If they ever hold a World Series of Comparative Shopping, Beverly Gill would be a shoo-in for the pennant.
"You can comparative shop for nearly everything," says the 41-year-old frequent speaker on the subject. "If you've got the time and energy, you can find the best deals on everything from life insurance to bath towels."
Necessity forced Gill to become a "super shopper" two years ago when New York City budget cuts terminated her job as a youth counselor. "Prior to that I'd been a compulsive shopper, just handing up the plastic whenever I wanted something.
"I had about $3,000 in credit-card debts, which I could have handled if my job hadn't been cut. But unemployment couldn't pay the rent and the bills for my daughter and me. Thrifty shopping was the only way to survive."
To work her way out of debt, Gill joined Debtors Anonymous, a self-help program of the National Council of Negro Women. She now has a job as a security guard, is nearly debt-free and is sharing her experiences on the speakers' circuit.
At last weekend's workshop to kick off Debtors Anonymous in the Washington area, Gill -- who claims her penny-pinching tricks save her an average of $5 per grocery bill -- offered this shopping advice: FOOD
Never drive to the store for one item. Besides wasting gas, you're likely to make impulse purchases. If you can't borrow the item from a neighbor, walk to the store -- you probably won't buy more than you can carry comfortably and you'll get some exercise.
Study the newspaper's food section and list the good buys at each store. Then shop in a location that has two or more of those supermarkets so you can buy the bargains offered at each.
Always check an item's weight and price to determine the best buy. "In some stores the house brand costs more than the national brand." If the store doesn't have unit pricing, use an inexpensive calculator.
Clip coupons. "They're worth twice as much at stores with double-coupon days. But only use them to purchase something you'd buy anyway." If you can't use a coupon, trade it with a friend. Set up a coupon exchange on a bulletin board in your apartment laundry room.
Make sure you can store jumbo-sized items before buying them. "Larger sizes usually are cheaper; but if half spoils, it's no bargain."
"Don't be too proud to buy dented cans. As long as a can's not swollen, it can be a great buy."
"Reach for cans on the back of the shelf. If they've been changing prices, you may find a can marked with the old price."
Try to shop on the day the store's stock comes in. "In my neighborhood, Tuesday is the best day."
"Watch the checker. Anyone can make a mistake, so make sure you're not overcharged."
Avoid taking a small child grocery shopping if they tend to put items in your basket or have tantrums over things they want to buy. When children are older, take them along and teach them smart shopping habits. CLOTHING and HOUSEWARES
"Beware of the traps stores use to get you to buy things. For instance, in the department stores they've started switching the up-and-down escalators. Now you have to walk through the store to get to the next 'up' escalator." To avoid temptation, take the elevator.
Negotiate a discount if an item has a slight defect. "Don't hesitate to ask for the store manager and get some money off."
Cultivate salespeople. "If you become friendly with a clerk, they might warn you not to buy something now because it's going on sale next week."
Avoid buying merchandise placed by the cash register. "It's usually high-priced stuff you don't need."
Don't wait until the last minute to buy presents. "Then you run out and pick up anything, regardless of the price." Start looking for a gift as soon as you're invited to a wedding, and buy Christmas presents throughout the year to avoid high December prices.
Keep a list of essentials that are running low. "That way you have time to find the best price on toilet paper before it's an emergency."
Avoid buying groceries in a drug store or personal products in a grocery store. TRAVEL and ENTERTAINMENT
Patronize movie theaters' twilight bargain shows. Ask for senior-citizen or student discounts, if applicable.
Ask airline clerks for "the rock-bottom price. Sometimes you have to prod them to find out that it's cheaper if you fly at a crazy hour, or that they have lower excursion fares."