I am the queen of finding a good bargain, partly out of necessity and partly because I enjoy the rush of a good deal. My horse budget is solely based on the money I make off of horse related projects: photography sessions, my track job and horse related websites that I help manage for various clients. That’s it. That’s my budget. That’s why I lease, bargain, trade and barter as much as I can. The biggest problem with shopping for bargains is not knowing what is crap and what is quality. Just because something is cheap, doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. To Ride on a Budget you need to hone your skills to spend the least amount of money you can on the quality products you need. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned.
The simplest way to make the most of your buck when shopping is simply to shop around. Your favorite catalog might not be the cheapest. Your local tack store might be 20% more expensive than other places…or they could be less expensive. The biggest way to save money is to educate yourself on what sells for what and see where you can get a better deal. So many online retailers have coupons available if you’re willing to take a couple of minutes to Google it. Don’t waste that couple of dollars because you’re in a hurry.
Another easy way to save a few dollars? Buy more than what you need. You know that you’ll go through 3 bottles of thrush treatment, 6 tail conditioners, several gallons of fly spray and 2 tubs of bit butter in a year? Buy them all at once. Many catalogs and online shops offer discounts if you order multiples of the same products in an order. On top of that, order them when they are at their cheapest (look for sales and coupons). I bulk buy a number of items regularly and I go to my little “store” in a trunk in my house when I need to restock at the barn. I recently saved 30% on an expensive supplement for Spice by ordering 8 months worth at time instead of 2 months. Score!
The Little Things
While supporting your local tack shop is all well and good – if you’re pinching pennies sometimes it’s best to shop local and not pay shipping! Shipping costs can add up quickly with many online retailers (not to mention a few with EXTREMELY long ship times) and if you have to return anything…you lose even more in shipping. There are a few that do free shipping at certain dollar amounts and offer shipping coupons. Others offer free returns. Use those when you see them! If you can order out of your state, you can also sometimes find no taxes on your purchases. How long that will last, we’ll see as many states are trying to figure out ways to get their cut…but take advantage while you can. In California…the best “little things” site is Riding Warehouse (they offer free next day shipping to anywhere in CA and free returns).
Good Things Come to Those Who Wait
One of the biggest money savers is patience. If you can wait for something to come on sale, for a closeout in your size, for a “inventory reduction” you are going to save some big bucks. As an example, I have been on and off looking for dressage boots for a little over a year. I had purchased some cheap “dressage” boots that were really more of a dress boot (very soft, flexible leather) and was making due with those because they were on sale (closeout). After being bugged by my new trainer every week in our lessons to buy some proper boots, I started up my search again. It took a couple of months, but I was able to find a dream pair for a literal steal. These $1200 boots had gone on inventory reduction down to $500. I waited until there was a coupon out and managed to snag an extra $100 off bringing them down to $400 with free shipping and no taxes. If I hadn’t been willing to wait, I would have had to make a much bigger “investment” than I did. The boots aren’t any less nice because I paid $400 for them. In fact I’d say they’re a lot more nice! An extremely good value. I wish I’d bought two pair!
Expand your Market
Sometimes it’s better to buy abroad. When you’re looking for equestrian items, you have to remember that so many of the great brands aren’t based in the United States. Sometimes those brands can be purchased here in the US, but the exact same product can be purchased for significantly less when ordered from Europe. For example, my custom Mattes pad. I saved $100 by ordering this customized pad from France. Sure I had to wait a while to get it, but was it worth the savings? Heck yes. Keep an eye on exchange rates and the market. If you’re wiling to wait on the market, you can get a killer deal.
Sometimes it takes spending more money to save money. Pads are a great example. I now have a Mattes saddle pad that I use daily, but before that I had purchased 5 others that didn’t quite do the trick…some of those I still have. If I’d bought the Mattes (which I didn’t because of the expense) to begin with, I would have saved myself several hundred dollars. The same goes for square pads. One recently purchased $70 square pad has become the only one I use, making the nine or so other ($20-30 range) pads sit unused and unloved. If I’d just invested in two or three of the expensive pads, I’d use them and not have a couple hundred dollars worth of pads I rarely use sitting around.
On the same note, if the quality isn’t up to standard from some companies…they will take the products back! I’ve had both SmartPak and Dover take back breeches after I wore them because the quality was not acceptable. Dover will take back basically anything you buy there…even years later (so if you hate that Wintec you bought from Dover 6 years ago, take it back for store credit right now!).
Dig About in the Used Bin
Used. It’s a bit of a dirty word. Sometimes “used” means crap. Other times “used” means a great stinking deal! Look for used high ticket items that have not been used too much. A used pad is great, but if it’s got stitching coming loose or holes, it’s not a deal. Those used stirrups though…GREAT deal. A used bridle that was over $500 new? Could be a great deal if the integrity of the leather hasn’t been damaged. Have a look around on the gazillion Facebook groups, Craigslist or Ebay if you’re looking for something in particular. You might just find it for a steal.
Sometimes a Scratch is Worth It
This bit is specifically in reference to saddles. Say you find a really nice high end brand saddle from a saddle fitter that happens to have been sat in a handful of times. Demo saddles are great treats if you can get one to fit you and your horse. A demo saddle removes that uptick in price that makes a new car worth significantly less the moment you drive it out of the lot. It’s a price based on vanity, not the actual value of the item. A demo saddle assumes that you don’t have vanity about your item (that’s going to be well used shortly anyways). Does it matter that someone’s butt has touched it before? Not really (unless they had an accident…). Now if you’re ordering something fully custom, shiny, patent leather, blingy, crazy colored thing…then demo saddles aren’t for you. But if you’re looking for a nice black or brown saddle, this is the way to go. My Custom Saddlery saddle had a discount of $500 because it was a demo.
But what about that scratch? Sometimes a scratch is a no go. If it’s on the seat, knee roll, or panels…run. Scratches in these delicate areas can become holes. If the leather is compromised, the saddle won’t do you much good. A scratch on the flaps or cantle plate area? Buy the sucker. My Custom Saddlery saddle had an additional $1,000 off because of a cosmetic scratch on the cantle plate area (you read that right…a $1,000 discount for one 3/4″ scratch). Now it wasn’t the smallest scratch (and it’s enough of one you can’t buff it out)…but the leather was not compromised and it was in an area that there is literally no pressure ever. The scratch is never going to get worse (and I could cover it with a cantle plate if I really wanted). Because I was willing to take the saddle that had been sat in by a few butts and had a scratch I saved $1,500 on an extremely high quality saddle that will last me for likely decades. THAT’s what I call a bargain.
What are your favorite money saving tips when it comes to equestrian products?