I’ve wanted an illuminated clock on my living room wall for the longest time. I’d hoped to buy it at a local store, but they didn’t have what I was looking for.

After at least a year of looking, it finally hit me that I could probably find something on eBay. So I went there and I found the clock that you see in the picture. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but it fit all the qualifications of things I wanted in the clock and I bought it. I thought it was a pretty good price also.

It wasn’t until the clock showed up at my house and I put it on the wall before it occurred to me that maybe I could have found it in some other places. Amazon came to mind, and even though I’m quasi boycotting them, I decided to do a search there. I was amazed at how many illuminated clocks they had, and how many different styles there were. Not only that, but I found the exact clock I have now for $10 less. Boy did I feel like a chump!

I like to think I’m a pretty good shopper when it comes to things I want. I don’t worry so much about paying more for an item offline if I can have it “now”, because I’m one of those instant gratification people. However, if I’m buying online I usually shoot for the lowest price of something if I find exactly what I want.

In this case I totally failed at shopping. I love the clock I have and it’s staying on my wall, but it’s interesting to think of which of those other clocks I found that I’d have bought before buying this one.

It made me think back to my general rules of shopping, which I didn’t follow this time around. I’m going to share those with you now, because it may help you make better decisions than what I just did. By the way, these suggestions are both offline and online; some of the rules differ based on who you’re buying from.

1. Always try at least 3 sources until you get comfortable with one

Years ago my insurance changed, which meant I had to pay for my diabetic medications and supplies out of pocket. I always bought everything from the grocery store my house borders on, but I wasn’t sure I’d get the best price.

I wrote down what I needed, then I picked up the phone and started calling. My neighbor store was the lowest price already for one of my pharmaceuticals but pricey on the other two. I called another grocery store pharmacy about 10 minutes away and found that I could get syringes for free; that was quite a shock! I called the closest pharmacy, but they couldn’t match any of the other prices.

On a fluke I decided to call Walmart. Turns out that not only were a couple of supplies I needed drastically lower in cost, but insulin was also very inexpensive, $24.50 a vial instead of $720 for a pack of pins; wow!

The same should go for buying online. In this case the parameters are easier to check out. Go to any search engine, put in what you’re looking for and it’ll give you lots of options. Select a couple you’re familiar with and a couple you’re not and verify prices. Don’t forget to verify shipping; sometimes the lowest price comes with the highest shipping price.

2. When shopping offline, consider mileage

If you find a lower price at a store that’s not close, you might not be saving much money, if any at all, by going to the store to buy it. For instance, right not gas is $2.75 a gallon in central New York (where I live) and I get about 18 miles a gallon. If my round trip is about 35 miles, I only save money if the item is more than $6.

However, I don’t save much money and I lose time that I could have been spending doing something else. So if you’re buying local, decide how bad you need or want it versus how much money you’re actually saving and time you might be wasting.

3. Always verify costs rather than price

When you’re buying volume products that have multiple items, you’ll find that the lowest price isn’t always the best deal. Tissue is a good one to look at. The store I share a border with sells Puffs tissue at $6.99 for 6 boxes. BJ’s Warehouse sells 10 boxes for $9.99.

At first glance, it looks like the lower price is the best deal… but it’s not. The Puffs brand the store sells has 124 tissues in each box, whereas the Puffs brand BJ’s sells has 180 tissues in each box. When you do the math, it equates to the store brand coming in at $34.95 for 30 boxes as opposed to $29.97 for 30 boxes at BJ’s. The stores make it easier for you to see; they always share the cost of items you’re purchasing, which should always be your determining factor.

4. Sometimes you have to pay more for quality

I have a Fitbit Flex, which is an older model. The bands normally average 6 months of use before they break down, so I’m always replacing bands. I also love the color red, which is hard to find.

I can pay $14 for a red band at most places. On eBay, I can pay $3.99 per red band; sounds like a no-brainer, right? Except… the band is coming from China, which is problematic in two ways.

The first is the quality of the material they’re using to make the bands. It’s very stiff, which means they break sooner. I bought 5 bands because of the price, and not one of them lasted longer than 2 months; one only lasted a week.

The second is how long it took to get the items. Most things you buy online you’ll have within a week; it took 6 weeks to get my bands from China, and some items will take longer.

In both cases I lost time and money. I want what I want but I also want something that’ll last longer. It’s something you have to consider when you’re purchasing something you want rather than what you need.

Those are my four general lessons on shopping. If you have other ideas, please share!

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