The prices marked in stores are without sales tax. Depending on the state laws, all goods might be taxed, or only non-necessities. Sales tax runs from 6-10% of the total cost. Prices are marked by a sticker or price tag on the item. If bar codes for scanning are used, the price should be marked on the shelf with the item. If you think the cashier has made a mistake in ringing up your purchases, say so immediately. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to correct the error.
Explore different stores to compare prices. Look for bargain or discount stores for the best buys. When in doubt, ask Americans where a specific item can be bought inexpensively.
Watch for sales. This is when items are offered at a discounted price. The sale might be a set price (all jeans in stock now $20.99) or a percentage discount (30% off all men's dress shoes). Sales are generally advertised. Be sure to always check the local paper issued on Sunday; usually all the sales for the week will be announced. Many stores will also have clearance sales. Items on clearance generally will not be reordered, so the store needs to make room for new goods. Often these sales are unadvertised. Great bargains can be found at clearance sales!
Look for and use coupons. These can be found in the Sunday paper, in magazines, sometimes in the telephone book. A coupon is a little slip of paper allowing you to get a small discount when you buy the specific item described. The coupon will say "Save 40 cents on any Pledge", for example. That means that if you present the coupon at the time of purchase, and if you bought the correct brand and size, and if the expiration date has not passed, you will pay 40 cents less for that can of Pledge furniture polish. If the store is having a "double coupon day", the coupon is worth twice as much, (you would pay 80 cents less for a can of Pledge).
Purchases can be made very inexpensively at garage sales and second hand stores. Used items in good condition often can be found for a low price. Also check newspapers and local bulletin boards for listings of used goods for sale.
Shopping by Mail
In the U.S. many people order items out of a catalog and receive those purchases in the mail. A catalog is a colorful publication that has photographs and descriptions of the items for sale. If you have a credit card, you can order the items by phone. If you pay by check or money order, you can fill out the order form and mail it to the company represented by the catalog. When considering catalog prices, remember that you will also have to pay postage fees, which can be quite expensive. Be sure to find out before you buy what the company's policy is for returning items. The picture in the catalog may turn out to be much nicer than the actual item when you receive it.
Before making a purchase, find out what the store's return policy is. Usually this information is posted near the check-out counter. Generally you need to save the receipt you received at the time of purchase if you want to return an item, and sometimes stores require that price tags or stickers are still on the purchase. You may want to simply exchange the item for a different one (in a different size or color, for example), or you may want to receive a refund (get your money back). Instead of refunds, some stores offer store credit with which you can buy something else there for the same price.
Stores also post what kind of payment they will accept. All stores will accept cash, but not all accept credit cards or personal checks. If you want to pay by check, make sure you have with you the appropriate identification documents required by the store.
Stores also have different security policies. Some will require you to leave any shopping bags at the front of the store. Others will insist on stapling your bag, even if you are leaving the store immediately. Sometimes stores have video cameras or large mirrors to defend against people who steal from stores, called shoplifters. If you are caught shoplifting, you could jeopardize your visa status. Keep anything you plan to buy in clear view; for example, a birthday card stuck into your purse could be seen as an attempt to shoplift.