Save and Invest

Bargain-hunting experts say these 6 easy tricks can save you hundreds of dollars a year, especially if you love Amazon

Marlene Bocast | Twenty20

While most of us aim to spend less and save more, the unfortunate truth is that the average American consumer still spends up to $5,400 annually on spur-of-the-moment impulse buys — and that's something we should all put more effort into improving.

Now for some good news: Bargain-hunting can help curb your spending in significant ways, and thanks to some insider hacks, it's actually pretty easy (and your wallet will thank you). Here are six simple tricks that can save you hundreds of dollars a year, according to shopping experts:

1. Ignore anchor prices

If you've ever been knee-deep in a shopping trip, you may have noticed that most retailers often advertise two prices: a "discounted" price and a much higher price. (This model is the norm on most Amazon listings.) The idea is to trick you into thinking you're getting a great deal, even when you really aren't.

Unless the higher price has the words 'original price,' it's totally and utterly meaningless.
Mark Ellwood
author, "Bargain Fever: How to Shop in a Discounted World"

"Don't fall for it," Mark Ellewood, author of "Bargain Fever: How to Shop in a Discounted World," tells CNBC Make It. "Unless the higher price has the words 'original price,' it's totally and utterly meaningless." We're wired to connect with the higher price and treat it as if it reflects the item's true worth.

To get the most bang for your buck, Ellwood suggests ignoring the higher price and asking yourself if the item is worth the selling price. For Amazon shoppers, free website services like can help put things in perspective by showing you an item's price and sales rank.

2. Snag discounted gift cards

Karen Hoxmeier, founder of, is a huge fan of discounted gift cards. Websites like Gift Card Granny and Raise allow consumers to offload unwanted gift cards for a little less than what they're worth — a win-win for both the buyer and seller.

"You can stack these with store coupons or general sales to save maybe up to 10 percent," Hoxmeier tells CNBC Make It. It's an easy way to save money at stores that you plan on shopping at anyway. Sometimes, restaurant gift cards can be slashed by up to 60 percent.

3. Ask for deals

This sounds simple, but Ellwood says it can go a long way in finding the best bargains. "Your best discount secret is the sales associate in the store," he says. "They have all the coupons, deals and discounts right at their fingertips."

Kindly asking if there are any available discounts could unlock valuable coupon codes at the register. Remember, the associate's goal is to sell you products, even if they're priced significantly lower.

Another great trick is to ask if the store will match a lower online price or competitor sale. These tactics apply to online shopping as well, so don't be afraid to message a sales associate via the chat feature.

4. Know the 'rule of threes'

As shoppers, Ellwood says we're susceptible to "Goldilocks Syndrome." Many retailers display items in trios — like three side-by-side TVs, advertised at $399, $299 and $199, respectively.

"That's deliberate because humans always go for the middle one, the one that's 'just right,'" he says. "Don't assume, however, that it's the best deal."

Sarah Michelle Gellar uses this method to save money
Sarah Michelle Gellar uses this method to save money

More often than not, according to Ellwood, there isn't much of a difference in functionality between the middle-priced item and the lowest-priced one. It's simply a trick retailers use to get you to buy the middle option. "If you see a trio of items displayed, always aim for the cheapest one," he advises.

5. Don't be too cheap

Bargain-hunting doesn't always translate to buying the cheapest item you see. It's all about the context. Spending $10 on a shirt you're only going to wear a few times isn't a bad deal, but when it comes to staple items, like running sneakers or a winter coat, your dollars will stretch further if you treat it like an investment.

Hoxmeier suggests hitting up outlet stores for discounted items that are well-made and will go the distance.

6. Time your shopping

Making purchases during off-season, like buying a new bathing suit during the winter, isn't the only way to shop smarter. It also pays to time your shopping so that it lines up with the cheapest times to buy.

If you're on the hunt for TVs and electronics, for example, hold off until January, when retailers normally discount home-theater essentials, according to NerdWallet.  Need a new mattress? Wait until May and take advantage of Memorial Day sales. 

Marianne Hayes is a freelance writer covering everything from personal finance to spiritual growth. Her work has been published in MagnifyMoney, Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Good Housekeeping and Forbes. Follow her on Twitter @hayesmarianne.

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