In my experience, the #1 budget buster is impulse shopping. If you can replace that impulse with these five steps, I believe you will seriously increase your odds of getting the very best deal on your next big ticket item.
1. Spend cash
There is something about using hard, cold cash that motivates you to get the best deal possible. When you’re counting out those 5s, 10s and 20s, you are going to be mindful of how you spend every last one of them.
Plus, cash is a great negotiation tool. Whether you are wheeling and dealing on a car lot or bargaining at the furniture store, sales people will negotiate with you when you’ve got the cash in hand to spend.
Even if you end up ordering online, where you obviously can’t spend actual cash, the advice remains the same: Make sure that you have the money set aside, in some really obvious place (like a special savings account), to cover the cost of the item before you make the purchase.
2. Do your research
When I’m even thinking about a big purchase, Consumer Reports is my go-to source for research on everything from cameras to cars. Fortunately, my dad and stepmom have an annual subscription and they are happy to let me borrow the relevant editions. But your local library should have them as well, and you can do a quick Swagbucks search to figure out which edition you need for the item you want to purchase.
I also like to read online reviews, keeping in mind that people are more likely to complain than to praise. And I talk to friends – both in real life and online — to get their opinion. When I was recently shopping for a new pair of jeans (yes, I wear pants), I asked my Facebook friends for their recommendations. I got a great tip to check out TJMaxx, where I ended up picking up a pair of $100 jeans for less than $30!
3. Be Patient
When our third child was born, everyone asked us when we were going to buy a van. Sure, a van would have been a nice “welcome home baby” present, but we decided to wait. And wait. We ended up waiting 14 months until we finally took the minivan plunge.
We waited because we were fortunate enough to be driving a hand-me-down Camry that was in great shape, and, believe it or not, fit our three car seats just fine across the back row. No, we couldn’t carpool, but we could accommodate our little brood just fine.
And we waited because we had learned our lesson once before about leaping into a van before we had saved up the money. In fact, that not-saved-up-for van was probably the tipping point in our get-into-debt story, so we definitely weren’t going to make that mistake again.
Instead, we bided our time until we had enough money saved up — and until we felt like we had really and truly outgrown the sedan. I’m so glad we did! Yes, a minivan is much more comfortable for a family of five, and it makes road-tripping a joy. But despite social conventions, it’s not a necessity and by waiting, we were able to get a great price on a well-maintained van – which was in our price range!
When it comes to bargain shopping, patience really is a virtue!
4. Be realistic
When you save up the money to pay cash, that money serves as an “out of bounds” marker. And unless you’re a millionaire several times over, that marker is going to force you to make some choices and set some priorities.
Take our van, for example. Our budget was $10K tops. Based on our research, we were leaning towards a Toyota Sienna or a Honda Odyssey. For that money, we knew we were looking at a slightly older van (2004+) with at least 80,000 miles on it. Alternatively, for the same money, we could have bought a much newer model American van with significantly lower mileage.
But what we couldn’t do was get both low mileage and a Japanese make in our price range. We had to be realistic. We did our research and made our choices based on our priorities. There’s not a right or wrong choice with these things — you just can’t make all of them simultaneously. Every choice has its price!
5. Shop around — Compare prices between brick and mortar stores and online retailers. Check out comparison tools like Price Grabber. Double check the prices at Amazon, since they usually match well-advertised sales and you can get free two-day shipping with your Amazon Mom membership.
Investigate Overstock.com, too, which has free shipping this month. Or their standard rate is $2.95 per order no matter what you’re buying — even a big screen TV! I love Overstock for their furniture and home decor, by the way. We ordered a Basketweave Seagrass Area Rug (left) for our entry way from Overstock and while it was a bit of a splurge for us, I love, love, love it! It’s held up great and gets a lot of compliments.
For more tips on getting the best deal online, be sure to read my post with Tips for Saving Money when Shopping Online.
Those are my best tips, but I’d love to hear how you handle big ticket purchases, too. Please leave your suggestions for getting the best deal in the comments section!