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How to Save with a Shopping To-Do List

Karen Cordaway

Do you ever find yourself at the store for a few items and then suddenly you realize you might have forgotten about other things you need? If you happened to show up in the midst of a sale, then your deal-seeking sense might go into shopping overdrive. Without a written list, though, you might end up buying more than you really need. Here are some tips to help keep you organized next time you find yourself in that situation.

Today there are so many ways to jot things down and stay organized, which makes it easy to pick the method that best fits your habits and lifestyle. Digital options or paper ones will help you get things done and track what you really need (and don't need).

Karl Quist, president of Priceblink.com, suggests avoiding the excitement of crazy sales this time of year. "Make a list and stick to it, and know what the items should cost you," he says. He also points out a misconception that can fool the average shopper, which is assuming that every advertised item is a great deal. You should still check around and compare prices to make sure you're not missing a greater discount.

When it comes to back-to-school shopping, for example, it's easy to be enticed by cutesy pencil cases or locker accessories that aren't necessary. Sometimes I even get reeled in more than my own children. I'm all for making room in the budget for extra school supplies that are wanted but not needed, especially if it makes my child more motivated to do their school work. At the same time, though, I know that many teachers are very specific about what they want their students to use, and not use, in the classroom.

Getting items that aren't on the list can throw your budget off and might even end up unused. Many schools send home a list of needed materials. Sometimes those lists are very specific, especially as your child gets older and has different subjects in different classrooms. Many teachers have guidelines for what can and cannot be used. Be sure to have those specific items in mind while shopping or that good deal is as good as useless.

It's a waste of money if you have to still go out and find the requested supplies that may no longer be on sale. Depending on how busy my schedule is, I sometimes keep the hard copy of my child's supplies at home and type in a digital list out on my notepad. That way, it's easy to carry with me at all times. This also works well for my general to-do list and grocery shopping list.

I've learned over time to take a picture of certain lists, including the back-to-school list. I'm someone who uses a hybrid of paper and digital options to get things done. At times, one method is more efficient than the other, depending on the situation. This way I can keep the hard copy at home in a safe place and still have a picture of the list with me on my phone. I can have a backup in case the actual list gets lost.

If you like being an efficient planner or checking for promos in the moment, when it comes to spending less and enjoying couponing online, check codes from sites such as Coupon Pal or Retailmenot.

Coupon Pal's Charlie Cohn explains that these sites get deals from all over the web and put them in one searchable database. He also adds that if you tend to shop at certain stores repeatedly, then you can have the deals sent right to you via email. He suggests signing up for newsletters from your favorite stores and setting up filters in your inbox to have a feed of deals sent directly to you.

If pen and paper is your list making method of choice, then Becky Rapinchuk of CleanMama.net who has been featured on Oprah.com, Better Homes and Gardens and HGTV, recommends a printable to-do list to keep your thoughts and tasks on track. She explains that a to-do list with categorized sections can add an additional element of organization by allowing you to separate tasks for home, work, kids and other categories.

Whether your shopping trip is planned or unanticipated, try these tips next time to stay better organized and keep yourself on budget. A little planning and preparation can make a significant impact while shopping.

Karen Cordaway is a teacher and writer who currently shares money saving ideas on her website, MoneySavingEnthusiast.com.

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