How to Shop Frugally

After reading my frugal or cheap post yesterday, paidtwice asked an interesting question.

Does shopping at Walmart make me frugal or cheap? And I am not talking about any ethical considerations. I am talking about buying an office chair at Walmart vs a furniture store, buying my sheets at Walmart vs Linens n Things…. what items are worth spending twice as much for (or more?). I don’t know. I don’t know how long different stuff is going to last and what items are worth it.

A little further down in the comments, Jennifer gave a pretty good answer.

Paidtwice-here’s my $.02 about Walmart. In general I have found that anything at Walmart that is *manufactured* by Walmart (Home Trends, Basic Editions, etc) is usually not worth it in the long run. If you are going to ever have to replace an office chair, you bought the wrong one, and I can guarantee a Walmart one is one you will have to replace. Sheets–to me, Walmart ones are scratchy. You can’t get a 600 thread count at Walmart. For things Walmart carries that aren’t manufactured by them, it varies by the brand.

I’d like to expand on this a little bit. What makes a frugal purchase, versus a cheap purchase? First determine your budget. Making sure you don’t blow your budget is very important in shopping frugally. There’s no sense in spending time making sure you get the best buy, if you’re going to pay interest because you have to whip out the credit card.

Begin researching your item. I usually begin by checking out Amazon, Walmart, and Target. I pay special attention to the customer reviews at Amazon. I try to shoot for something that has really good reviews. Once I have a good idea of what I can afford, I’ll often look at other online stores like Linens n Things, JcPenney, and Sears. I make notes of what stores offer what prices.

Check price comparison sites. I like and epinions. Once you have your item narrowed down to a couple of models, you can see what different online stores are asking for the item. I like epinions, because you can check more customer reviews.

Do a search for coupon codes. Once you know what you’re going to buy, and you have narrowed down the two or three least expensive online stores, you can do a google search for “store name + code”. Often you can find codes for 20% off the original price. Dealcatcher, fatwallet, Rather-be-Shopping, and Coupons are all great places to find coupons.

Participate in rebate programs. Sites like Ebates and MyPoints give you cash or points back when you shop through their program. With MyPoints, you can redeem your points for gift cards. It’s not that hard to earn enough points for a $10 gift card. There are a lot of annoying emails, but I just delete them, and I still find the program worth it.

Figure out how much you’ll save using coupons/rebates/online shopping vs. Walmart. Buy from the least expensive source. At this point, you should have enough information to know that you’re getting the best quality you can afford for the lowest price. If you find that the item is less expensive at Walmart, know you’re getting decent quality. If none of the quality items that came up in your search are offered at Walmart, you know that Walmart’s product is probably cheap and not worth buying. I know that sounds like a lot of time and effort, but it is the best way to make sure you’re getting the very best deal. There is another option when you don’t have time to do a lot of research, though.

When all else fails, ask. One of my favorite bargain hunting sites is Fishing For Deals. They have a special forum section called “Fishing for a Deal” where you can ask if anyone has seen a deal on a particular item. You have to join the site to post, but let me tell you, the ladies there can find great deals! So if you’re short on time and want to make a frugal purchase, go to the forums and ask!

There are many other options when looking for a great deal. I’ve focused on buying new items today, but you can also check for secondhand items on Freecycle, Craigslist, or Ebay. I try to have fun with finding bargains. I find that the more time I spend researching a purchase, the better my purchase tends to be. More time gives me an opportunity to consider how badly I need the item. Sometimes I just decide not to buy. But if I do buy, I know my money is well spent.

To go back to paidtwice’s original question, “…what items are worth spending twice as much for (or more?)”, I would have to say get the best quality for what you can afford. I would love to buy the best quality of everything, but my budget won’t allow it. Do your research, set a budget, and stick to it. Maybe you can’t afford 600 thread count sheets. So buy the best sheets available in your price range. And the only way to know what sheets those are, is to do your research. Shopping at Walmart doesn’t determine whether you’re frugal or cheap. Making the best use of your money, according to your priorities, determines frugality.


By , on Oct 26, 2007
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


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  1.’s a funny picture!

  2. Shanti Violet:

    Hi I’m Violet,
    Walmart for me is some groceries, pet food, pyrex, corelle, I used to like the white stag line, and they discontinued it, I do have some faded glory tops very good quality. One look in the linens department, and I ran the other way.
    I shop the dollar general Wastebasket WM:$4.96
    DG:$2.00 WM:a extended duster for cobwebs etc.
    WM:$14.96 DG: $4.00, I also shop dollar sales at Food Lion/Kroger. When it comes to clothing, and bedding I was raised on very expensive clothing, I find Land’s End, and L.L. Bean, and the end of a Talbot’s sale great bargains. The clothing lasts for 20 years, Linens: Bloomingdales january white sale. Shoes: Clarks here are a bargain at $39.99 a pair, I also wear Crocs brand same price. So the grocery is where I watch it.

  3. dan:

    I found this on google when I was worrying about my accidental late payment on my discover card, and I had to wait another day to call and ask to remove the fee and rate hike and finance charges.

    I just called today: I told the woman my concern and that I had intended to pay the full $650 balance on time (which I did the day before, late, after receiving a collection call). And to quote: “let me look into that and see if we can do anything… Okay sir, based on your account history with us that’s no problem at all. We’ll clear that right up. I see you’ve made all your payments on time in the past, and you’ve been a very good customer.”

    I’ve never made a late payment for a credit card before. I once made the minimum payment instead of the balance by accident with Citi. I did the same thing and the finance charges were cleared up right away.

    Honestly, I think any credit card company will do this, if you have the right credit score and history with them. Negative past items just may be haunting the people who didn’t have such luck here.

    Now student loans on the other hand… I made one payment about 20 days late because i had moved and forgot about it. They of course decided not to post it until EXACTLY 30 days late, so they could wreck my credit scores. I fought with them for 3 months, I had my bank advocating for me. I eventually gave up, the loan company had the supreme power in the end and I found out ‘that department does not accept incoming calls’ (the one that makes these decisions final).

  4. Meg the Florida Bargain Queen:

    Good quality is essential when being frugal.

    I hardly ever shop at Walmart. The stuff I did get there usually fell apart. And don’t get me started on the clothes!

    I’ve had much better luck at discount stores like T.J. Maxx and Ross. The stuff there really does sell elsewhere for the MSRP, whereas the stuff at Walmart is just made to be cheap.

    If I need something that I can’t find at either of those stores, I’ll head to Target. The stuff is often just as cheap as at Walmart (sometimes cheaper), but it tends to be nicer.

  5. Rob in Madrid:

    part of being frugal is knowing what products you like and waiting till they go on sale. This works well with small things groceries etc. But on larger things it’s about spending more to get quality. If your lucking you can get it onsale. For example my wife bikes to work every day and we’ve been talking about buying her a folding bike so when I’m off early I can pick her up. We bought a “cheap” one and it was so bad she never used it. Instead were leaning towards a bike friday or equivalent. That’s around a 1.000 USD bike. Of course buying it on credit for sure isn’t frugal :)

  6. Lynnae:

    I will admit to shopping at Walmart a lot. It’s 1/2 a mile away and easier than driving the 6-10 miles down the freeway to other stores.

    You do have to be careful with what you buy. Thanks, K, for the advice on the towels. I’m in the market for new ones, and now I know where not to buy them. I find people’s different experiences kind of funny. I’m on my 5th year of using my Walmart curling iron.

    I struggle with the ethics of shopping at Walmart. I haven’t seen the documentary, but I do know there are some concerns. On the other hand, because I am in the store so often, I have gotten to know some of the door greeters and cashiers. They are genuinely good people who seem to enjoy their jobs. And if everyone stopped shopping at Walmart, they’d be out of their jobs.

  7. I stopped shopping at Wal-Mart after buying three showerheads… none of which worked, even though they were brand new.

    I also bought two phones. Neither of them worked either.

    I just got sick of returning merchandise. Such a waste of time.

    Of course, on the ethical side, a well-made documentary about Wal-Mart’s business practices persuaded me I should no longer shop there.

  8. K:

    Our dishwasher broke and we don’t plan to replace it so I had to shop for some new kitchen towels. It is so hard to find a kitchen towel WITHOUT fringe on the bottoms, a hideous gigantic chicken motif on it, or in predominately white designs. Then on top of that I couldn’t believe how pricey they were as I needed to get quite a few.

    I found a great deal at Walmart on some towels. After seeing what terrible quality their clothing items had I decided to buy only one multiple package to check them out as they were all tethered together with those little plastic things so you couldnt see the quality inside.

    I got them home and untethered them and every single towel had a flaw of some kind on them. I would have called them “irregulars” although they weren’t marked as such.

    After much thought I decided that for the price I could live with these irregulars as most were what I would call ‘blemished’ but still should stand up to use for the most part.

    So I went back and got 2 more packages of 6 towels each. Took them home and washed them up (NO fabric softener). Clipped all the loose threads, etc.

    Then I noticed as I began using them that they weren’t drying the dishes. They just smeared the water around. They didn’t absorb the water. And they were all cotton towels.

    Don’t know what is up with that but wont be buying anything from Walmart in the future unless it is vitamins or toothpaste etc. I guess you get what you pay for.

  9. Michelle:

    I live in rural Texas so I’m lucky to even get to a Wal-Mart! When I do, I get everything possible there but I would have to say I haven’t had the best of service out of their hair appliances. I’m on my second hairdryer and second curling iron this year!Everything else seems to be holding up ok.

    Blessings to All!

  10. Lynnae:

    @paidtwice – That’s where I’m a bit spoiled. My husband has been in ad sales so many years, he knows all the business owners in our area. We get advice from the top. :)

    I’ve heard great things about Dysons. I can’t afford one though. Don’t get the low-end Hoover. I have one. It sucks. Or doesn’t suck. I think that’s the problem. LOL And Hoovers used to be so good.

    Maybe you should post for opinions on your blog. I’m sure lots of people will tell you what they think. :)

  11. Lynnae I’m not trying to make you write about me endlessly. I’m just being a twit. (Well, not on purpose lol)

    If I ever get to the point that I force myself out of inertia to buy something I’ll probably ask for opinions. The fridge hasn’t died yet, bless all 23 years of her, and the vacuum… well, we have one. It is okay. If you first rub every inch of the floor with your hands and make a huge ball of hair from me and the cats and throw that away. it does not do well with hair.

    gross… yes. Annoying… yes. Good use of my time…. no. But I’m afraid to buy another anyway :)

  12. Lynnae:

    @Mrs. Micah – Very good point. If you don’t need good quality, it’s frugal not to spend the money on good quality.

    @Kandy – I have had mixed luck with Walmart shoes. I have one pair that I’ve had for 6 years, and they still look great. They’re comfortable, and I get compliments on them all the time. Faded Glory brand.

    On the other hand, I’ve bought Walmart shoes for my kids that haven’t lasted more than a couple of months.

  13. Dysons are great at cleaning things, but they’re pretty heavy – particularly annoying if you have stairs.

    Sunglasses are one of my things not to spend too much on. The cheapest pair I ever bought refuse to die, but the really nice Caterpillar ones (from TK Maxx) got lost within a fortnight.

  14. Really good post. It is important to think about quality of the lifetime of a product. If you can’t afford it, sometimes you can put it on your gift lists or sometimes you just have to make due with a cheaper product.

  15. Personally, I love my 400-thread count sheets from Wal-Mart :)

    Not all of the Wal-Mart brands are “cheap” either. Personally I LOVE my faded glory brand shoes and sandals. I have bad feet, and they’re just about the only shoes I’ve found that don’t have to be “broken in”. I’ve had one pair that I wear faithfully for over 6 years now.

    Back to your regular programming :)

  16. I’m not trying to beat a dead horse, honest.

    My big failing is with the “Begin Researching Your Item” step. I do research! And everything seems to have as many bad reviews as good ones. And when I am going to spend a large amount of money, I want to figure out which ones is the best value for my dollar… right?

    but I can’t. i try, I suck at it, I buy something I *think* is the right one, and it doesn’t work as well as “people” claim it does and then I cry. :)

    Anyone want a spot-bot cheap? lol

    I need to buy a vacuum and I am terrified to do so. And our refrigerator will need replacing sooner rather than later.


  17. Lynnae:

    @Heather – Thrift shops are great, aren’t they? I’ve never tried shopping for sheets, there, though. I’ll have to take a look next time I’m in. Great tip. Thanks! And I’m glad you found me. Don’t you just love Stumbleupon?

  18. And when evaluating quality, it’s important to figure out how much quality you’ll need, not just what you can afford. I don’t need quality sunglasses even if I can afford them. Because my last four pairs have ended up being sat upon. I actually got two of them from a lost-and-found where I worked (don’t claim it for 2 weeks, it’s mine!). I don’t even bother to buy them anymore. If I did, I probably wouldn’t spend more than $10.

    A chair, on the other hand, should last forever (if possible) so getting high quality is good!

  19. Been reading for a couple weeks–found the site through Stumbleupon.

    It took me 6 years to learn that about Walmart–the difference between cheap and frugal. I grew up being cheap, my parents are cheap and I was taught to be, I have learned to be frugal and enjoy doing the research and finding the best bargains for good quality items that won’t break so they save us money in the long run. One of the things I do with my research is once I find what I am looking for I will watch for it at our local thrift shop (there are six in our area all within a few miles of each other and a lot of people drop off nearly new items–especially appliances.) Also, I have found that the thrift shop and yard sales are the best place to get high count 100% cotton sheets (my husband likes cotton only)–I get them for around a dollar though if we need them in a pinch Target carries very high quality 100% cotton sheets for about $6-$10 each–which is pretty good. (The comment about sheets got me thinking.)

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