Once you find the product that best fits your needs, look around for the best deals. As any frugal fringer will tell you, the internet provides an indispensible guide. Follow these tactics: (1) shop around for the lowest prices; (2) time your purchase to coincide with sales; (3) check for “special offers” on prices; (4) seek out “deal sweeteners” on terms other than the price itself; (5) look for opportunities to “stack” sales, special offers, and deal sweeteners; and (6) weigh the transaction costs, including the value of your own time. This structured approach achieves great bargains on quality goods, and does it consistently.
□ 4.4.1 Shop Around for the Lowest Prices
Shop at price comparison sites such as Google Shopping, Yahoo! Shopping, or PriceGrabber. The results won’t include every vendor, so always visit the sites of specific online stores that likely stock your item.
If you’re willing to spend more time, extend your search beyond the internet. Read catalogs and Sunday newspaper supplements (to see the latter online, visit ShopLocal.com). Call up stores or go shopping. If you own a well-featured cell phone, download various apps—Google Shopper, RedLaser, ShopSavvy—that let you compare prices by simply scanning barcodes.
□ 4.4.2 Synchronize Purchases With Sales
The precise moment you decide to buy might not coincide with a sale. Delay your purchase. While you wait, continue to search the web for lower prices. Sign up at price comparison sites (see above) to receive emails about price drops. Also, many products hit sales racks at predictable times, such as when new models arrive or inventories turn over. To discover the best moment to pounce, ask your web search engine this question: “when is the best time of year to buy [insert name of product category here]?” Mark your calendar with the results and don’t buy until then.
□ 4.4.3 Look for “Special Offers”
Sometimes, a seller drops prices for everyone with a sale. But this means that careless buyers who might otherwise pay full retail pay less and, as a result, revenues lag. To avoid such a catastrophe, sellers employ various devices. Let’s call them “special offers.” Basically, special offers differentiate between buyers—those willing to put in extra work enjoy a price break and those unwilling to do so pay more. Check for these whenever you shop and be among the few who snag the lower price.
- Coupons and Codes. Popular sites include RetailMeNot.com, CouponCabin.com, and CouponSherpa.com.
- Group Discounts. If you belong to AAA, AARP, or any professional groups, your organization may already have negotiated a discount for you. Don’t count on sellers to remind you of this—after all, they want you to pay more, not less. Be proactive. Most groups publish lists of discounting retailers. Your checklist reminds you to look at these whenever you shop.
- Rebates. Rebates are like salmon swimming upstream—only a few complete their journey and reach the happy spawning pools of consumer checking accounts. Sadly, many rebates die before their journey ever begins, because buyers never hear about them in the first place. Other rebates make it further, but consumers: (1) forget to mail forms; (2) fail to enclose sales receipts; or (3) never cash the check. Manufacturers love rebates. With so many chances for buyers to flounder, guess who ends up happy? Whenever you come across a rebate, help it leap over all the artificial obstacles.
- Volume Discounts. These fall into three basic categories. First, sellers discount prices for bulk purchases of same item—buy one get one FREE (BOGO) offers or discounts on cases. These usually are good deals. Second, sellers offer price breaks for complete sets (kitchen knives, cookware, bedroom furniture, DVD collections). These provide good deals as long as the buyer has a real need for each separate part of the set. Third, sellers create various package deals such as computers bundled with printers, HDTVs combined with Blu-Ray players, and cameras sold with memory chips. Often, these deals deliver little value because sellers use the promotion to dump unpopular inventory.
- Discounts for Preferred Form of Payment. Whenever you use credit cards, merchants pay processing fees to card issuers. To avoid these fees, they may offer discounts for purchases with cash or store-issued cards. Such deals produce significant savings on more expensive items.
- Deal-a-Day Websites. With Groupon and Living Social, you don’t find the products, they find you. Once you sign up, you receive daily emails about special offers. By inspiring more purchases, however, these sites can turn anyone into a deal-obsessed overspender. Fight the urge to splurge. Buy only what you need and run every offer through Appendix 1.
□ 4.4.4 Seek Out “Deal Sweeteners”
Manufacturers, vendors, and even interested third parties like credit card companies offer benefits in addition to or apart from lower prices. Read the fine print first. Such “deal sweeteners” come in many flavors.
- Freebies. Sellers offer FREE shipping, installation, accessories, components, subscriptions, and upgrades.
- Loyalty Programs. As you make purchases, you accumulate credits for future transactions, such as reward points or card punches (buy nine sandwiches and your tenth is FREE!).
- Credit Card Rewards and Other Benefits. Sellers aren’t the only ones who try to influence your purchases. Credit card companies earn fees on every transaction, so to increase card use, they offer buyer rewards. Many cards also offer extended warranties, breakage insurance, and refunds for post-purchase price drops (see Chapter 49).
- Financing Deals. Sellers sometimes dangle offers such as zero percent financing or no payments for six months. If you can pay these off as scheduled without penalty, they might prove worthwhile. But if there’s any risk you can’t pay on time, decline the offer and buy later when you have enough cash.
□ 4.4.5 Look for “Stacking”
You receive the best deals whenever a product hits the sales rack at the same time that special offers and deal sweeteners are pending. The checklist reminds you to watch for these savings bonanzas.
□ 4.4.6 Weigh Transaction Costs
Don’t forget sales taxes (Chapter 20), delivery charges, handling fees, and shipping insurance. These add up fast on big-ticket items or repeat purchases. Find online stores that ship for FREE at FreeShipping.org. Consider too the value of your own time. Ask yourself whether the savings are worth the effort based upon the amounts at stake. This assessment is inherently personal. Some spend many happy hours in the study of pumpkin pie fillings. Most, however, toss the Libby’s can into the shopping cart and move on.
* * *
STRATEGY NO. 4: FIND LOW PRICES
□ 4.4.1 shop around—
□ search price comparison sites
□ visit web stores not listed on comparison sites
□ search for low prices offline [call stores, read ads]
□ 4.4.2 delay buying until sales arrive
[search web: “best time to buy xx”]
□ 4.4.3 look for “special offers” on prices—
□ coupons and codes
□ group discounts [consult lists of discounting sellers for each of my groups]
□ volume discounts
□ discounts for preferred form of payment
□ 4.4.4 seek out “deal sweeteners”
[terms other than price]—
□ freebies [delivery, accessories]
□ store loyalty programs [rewards, gift cards]
□ credit card benefits [rewards, extended warranties, price protection]
□ zero percent financing
□ 4.4.5 look for “stacking”
[sales+special offers+deal sweeteners]
□ 4.4.6 weigh transaction costs
[sales taxes, shipping, my own time]