Just about every day, I find myself thankful for the Internet.
It’s not just that I can blather on here and have people actually choose to read it. (Though how cool is that?) Or that it allows me to work from home and earn a livable wage. Or that it allows me to so easily keep in touch with people via email.
All that stuff is great, but perhaps the best way the Internet helps me is in comparison shopping. I grew up in a frugal household, so I am a firm believer in checking around for better prices.
With the advent of the Internet, it became ridiculously easy to do. No running around to five stores (wasting gas along the way). No calling around. Just check around the web and find the best deal. For someone with very limited energy, it’s the perfect frugal pursuit.
But I’m beginning to realize that what I take as normal, even easy, hunting might appear excessive to other people.
For example, today I realized I really had to get some more sunscreen. I’m nearly out and being fair-skinned in Arizona means sunscreen is not really optional. Especially if skin cancer runs in your family.
So I sat down to ferret out the best deal. Which I did. And I didn’t particularly consider it a hassle, but other people might balk at spending 30 minutes to an hour just to save a couple bucks on something as small as sunscreen.
Of course, we all know that “a couple bucks” adds up quickly. So it IS a big deal. Still, I sometimes wonder if other people go to the same trouble. I may not be able to handle full-fledged couponing — especially to the point of combining it with Walgreens/CVS rewards for free items — but I can hunt down the best deal no problem.
Here’s how my little routine went today:
I started at Ulta. This week, Neutrogena is Buy One, Get One 50% off, and I have a $3.50 off $10 coupon that was mailed to me. Ulta’s good for coupons and BOGO50 sales. It’s my go-to source for most hair care products.
All told, I would pay $14.57 after tax. (Through Mr. Rebates I could get cash back but only if I wanted to pay for shipping or buy more. So, in-store shopping was the way to go.)
Then I checked two online sites through Mr. Rebates — OverstockDrugstore.com and StockNGo.com. Both have pretty good deals, if somewhat limited inventory. Plus you get the cash back and, since they’re online merchants, no sales tax. Unfortunately, they didn’t have what I needed.
Then I checked Mr. Rebates, which has two overstock drugstores with deeply discounted (if slightly limited) stock. Unfortunately, neither OverstockDrugstore.com or StockNGo had both items on sale. StockNGo is nice because if you are willing to buy in bulk (6 or more) you get additional savings.
Just to be thorough, I checked Target, Walgreens, CVS and Walmart to see if the sunscreen was on special. Walmart had some special online prices that included free shipping, but it still came out to about $16.50 plus tax. Which is about $18.
Finally, I checked Drugstore.com, which had Neutrogena up to 30% off. It also had $1 off coupons for the products. But the price still rang in at $18, plus I’d have to buy another item to qualify for free shipping. Even with cash back through Mr. Rebates (6%), it wasn’t worth it.
In and around this search, I checked email and perused the stores’ other inventory. So the process probably took me about 45 minutes. If I hadn’t played around, it would have taken 15-20 minutes, probably. (I still had to decide exactly which sunscreens to get, for example. That took a good 5 minutes right there. I’m indecisive.)
Now, saving $4 over Walmart’s for 20 minutes’ work is definitely not a bad hourly wage. That comes to $20 an hour. (Duh. $12/hr. Thank you Christina!) But even if I had only saved a buck or two, that would have been worth it to me.
Doing these searches is easy for me, and I usually have the TV or some music on in the background. So it never feels like a drain on my energy and attention. It’s just something I do in and around my other web surfing.
But, looking at the situation objectively, I have to admit it sounds kind of crazy. So is this a normal frugal thing? Or is this a bit of an extreme that just comes naturally to me? How much time do you spend getting the best deal on basic purchases? And do you prefer online or in-person comparison shopping?
Inquiring minds want to know!