11 Reasons You Just Overpaid at the Store

If you're not using these shopping strategies, you're probably paying too much.

If you shop smart, you rarely – if ever – will have to pay full price for your purchases. However, many consumers are leaving money on the table, says Charles Tran, CEO of credit card and deals Web site CreditDonkey.com. That’s because they’re not taking advantage of a variety of ways to score savings.

Here are 11 reasons you’re likely not getting the best possible price. Even savvy shoppers might be overlooking some of these money-saving moves.

1. Buying at the wrong time. There’s a distinct sale cycle for most products. Although you can’t always time your purchase of every item to get the very best price, it’s important to know when items you regularly buy as well as costly big-ticket items are marked down so you don’t pay more than necessary. For example, you shouldn’t be eager to buy the latest tech gadgets, such as smartphones and tablets, as soon as they hit the market because they’ll drop in price considerably after a few months, says Renae Chiovaro, a deal expert with coupon site Savings.com and founder of the How to Have It All blog. The deepest discounts on clothing and seasonal items appear at the end of the season. And pricey items such as appliances and furniture tend to go on sale when new models are released. See The Best Times to Buy Big-Ticket Items to find out how you could save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on major purchases.

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2. Not knowing what a good price is. Just because an item is on sale doesn’t mean it’s selling at a good price, Chiovaro says. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to the costs of things you regularly buy, such as groceries, so you can recognize when a discount actually represents a good deal and can stock up on that item at that low price, she says. For items you don’t regularly buy, this can be tougher. Many consumers see a retailer’s marked down price versus the original selling price and believe they’re getting a deal, says Phong Vu, CEO of DealScience.com. More often than not, the original price retailers show is the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP), but Vu says that in many cases, no retailer is actually selling that particular product at MSRP. But listing that price makes the discount appear bigger than it actually is. Sites such as DealScience.com, which predicts the best times to make purchases based on historical sales data, can help you determine if a sale really is a good deal. DealNews.com marks the best bargains that its deal-hunters find as “Editor’s Choice.” Or you can visit TrackIf.com to see the price history for products so you know if the sale price you're seeing really is a low price.

3. Overlooking coupons. A recent CreditDonkey survey found that 27% of respondents said they don’t use online coupons. However, if you shop online, it only takes a few minutes to search for coupon codes that can be entered at checkout to score discounts. Here’s a rundown of the best ways to find online coupon codes. There also are a variety of free apps you can download to a mobile device to access coupons on the go for discounts at retailers, supermarkets and restaurants. You simply show the coupon barcode at checkout for instant savings. See 8 Great Coupon Apps for more.

4. Failing to comparison shop. If you have Internet access, you have no excuse for not comparing prices at several retailers before making a purchase. Sites such as PriceGrabber and Google Shopping make it easy to search for a product and get a list of the retailers selling it including price and shipping costs. Or you can get instant price comparisons with Web browser add-ons from FreePriceAlerts. When you download the browser add-on and shop online as you normally would, the tool searches other retail sites and displays an alert if a product you’re viewing is cheaper at another site. If you’re in a store, you can use a price-comparison app such as RedLaser or ShopSavvy to scan the barcode of an item and see if another retailer is offering it at a lower price.

5. Forgetting to price match. Some shoppers miss out on a deal because they don’t consider price matching, says Sean Graw, of Brad’s Deals, a Web site that tracks deals and coupons. Many retailers have price-match policies that allow store managers to lower the price of an item to meet a competitor’s advertised price, he says, but they don’t always make obvious mention of these policies. See How to Get Retailers to Match Prices for strategies to persuade stores to equal competitors’ lower price tags.

6. Not tracking the price after a purchase. If you can’t find any coupon codes or get a discount on the item you want, you still might be able to buy it now and get a better price later by exercising a little patience. Several retailers offer price adjustments if the item you bought at full price goes on sale within a certain period of time. Use a browser add-on from PoachIt to track prices on products you’ve purchased and receive alerts when they go on sale. Then contact customer service, provide your order number and a link to the discounted product to get a refund for the difference in price. Even if a retailer doesn’t offer price adjustments, you might be able to get one through your credit card, CreditDonkey's Tran says. Citi and Discover are among the cards that offer this benefit.

7. Ignoring discount gift cards. Stop thinking of gift cards as gifts and start buying discounted ones for your own purchases. Yes, you can purchase gift cards for retailers and restaurants for less than face value at sites such as Cardpool and GiftCards.com and score instant discounts when you use them to buy things you need or want. See How to Buy Discount Gift Cards to learn more.

8. Skipping sign-up offers. Don’t click the “close” button on the pop-up box that appears when you visit a retailer’s site and offers you the chance to score a discount by signing up for its e-mail alerts. Graw recommends that you take retailers up on this offer and wait for an email from them with a coupon code. Keep in mind that the code will work only once, and possibly only during a specific time frame, buy, hey, a discount is a discount.

9. Being impulsive. You’ve likely heard of impulse buys – those unplanned purchases you’re lured into making thanks to retailers’ clever marketing and product placement (think candy in the checkout aisle). Of course, those sort of purchases frequently lead to overspending. But there’s another way being less impulsive when shopping online can save you money, Graw says. After you’ve added items to your virtual shopping cart and gone through the process of entering your customer information – including an email address – Graw says that you should stop short of finalizing your purchase. If you wait a day or two, you might find an email from that retailer in your inbox offering you a discount if you return to your abandoned cart and complete your purchase, he says. Not every retailer does this, but it’s a trick worth trying if you're not in a rush.

10. Neglecting retailers' apps. You might be missing out on savings opportunities if you don’t use the apps offered by retailers where you frequently shop. For example, supermarket apps often have personalized deals that can be claimed by linking your loyalty card to the app and clicking on the deals to add them to your card (see 12 Biggest Shopping Mistakes at the Supermarket). Target's Cartwheel app allows users to score savings of 5% to 50% on certain items that can be combined with coupons, sales and other discounts. And the Walmart Savings Catcher app will automatically refund the difference on certain purchases if a local competitor has a lower price. Read more about the pros and cons of shopping at Walmart.

11. Being afraid to negotiate. If you have a fear of haggling, you need to get over it because you’re missing out on opportunities to save. For example, if you’re considering purchasing several electronics, such as a television, DVD player and gaming system, ask for a discount if you buy them all at once, says Kyle James, founder of coupon and deal site RatherBeShopping. James says his father had success scoring a discount by pointing out imperfections. The box for a toilet he wanted to purchase had a ripped handle, making it awkward to haul. He asked for $50 off for the inconvenience, and the department manager gave it to him in the blink of an eye, James says. See How to Haggle for Practically Anything for strategies to lower prices.

Cameron Huddleston
Former Online Editor, Kiplinger.com

Award-winning journalist, speaker, family finance expert, and author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk.

Cameron Huddleston wrote the daily "Kip Tips" column for Kiplinger.com. She joined Kiplinger in 2001 after graduating from American University with an MA in economic journalism.