Ruby Bayan is a freelance writer who likes to share her simple joys.

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Bargain Hunting Tips
by Ruby Bayan

As a newcomer to America, I did all my shopping the easy way -- I went out to buy what I felt like buying, I looked at the price tag of the item, took it to the cashier's counter, paid for it, and drove home. After a few months of getting acquainted with the American way of life, reading the papers, browsing magazines, and sorting through ad mailers, I realized that I wasn't the smartest shopper in the world! I was literally throwing away dollars because I didn't know better.

So, I set out to learn the "tricks of the trade" of one of America's favorite endeavors -- bargain hunting. And here's what I discovered:

Ask… It Won't Hurt

Many newcomers to the country, like me, are awkwardly shy, especially when confronting Americans behind a counter. I quickly learned that being timid doesn't help much in bagging a bargain. Vendors will prefer that buyers pay the amount written on the price tag but in many cases, there's room for a discount -- all you have to do is ask. Here are some ways you can "ask" for bargains:

  • Automobiles -- Car dealers work with flexible pricing schemes -- there's a sticker price, a sale price, and an invoice price. Do your homework (try and for buyer's advice) and haggle for the invoice price.

  • Homes -- When buying a new residence, don't hesitate to negotiate with your agent. Sometimes agents have the authority and kindness to drop application charges or preparation fees, and even a fraction of their commissions.

  • Airlines, Hotels, Cruise Lines, and Car Rentals -- These places all have standard, published rates, but most of them also have special rates for corporate, senior, military, and club member. They also offer seasonal, weekend, holiday, promo, and Internet specials. Even if you've already made reservations at the standard rate, when checking in, ask if they have specials or upgrades you can still avail of. You'll be surprised that oftentimes your request can be granted.

  • Phone Bills -- Phone service providers are constantly on cutthroat competition. Someone is bound to come up with better rates sooner or later. Most providers automatically reduce their rates for loyal subscribers, so if your provider hasn't lowered your rate lately, ask -- it won't hurt.

  • Computers, Appliances and Other Consumer Goods -- Don't be afraid to talk to store managers -- they are empowered to lower sticker prices. If they can't drop the price, maybe they can give you other types of extras, like free delivery, a mouse pad, some batteries, or a discount coupon on your next purchase.

Watch Your Timing

To take advantage of the best bargains, you need to curb what is known as the shopper's mortal sin: impulse buying. You need to time your purchases according to the periods of the year when specific items normally go on sale. Aside from holiday sales, there are end-of-season and after-season sales that roll out items as low as 75% off the regular price.

For example, buy your Christmas décor and winter clothes in February; get your space heaters and lingerie in May; choose your bathing suits and refrigerators in August; and pick out your air conditioners, fans, and outdoor gear in November.

Another timing technique is to inquire about discontinued models of appliances and electronics sometime in January or June, when new models come out. Last year's models, heavily discounted just to rid of them, may have all the features you will be happy with.

Don't forget inventory sales -- all major stores mark down old items to remove them from the stockroom. Ask your favorite department store when they take inventory.

Shop at the Right Place

We all go for convenience; we'd rather purchase stuff from the outlet closest to where we are. But convenience has a price. If you want to take advantage of dollar-saving bargains, resourcefulness should take precedence over convenience. Here's what I mean:

Appliance and electronic equipment outlets try to outdo each other when it comes to pricing. They feature sale items every week, and flaunt their ability to beat competitor prices. Retailers of furnishings and home items say they can meet the prices of the "other stores" and will even accept their competitors' discount coupons. You can cash in on these price contests by knowing who is offering the best price at any given time -- check the vendors' flyers and online stores.

Sometimes brick-and-mortar stores are not the best places to shop. Mail-order catalogs and online stores are excellent alternatives because they often offer considerable discounts, flexible paying schemes, and special deals. With other bonuses like free shipping and handling, all you have to do is wait for delivery.

Also, when buying a used car, don't forget to ask a rental car company if they are disposing of some units in their fleet. Major rental companies sell off their 6-month-old cars cheap because they want to maintain a stock of brand new vehicles for their customers.

Bid for the Best Price

Ever tried an auction? You should, because you might find items you've always wanted, and may get them at the price you're willing to pay. Online auctions are the rave, but a real-life auction is an electrifying experience. I had the opportunity to witness a friend win the bid for a Crown Victoria at a Sheriff's auction. It was in excellent condition, for only $2500! Call your local police station, Department of Public Works, or town clerk for government-sponsored auction schedules.

Storage facilities also conduct regular auctions of units that have been delinquent in payment. So, if you'd like to explore the bidding arena, check out your local yellow pages, as well as the auction houses at the National Auctioneers Association Online.

A word of caution on auctions: inspect the item closely before joining the bid session, and stay within your budget. Don't get carried away by raising your hand just to beat the bidder next to you.

Shop Wisely

And finally, always shop with prudence and presence of mind. Compute taxes, surcharges, and shipping and handling costs when comparing prices. Find ways to take advantage of volume discounts. Use your store coupons, and don't forget and to reap the rewards attached to your club memberships, credit card category and loyal customer status.

Remember, there's always a bargain out there!

[First published at, 2000]


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