How to Save 10% on Every Purchase

Gift cards, and a little discipline, can provide double-digit discounts on everyday purchases.
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Most investors would love to get a double-digit return on their money. While it may be difficult to earn a return of 10% or more with many investments, you can find double-digit savings on many of your purchases.

People usually pay very little attention to how much they pay for their everyday items. They simply go to the store and buy what they need, possibly purchasing the item on sale if they're lucky and it happens to be discounted that day. With a simple step before shopping, however, it's possible to take 10% or more right off the top of virtually every purchase.

With the explosion in popularity of gift cards comes an opportunity to purchase nearly everything you buy at a discount. While gift cards are sold at face value in most retail outlets, there's an active secondary market for them that can mean savings even before you begin to look for any other type of discount.

Gifts From the Secondary Market

Gift cards have become the gift of choice for many occasions. The problem is what to do when you receive a gift card from a store that you do not frequent or which has merchandise that you're not interested in purchasing. What many people do in this situation is turn to the secondary markets to sell them for cash. Most of the time, they are willing to sell the gift cards for less than face value.

All you need to do is purchase gift cards from these secondary markets for those stores where you regularly shop. This can save you anywhere from 5%-30% with little effort.

The size of the savings usually depends on the store. Gift cards for most discount retail outlets like

Costco

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,

Wal-Mart

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and

Target

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can sell for roughly 5% below face value, while specialty retailer gift cards can sell for a discount of as much as 30%.

Generally, however, most store gift cards sell for about 10% below face value. This may at first glance not seem like much, but when you start to add up all the money you spend each month (groceries, gas, clothing, etc.), the savings can add up to well over a $1,000 a year.

Buying Discount Plastic

The biggest depository of these gift cards is on

eBay

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, but there are a number of Web sites that also specialize in purchasing and reselling gift cards that people don't need or want: cardavenue.com, PlasticJungle.com, swapagift.com and GiftCardBazaar.com are some of the better-known markets. eBay is still the place you are most likely to find the biggest discounts when purchasing gift cards, as the other sites simply don't have the volume and tend to give less of a discount than can be found on eBay.

All you need to do to find what's available on eBay is make a list ofall the stores you frequent and input their name in the search engine with "gift card" afterward. If you want to know what most of them sell for, use the "completed auction" option and you'll get a feel of how much you canexpect to save on gift cards at a specific store.

You do need to take basic precautions when using this method to save money. There used to be a lot of fraud with gift cards on eBay, but the site has implemented rules that limit the number of gift cards a seller can sell at one time. This has helped to cut down on the fraud.

It's also always good to look at the seller's reputation and bid on items from sellers with a long history and no complaints. While looking at a seller's record isn't a guarantee that your purchase will result in a good transaction, it's a fairly reliable indicator.

Be Disciplined

You also need to make sure to use the gift cards only on items thatyou would have purchased even without the gift card. Many people viewgift cards as "fun cash" and use them to mainly purchase impulse itemsrather than their daily needs. If you have this attitude when using gift cards, the savings you were aiming for will never materialize and you'll likely lose money.

However, with a bit of effort up front and a bit of discipline when using the gift cards, you can easily cut your shopping costs by a double-digit percentage, and that's a quality return for any investment.

Jeffrey Strain has been a freelance personal finance writer for the past 10 years helping people save money and get their finances in order. He currently owns and runs SavingAdvice.com.