anxiety resulting from chronic health and financial concerns. Do what you can to protect your precious resources, and still get prepared.
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