Almost all U.S. consumers are value-conscious shoppers who regularly visit discount retailers to find a bargain, according to the 2018 Consumer View report released by the National Retail Federation. As we enter the holiday shopping season, which is expected to be impacted by supply chain disruptions, consumers are focused on shopping early and saving big. In this episode of The Agent of Wealth Podcast, host Marc Bautis is joined by Jim Markus, an editor at Brad’s Deals, where Markus evaluates and negotiates deals for bargain hunters, and host of Frugal Living Podcast, a podcast for smart shoppers and savers.
In this episode, you will learn:
- What it means to be frugal.
- Where to look for the best online deals, including how to find deals during the holiday season.
- How to tell the difference between a real product and a scam, including how to identify a legitimate website.
- Other common online shopping mistakes and how to combat them.
- About Brad’s Deals, the one-stop shop for the best online deals.
- And more!
Disclosure: The transcript below has been lightly edited for clarity and content. It is not a direct transcription of the full conversation, which can be listened to above.
Welcome back to the Agent of Wealth Podcast, this is your host Marc Bautis. On today’s show, I’m joined by a special guest, Jim Markus. Jim hosts Frugal Living, a podcast for smart shoppers and savers. He also works as an editor at Brad’s Deals, where he evaluates and negotiates deals for bargain hunters. Jim, welcome to the show.
Thanks a lot for having me.
I’m excited to talk about today’s topic, particularly about how to be more frugal. How would you define living frugally?
What It Means to Be Frugal
The idea of a frugal life varies wildly, and a lot of it depends on where you live, how much you’re making and your personality. If you’re one of those people that clips coupons and saves every penny — that’s amazing. To me, that’s being frugal, but I am not that frugal. And I don’t know many people who are. For me, frugality is finding the best deal when I purchase an item. I don’t spend more money than I have to, but I also don’t deny myself of spending. I live a life that I want to live. I get the most out of spending the least.
Makes sense. Some people see that as a restriction, while others embrace it. How did you get involved in this line of work? What sparked your interest?
I’m sure I’m not alone here, but for me it was learning about the FIRE Movement (Financially Independent, Retire Early) about 10 years ago. It changed everything for me. My ultimate goal became saving as much money as I can to put away in investments, which then would start working for me as soon as possible. That’s why I went to work.
Yeah. So after you nailed down the execution of spending and saving, how do you take those principles and tie them into financial freedom?
I don’t pinch every penny. For me, this is a game. I look for opportunities to save money anywhere. A lot of times, it comes down to negotiation and smart shopping.
As you mentioned in the introduction, I shop for a living. I find deals online every day at Brad’s Deals. There’s a whole team of people who do just that. When I find something that is normally $150 for $75, I like to tell people about it — and occasionally get it myself. Those are the moments where I say, “I probably would’ve bought this at $100, but I got it for $25 less than I would’ve. I can put that $25 away and save it.” Doing that is really helpful.
So, I remember an experience I had back in 2000. I went into a Sears store with someone I’d started working with. He wanted to buy a TV, and he was actually able to negotiate the price of it. I was dumbfounded. I said, “You can actually do this?” I soon figured out that everything is negotiable. But now that online shopping is so popular, how does someone negotiate? How do you go about finding deals online?
Where to Look For the Best Online Deals
That’s an incredible question and the answer is a lot simpler than we think. Some people are still in the mindset that when they’re shopping somewhere online, it’s like they are in the store. When you’re at Sears, you can talk to the salesperson. But when you’re online on Amazon or Walmart’s website, you’re not at Amazon or Walmart — you’re online. Amazon’s price of an item is not the only price. Do an online search. Check eBay, run a Google Shopping search. Once you find the best price, that’s like negotiation.
There are some items that have restrictions which make searching for deals difficult. For example, Nike doesn’t allow external retailers to sell their shoes under a certain price. But there are ways around that, such as coupon codes. There’s deeper discounts in-cart after you sign in.
Knowing where to shop and how to price compare is easily the best way to find better deals online. And remember that where you’re shopping online isn’t the only option.
You mentioned eBay and Google Shopping. Are there tools or websites out there that aggregate all of these retailers?
What is Brad’s Deals?
Absolutely. This is what my team does at Brad’s Deals every day. You don’t have to do price comparisons when we’ve already done them. We post the best discounts of the day and are able to share exclusive codes. We negotiate them with retailers. Essentially, the work has already been done.
We also vet the sellers so you know you’re going to a trustworthy place to purchase an item.
But if you like bargain shopping, do it on your own. Vet the deals. If you find a lower price anywhere online, tell us and we’ll update our site.
When a user shops through Brad’s Deals, are they purchasing on the Brad’s Deals site or does it take them to whatever site the item is on?
We send the user to wherever the deal is. We do all the legwork, but if the best deal is at Amazon, the user purchases on amazon.com. We don’t sell anything on the Brad’s Deals website.
And does a consumer have to purchase a subscription to take advantage of the Brad’s Deals website?
No, they can just go to the site. They don’t even need to sign up. We have an optional opportunity for a customer to create an account and opt into our email list. There, we share daily deals. But you don’t have to do that.
It feels like we’re plugged into the matrix. We have these great connections with different retailers and with affiliate networks directly through Amazon. Because we do this all day, every day, we develop relationships. So, a lot of times we just ask for coupon codes to share with our audience.
How do you scale for holiday shopping?
Finding Deals During the Holiday Season
My favorite part of my job is the holiday season, but it’s also a war zone. Working at Brad’s Deals is wonderful. It’s very casual. We’re all shoppers. We’re all clever people. During Q4, it’s just nonstop deals. We find the best prices of the year during this time.
It’s going to be especially tough this year, because there are so many international shipping issues. So we’re negotiating prices with people who have higher shipping fees than ever before. We’re trying to get the same price — or better — than we’ve seen in the past. Sometimes it’s not possible, but sometimes the inventory’s already here and you don’t need to pay the extra shipping markup.
What should someone do when they’re shopping online and they come across an item whose price looks too good to be true. How do they tell real products from scams?
How to Avoid Falling Into an Online Scam
This is such a common problem. As much as I love websites like Amazon and Google Shopping, they’re rife with scams. There are websites that go up in a day and, for example, sell a Kitchen Aid mixer — which all other retailers, on their best day, sell for $160 — mark it down to $140. And people say, “How do you have it for $140?” The best thing to do is use your common sense.
When you go to their website, does the logo match the website address? Does their website address make sense, or is it just random letters and numbers? Go to their About Us page, is there a physical location? Is there a phone number you can call? See if there’s reviews of that store online. If not, why?
Some of these scams just want as much of your information as possible. So, in the worst case scenario, a person thinks they’re buying the Kitchen Aid mixer. They put in their name, address, credit card information and click “Buy Now.” The website just takes their information and runs. In the best case scenario, they take that information and say, “Ah, we’re sold out. I’m sorry.” Those websites then use that information to say, “Okay. People like the Kitchen Aid mixer, and if we had it at this price, we would’ve sold it.” They’re just looking for that knowledge.
But this happens everywhere. So do your research and do the common sense vetting. Or, go through a website like Brad’s Deals. We do all of that for you.
How to Spot False Reviews
I have a similar question, but on reviews. I know some people may shop on Amazon because that site usually has a lot of reviews. How does someone spot a fake review?
The review problem is complex. If you have time, and you like reading through a lot of reviews (like I do) go ahead and do it. See if they seem legit. But if you value your time, you can use an automated service like Fakespot.
We use Fakespot at Brad’s Deals. They use AI to evaluate all of the reviews on a site like Amazon or Walmart, or on a specific product. All you have to do is give them the link to the product. The technology reads through the reviews and marks potentially fake reviews. They also rate the website from A-F.
That makes sense. Aside from scams, what other mistakes are you seeing people make when shopping online?
Other Common Online Shopping Mistakes
The number one mistake people make is forgetting that the rest of the internet exists. Maybe you love the underwear at American Eagle, so you go to their website and see that the lowest price underwear is $15. You kind of forget that the rest of the world exists, and quality is similar from place to place. So price comparison, again, is hugely important.
But if you’re set on purchasing from American Eagle specifically, you’ll want to go through them. But here comes the second major mistake: Thinking you need an item now. If you don’t need it immediately, wait until there’s a discount. There are always discounts. Assuming the world is here tomorrow or next month, there will be a sale on the website you’re interested in.
The other thing is, when you find a brand you love, thinking that you have to pay full price. These websites offer commission rates — essentially money to people who send you their way. That’s how we stay afloat at Brad’s Deals. Affiliate marketing is a big industry.
Also, take advantage of discounts on your first purchase at a retailer. If you go to Reebok’s website directly, for example, you’ll see a pop-up that asks you for your email address. In return, they provide a 10% off code. If a retailer doesn’t offer you that, reach out to their customer service team directly and ask for a discount. Shoppers forget that there are marketing people — actual human beings — working at the places you’re shopping at. The worst they can say is no.
What’s the best way for shoppers to reach out to customer services? Is it through a form on the website? Is it better to find an email address? Or what about tagging them on Twitter?
That depends on the person and how much time they want to spend. If you reach out via email or form, maybe you hear back, maybe you don’t, but you’re probably not going to hear back that hour or that day. If they have a live chat feature, that’s usually the fastest way to get a yes or a no.
You can also find a marketing person on Twitter and ask them. A lot of these brands have direct ways to interact with consumers. There’s probably some very lonely intern behind the account, willing to interact with you.
Let’s say I’m thinking about purchasing something online. In the past, I’ve tried searching Google for a coupon code. Nine times out of 10, I find one but it doesn’t work. Is doing that just a waste of time?
Oh man, coupon sites are rough. You can find some coupons on Brad’s Deals, but most of what we post is the deals we’ve vetted and know work. A lot of coupon sites use SEO to get you to click on their site but don’t provide real discounts. I don’t use coupon sites personally. But again, I have access to all of the coupons in the world because of what I do for a living.
I want to turn a bit to the behavioral side of shopping and finding deals. I think a lot of times, it can become an addiction. How does someone address the emotional or behavioral side of bargain shopping and not lose control?
When Bargain Shopping Becomes An Addiction
Great question. It feels great to score a deal, right?. You can brag about it to your friends. But you’re absolutely right — if you chase that feeling too far, you’ll end up with a bedroom of your house dedicated to packaged goods.
For me, I don’t buy anything right away. When I find something I want, I put it in my cart and leave it there. And I don’t believe anyone who says you have two hours to get a deal — if it’s mid-day and a website only offers the deal for two hours, I’m not going to get it. It’s just not going to happen, unless it’s something that I had planned to purchase in advance.
So I don’t buy impulsively. I usually wait at least two hours. Think about it: the time period between finding the deal and buying it can be the difference between spending $150 today versus never spending it. Ask yourself, “Is this something you actually need?” I do this all the time, especially on Amazon.
Speaking of Amazon… Amazon used to be known to have the lowest price, and it seems that’s not really the case anymore. But what they do have is convenience, right? When I shop on Amazon, it knows my payment info. It knows where to ship. And theoretically, the item could be there the next day. How does a shopper put a value on convenience?
Convenience has caught up with Amazon, often through PayPal or Google Pay. If you value having all of your credit card information saved, a lot of places offer purchases through PayPal, Google Pay, Apple Pay or even Venmo.
But does this convenience serve you, or does it serve the store? This is a negotiation you have every time you make a transaction. When you sign up for auto deliveries, is that a convenience for you or is that a convenience for a store — who wants to know how often they can expect revenue from a specific shopper? These convenience factors exist because they benefit retailers. They’re not there because Jim wants to save a couple of minutes making a purchase.
If that’s the reason you’re storing your credit card information, it might be worth reconsidering.
With the recent supply chain issues, is there a way to tell where a product is coming from? Meaning, is it somewhere local?
How Recent Supply Chain Issues Have Changed Online Shopping
This depends where you shop, and it’s another mistake people make online shopping. When you’re on amazon.com, a lot of times you’re not shopping on Amazon but you’re shopping through Amazon. Below the “Add to Cart” button, there’s two important lines of text: One says sold by and one says shipped by.
If it says sold by Amazon and shipped by Amazon, it means Amazon as a company owns that inventory — so they’re in control of the fulfillment of that inventory. Sometimes, you’ll see: Sold by Best Choice Products, shipped on Amazon.com. Or, shipped by Best Choice Products. If it’s shipped by Amazon and sold by a third party, Amazon warehouses the inventory and takes care of fulfillment.
So, regardless of where that product came from originally, if it says shipped from Amazon, it means it’s coming from one of their warehouses around the US. You’ll get those items within the time you normally get your Amazon purchases. If you’re in an urban environment, maybe that’s an hour. If you’re somewhere way out there, maybe it’s three days.
Outside of amazon.com, look for that same information. If you can’t find it, ask.
Yeah. Take amazon.com as an example. When I’m shopping, I can see an expected delivery date. How accurate are those? I’ve had some recent problems with delivery. The delivery date and expected delivery date have been way off. Do you recommend reaching out to Amazon and asking for a more realistic date?
On Amazon, I wouldn’t. It’s such a wide and diverse experience that you don’t know who you’re actually talking to. How trustworthy the expected delivery date is, I have no idea.
It’s the wild west out there.
That’s exactly what it feels like for a lot of online shopping right now. There’s just a lot that’s unregulated. From fake reviews to fake storefronts, it’s the wild west. Right now, there’s no enforcement system. Amazon does their best — and they do really well in some things — but they can’t catch everything.
Okay, so we’re just about out of time. Jim, I’d like to thank you for being on the show today. You gave some great information on how to shop online and how to get the best deals — which is especially relevant coming up on the holiday season. How best can someone reach out to you? How can they find out more information about you and Brad’s Deals?
If you’re interested in deals, check out BradsDeals.com. If you want regular updates, sign up for emails from Brad’s Deals. If you like the sound of my voice, you can check out Frugal Living Podcast, available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and everywhere else you listen to podcasts. There, I do what Marc does here — I talk to experts in the frugal world. Thanks again for having me on the show.
Awesome. We’ll link to all that in the show notes. Thanks again, and thank you to everyone who tuned into today’s episode. Don’t forget to follow The Agent of Wealth on the platform you listen from and leave us a review of the show. We are currently accepting new clients, if you’d like to schedule a 1-on-1 consultation with our advisors, please do so below.