Nova Scotia

4 things smart shoppers do to save money

There are ways to save money while shopping this Christmas season, but not everyone knows what to watch for. These tips could leave a little extra cash in your wallet.

For one, they pay attention to their items as they're being rung up at the cash register

Many people shop for items on sale, but not everyone ensures they get the sale price at the checkout. (Yvonne Colbert/CBC)

On a recent trip to the grocery store, Trish McIntosh of Dartmouth, N.S., spotted a small shelf promoting what seemed like a bargain on two coffee brands, including her favourite kind.

The competing brands — Maxwell House and Nabob — were displayed side by side on the three-tier shelf at Sobeys along with a sign promising savings of $3.

But as McIntosh read the sign more closely, she realized only one of the two brands on display was actually on sale despite them being showcased together. If she wanted her Nabob, she'd have to pay full price.  

It's a tactic the savvy shopper calls "aggressive marketing," and one that she's noticed in other stores, too.  

Is it really on sale?

When McIntosh asked an employee about the sign, she said he told her both coffees were on sale. But a trip to the coffee aisle to double-check prices for Nabob coffee proved otherwise. 

She said another store employee told her the Nabob coffee had been put in the wrong place.

Consumer Watchdog: Shopping tips that can save you money

9 months ago
Consumer Watchdog Yvonne Colbert has collected a few key tips that will help you in your shopping quests this holiday season. 2:51

No one from Sobeys was immediately available for comment.

McIntosh is warning others, regardless of where they shop, to be on the lookout for similar situations. 

Check the expiry

Reading sale signs is important — not just to ensure you're buying an item that is on sale, but ensuring the deal is still in effect.

Sale signs also can tell whether the sale is for a limited time. Look for expiry dates. Even if the sale sign is still there, if it's expired, you'll pay the full price. (Yvonne Colbert/CBC)

Some sale signs have expiry dates. If the sign is still up but the sale has expired, you'll be required to pay the full price.

Other sale signs have no expiry dates and remain in effect as long as the sign is in place.

Scanning code of practice

Grabbing something on sale is always satisfying, but it's important to make sure you get that deal at the checkout.

The scanner code of practice is an initiative from the Retail Council of Canada and other organizations. If a product is on sale and you're charged the full amount, you may be entitled to get it for free. (Retail Council of Canada)

Stores sometimes fail to put the sale price into their systems, so it's important to watch sale items as they're rung in at the cash.

If you're charged full price for an item that is on sale, you might be entitled to get that item for free.

It's a voluntary program, but most of Canada's major retailers do participate. Items must be $10 or less and the sale must not have expired.

The Retail Council of Canada keeps a list of businesses that take part in the program on its website.

Gift cards vs. cash cards

Buying a gift card makes for a fast and simple gift-shopping experience, but it's important to differentiate between retail gift cards and Visa or MasterCard gift cards.

Retail gift cards can be used to support local businesses, and in many provinces, they are not permitted to have an expiry date or charge a fee.

Not all gift cards are the same. It's important to know the difference between those sold by businesses and the Visa/MasterCard cash cards. The former are regulated provincially and generally cannot charge fees. The latter generally charge five per cent just to buy the card. (Submitted by Najme Farahani )

There is a downside, however. If the business closes its doors, then your gift card is worthless.

The other option is a Visa or MasterCard gift card, which expire if you don't use them in the specified period of time. You can renew them, but most charge a fee.

Many, if not all, charge a fee just to buy them. So a $50 gift card could end up costing you more than you intended to spend.

Is that in Canadian dollars?

When shopping online, it's important to know whether you're paying in Canadian or American dollars.

Online companies can operate from anywhere, so don't assume the item you're looking at is listed in Canadian dollars. 

With the current exchange rate, it could be a costly mistake — especially on a big-ticket item.

Look at the price. Is there simply a dollar sign and the amount? Then it's a safe bet the amount is in American dollars.

Some sites are transparent and show the amount in Canadian or U.S. dollars; if they don't, that's a red flag and you should check before buying. 


Yvonne Colbert

Consumer Watchdog

Yvonne Colbert has been a journalist for nearly 35 years, covering everything from human interest stories to the provincial legislature. These days she helps consumers navigate an increasingly complex marketplace and avoid getting ripped off. She invites story ideas at


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