10 Shopping Tips for Bargain Hunters

Does anyone really think it's smart to pay full price any more? No! I if you’re as proudly penny-pinching as we are, read Mark Ellwood’s new book, Bargain Fever: How to Shop in a Discounted World. To get you started here are his 10 tips to help you save on everything from groceries to hotel rooms

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Don’t be afraid to just ask if there’s a discount. One expert negotiation coach calls it  “The Flinch.” The Flinch involves sputtering a single word: “What???!!!” The message you're conveying is twofold: Either you're saying it's too expensive, or you're saying it sounds like a great deal. Regardless, the salesman hears it that your ultimate focus is that you're sensitive to price. Another even simpler approach: ask the sales assistant "Excuse me, are there any sales today?" (I know someone who nabbed 15% off a $50 frame at Pottery Barn recently, simply by saying that as she stood at the register).

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How do you sniff out that a sale might be happening unannounced? Create a twitter handle for deals, and follow some savvy shopping bloggers like @slickdeals, @dealnews, to name two. Watch and see when they tweet about certain brands - a cluster of #coach tweets means you should start Googling for some good but unheralded Coach handbag deals. Also sign up for a service like Shopittome, which will alert you when certain brands go on sale without your having to trawl through endless email newsletters.

Photo courtesy of Twitter

Avoid the middleman

Companies that don’t sell to stores but rather sell directly to consumers can cut out the middleman and pass on the money saved as a discount. Take Everlane, which makes men’s and women’s tops and accessories, or Project Gravitas, which sells stylish, American-made Victoria Beckham-like sheath dresses with built-in Spanx-like shapewear. Both firms sell products directly to consumers that would cost more than double were thsoe items to be on sale at a conventional department store. 

Photo courtesy of Everlane

Be Coy

Think of online shopping as having cocktails with someone new and cute: Never put out on the first meeting (i.e. make a purchase too quickly). My advice? Buy items in a two-stage process: Log onto a site, place a purchase in your cart and close the browser window. Then wait 24-48 hours. You can expect a coupon or promo of some kind in your e-mail inbox enticing you to make the purchase (users reported Levis, Coastal, ThinkGeek and Coldwater Creek as all using this trick, while Overstock has been reported to send prompting promo emails within 20 minutes).

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Make friends...with a sales assistant

Befriend a sales assistant at every one of your favorite stores, and always buy from them. Learn their name, ask for them when you shop, make sure to check their schedule. After all, they're on commission most of the time, and a regular buyer is a reliable income source. Once you’re recognized, they will most likely start inviting you to the pre-sale period – that week before the sale signs go up when insiders can shop at discounted prices in secret – and including you in friends & family promo periods.

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Beware of outlet mall-itis

What is it? That strange disease we contract where everything at the outlet seems an irresistible deal. Look at the price tags on merchandise there, which usually provides a higher reference price to make the deal look even juicier. Beware, though, if that higher price is flagged anything other than original price. Phrases like compared to or retail value are legalese, workarounds to avoid admitting that this merchandise was produced specially for the outlet.

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Learn the lingo

What is the magic codeword to get the cheapest rate on a hotel room? Call and ask for the BAR: Best Available Rate. That's the lowest dollar amount at which the computer pricing programs will allow that room to be sold.

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Be tech savvy

Install the PoachIt button in your browser and you’ll never have egg on your face at an online checkout again. Every time you find an item you want to buy online, hit that button while on that product’s page: It will generate a coupon code, if any are live and valid anywhere on the Internet. 


Think ahead

At the supermarket, watch for grocery specials where there is a per-customer limit: This is a hint that the item is likely being sold at a loss, and so is worth the effort of multiple trips to bypass that cap on buyers.

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Pay in cash

Cash is king, every time. Ask for a discount in exchange for paying in cash, thereby saving a store what it pays on credit card transactions (around 3-5%). 


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Next: Fabulous Finds that Give Back

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