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Do I want the 6-piece or the 8-piece set? Does the warranty that’s included with this one make it worth the extra money? I know 1-ply toilet paper isn’t great, but is 2-ply good enough, or would 4-ply be even better?

If you’ve ever asked yourself any of these questions (in your head or out loud as you stand in what you thought was an empty aisle) and thought, “am I overthinking this?” you are what we call a normal adult.

Yes, comparing is natural, and in the case of purchases, it’s also really helpful for your budget. Continue reading for things to consider when comparison shopping and a few tips to make the most of your budget.

6 factors to consider when comparing products

While you can spend A LOT of time making comparisons, there are six key things to compare before you buy.

  1. It’s the most obvious, which is why it’s first on our list, but look at the cost of what you are planning to purchase and compare the price of the initial brand you considered, as well as an alternative or two (don’t discount generic brands most are just as good!).
  2. While comparison shopping is typically easier online, when it comes to comparing features, writing them down (either in a note on your phone, a document on your computer or a good ol’ fashioned piece of paper) can help paint a clearer picture of what you get with each option. This is also a helpful step to determine what you plan to use your purchase for and which features are helpful and which really aren’t necessary.
  3. In terms of quality, the real question to ask is: can this do the job or will I need to cobble together a variety of extras to make it work the way I want it to? For example, if you are building yourself a new desk for your WFH workstation and want to sand it, you can purchase a cheap sander with a power cord, on/off switch and sander belt. Or, you can purchase one with variable speeds AND a dust collection bag to help minimize the sneezing and clean up time. While you could buy the bagless option and try adding your own bag, you add time to your project, run the risk of injury or equipment malfunction due to modifications and it may not work.
  4. How long do you plan on using your purchase? Is it something that has limited use, or something that you plan to have long-term and use often? Many products have warranties listed on the packaging (ex: 1-year limited warranty) and others have the option to purchase extended warranties (real ones, not the robocalls offering you an extended car warranty). For example, if you’re comparing two products and the packaging on one says, “limited 1-year warranty” and the packaging on the other says, “limited 5-year warranty,” odds are high that the second product is of higher quality if the manufacturer is willing to stand by the quality for up to five years. The amount of time you plan to use something is an important consideration when comparing prices. Keep in mind that if your purchase will be for a limited time use, renting or borrowing from a friend may be the better option financially.
  5. Are there any safety concerns you are trying to address with your purchase or maybe any safety issues with the potential purchase? Enter the name of what you’re looking for into your favorite search engine followed by “safety” or “recall” to see if there are any safety concerns or active recalls to be aware of.
  6. Reading through a manufacturer’s product description is helpful, but reviews and recommendations from real people with actual experience with your intended purchase can help you think through things you may not have considered. Ask for recommendations on social media or read reviews online before making a decision.

3 tips for comparison shopping

  • Sleep on it. Not the actual purchase (unless it’s a mattress) but the decision. This will give you time to think through all the factors above, as well as make sure your decision is grounded in facts and not emotions (such as the fear of missing out on a great deal).
  • Find the right camparison tool. There are many options for comparing prices, ranging from manual price comparisons by looking through physical ads to searching online as well as tools that do it for you. Do your own research to find a shopping comparison strategy that works best for you.
  • Make your “can’t live without” list. Features were mentioned in the factors above, but when it comes to comparison shopping, it can be easy to get lured into something that sounds good, or even trapped by the fear of missing out on something special. Before you start comparing products make a list of one or two must-have features and use this list as a key deciding factor for your purchase.

Want more great tips for saving money? Visit our blog for more budgeting tips and resources.