If you’ve noticed prices for everything from gas to a doctor’s visit creeping up while your paycheck looks the same, you’re not imagining it. Consumer prices are up 6.2% compared with a year ago, according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s the largest annual inflation increase in 30 years.
On their own these changes might look minor – that bacon was 20% cheaper last year – but they can add up, especially for families living paycheck to paycheck. There’s no quick fix, but there are ways to pay less using a few tech tools.
If you’re worried about inflation eating into your budget and want to make sure you’re paying the lowest possible price for gas, string cheese or galoshes, here are some places to start.
– How to find the lowest gas prices.
In theory you could drive around town and see which gas station lists the lowest prices, but that requires using gas and possibly undoing any discount you might get. Instead, look ahead of time. There are multiple tools that claim to have real-time (or recent) gas prices.
GasBuddy is a website and app that shows prices. Geico has a similar service, and prices for gas are built into Google Maps searches. Searching on their websites, especially using a private browser like DuckDuckGo, is the best way to make sure you’re not paying for these free services with your data. If you do install an app like GasBuddy, make sure you turn off any location tracking options (or only allow while the app is open) and only share the necessary amount of data.
Bonus low-tech tips: Since prices between the sites can vary or be out of date, call and ask! Some gas stations will also offer lower prices if you pay in cash. And the ultimate low-tech tip is to take public transportation, carpool or hop on a bike when possible.
– Comparison shop online
Normally, comparing prices while shopping on your phone or computer means hopping between sites or apps and typing in the same search term, like “pink dog sweater.” There are a few ways to see prices side-by-side. You can start with Google Shopping, but look closely as the ads and actual listings blend together. Find the product you want and look for an option to compare prices at multiple stores. Google Shopping doesn’t include every store, so also add in a traditional search to find more listings.
Browser plug-ins do a lot of the heavy lifting, too. Despite the literal name, Capital One Shopping is a solid plug-in that will tell you if a product you’re about to buy is available for less on another site.
– Think outside the Amazon box
Many Amazon Prime shoppers don’t even bother to look at other stores. They get lulled into thinking that they’re always getting the lowest price, or that the convenience of free shipping and a saved credit card number makes up for any differences. That’s great for Amazon but potentially bad for your bank account. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Make sure you look around to compare prices for common items, including going directly to the manufacturer’s site itself. The above comparison shopping tools can show other prices directly on Amazon product pages. Think carefully about what is cheaper on Amazon and why. The site is filled with low-cost, off-brand versions of popular products, and reviews are regularly gamed by sellers. Here is a guide on how to tell when a product is real or suspect.
If you’re more worried about convenience, consider setting up a cross-site payment tool like Apple Pay or PayPal so you aren’t constantly reentering shipping and credit card information, or try a similar service like Target Circle. If you have spare time, calculate how much an Amazon Prime subscription is still saving you. It’s currently $119 a year in the United States.
– Use coupons, they’re still cool
If you have never cut out little rectangles of paper to get $1 off a box of cookies, you are missing out. These days, coupons are mostly digital but no less satisfying. Some are specific to stores; for example you can find an online version of printed weekly deals for Target in the app or on its site. RetailMeNot has coupon codes and sale announcements, and Honey is a browser plug-in that finds coupons and deals. Rakuten is another browser plug-in for finding coupons and discounts on products, but you need to create an account and the discounts are paid as “cash back” that you get every three months.
Some coupons do still come in paper form. Look on your mile-long receipt from CVS or another drug or grocery store for them, in the weekly fliers often left as stacks in the front of stores, or in your mailbox.
– Spring clean your subscriptions
Subscriptions are sneaky. These monthly or yearly payments happen automatically on set dates, or kick in after a free trial period that you probably already forgot about. At least once a year (hopefully more often), sit down and tally up all of your subscriptions to see what you’re still using and what can go. Consider a subscription management tool like TrueBill, which can alert you to subscriptions you might have forgotten about. If you’re more advanced, you could even try juggling them on and off as you need them. For example, if you’ve finished “Ted Lasso,” you can cancel Apple TV Plus and turn it on when the next season drops.
If you’re feeling bold, try canceling some of them — customer service reps are frequently authorized to offer big discounts to retain subscriptions. If you’re an Apple customer, double-check your subscriptions as they are often lumped together.
– Audit your delivery apps
During the pandemic, delivery apps were a godsend. They made it possible to get groceries, hot dinners and other goods dropped right on our doorsteps without having to brave a crowded store or restaurant. But prices and fees on these apps likely creeped up and should be checked regularly.
If you use DoorDash, Uber Eats or Grubhub for delivery, always pay attention to the delivery fees. Look at past orders to decide if you should sign up for or cancel a membership like Grubhub Plus. Before ordering, pick one dish and look it up on the restaurant’s own website, not a third-party site like Yelp or Google. How much more is that tofu banh mi after all the fees and tips in the app versus picking it up yourself? (Scrimping on tips is not a valid way to save money in case you were thinking about it.) Save both yourself and the restaurant the fees, and order from the website or call it in and pick it up yourself.
Do a similar check of any grocery delivery apps. Amazon recently added a $10 delivery fee for Whole Foods orders, which might make it less of a deal than it used to be. You can also use grocery apps to compare prices in various stores, even if you just plan on going in person. On Instacart, put in a few key items and jot down their prices at all of your local stores. If Greek yogurt, avocados and a jar of dill pickles are all cheaper at one place, start your order there.