Smart shopping tips to save you money

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The cost of living has soared over the last few years, and as a result, many Brits have been searching for ever cheaper deals. If you're keen to cut your spending, whether that's on everyday essentials or big ticket items, here are a few tips to help you shop smart.

It might not be everybody's favourite task, but working out exactly how much you've got to spend and where your money is going should be your first step towards saving money. After all, you can only save when you know where all that cash is going, so an initial income and expenditure check will start you off. Then try to see where the majority of your money is spent, whether that's groceries, clothes or entertainment. It's a good idea to keep a spending diary for a week or two - it can be a real eye-opener.

Shop around
The big-name supermarkets have won business thanks to the pure convenience of having everything in one place. And while they usually offer great value because of their purchasing power, they aren't necessarily always the cheapest. Visit your local greengrocer or farmer's market, for instance, and you may well find the veggies are considerably cheaper than in your nearest supermarket. And don't forget that prices from supermarket to supermarket vary too. Since most of the big names now have an online presence, try to do a comparison of the items you buy regularly to see where you might be able to save money. Doing this can also help you to plan meals ahead and make a list, which will mean you're less likely to impulse buy when you visit the store.

Lastly, don't rule out the own brands or budget supermarkets. The likes of Lidl and Aldi have been booming since the recession began, and you'll be surprised at the quality and variety they offer.

Beware special offers
When you're on a tight budget, your eye is undoubtedly drawn to '2-for-3' or buy-one-get-one-free offers. But rather shamefully, all is not always what it seems when it comes to supermarket deals. Before you rush in with a bulk purchase, or pick up more than you need because of an offer, check that the deal is actually cheaper than buying single items, and do check use-by dates - saving money at the till isn't much good if you just end up throwing food away in two days' time. Of course, where the offer is good value, feel free to stock up, particularly on non-perishables such as toiletries, and canned or frozen goods.

Money off and money back
Everyone loves a good deal, and these days there's no need to cut coupons from magazines and newspapers. The likes of Vouchercodes, Hotukdeals and Myvoucher codes are great if you dance a cheap night out or some discount dining, and they're free to join online. Simply register and you'll get discounts for specific shops and restaurants, products and services either daily or weekly.

Cashback sites can be similarly useful, though only if you are sure about what you want to buy. They will pay you a percentage of the cost of an item into an online account, provided you click through from their site when making your purchase. Many shoppers save a bundle using cashback sites, but it's important not to end up buying things simply for the money back - only use them if they're offering cashback on an item you have already decided to buy.

Compare, compare, compare
If you're serious about saving money, you have to put a little work in, but comparison sites can keep the tedious stuff to a minimum. They're particularly useful if you're buying big-ticket items, and will compare not only online retailers but high street stores so you that you know you're getting a good deal. Equally though, you can compare prices on everything from groceries to perfume to electrical goods, and it's often worth taking the time to do your research before you buy.

Outlet bargains
Outlet stores aren't just for designer fashion labels. In fact many brands have their own outlets that offer items at greatly reduced prices, often because it is end-of-line or making way for new stock. The likes of M&S and Mothercare, Tesco and TK Maxx have outlet stores online that offer seriously discounted clearance items, so if you're in the market for a bargain, try Money Saving Expert's A to Z of outlet stores to find out where to get your chosen items for a fraction of the price.

Are you a bargain hunter when it comes to shopping? What advice would you give to others trying to save money? Leave your comments below...
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