A decade ago, retailers sold 15% to 20% of their merchandise at a discount.
Today, they sell 40% to 45% at a discount, according to professional bargain hunter Mark Ellwood.
“Never pay full price for anything — ever,” the journalist and author of “Bargain Fever: How to Shop in a Discounted World” tells USA Today. “If something is less than 30% off, put it back on the table.”
For Ellwood, a good deal is at least 30% off, and hopefully 50% off. To help you get there, we’ve compiled the following tips.
1. Ask for a Lower Price
You may get a deal simply by asking if a better price is available.
One of Ellwood’s cardinal rules is that you should interact with employees in stores. He tells USA Today that staff members are “your secret weapon” because they often alert customers to promotions.
Or they might offer you a better deal than the advertised price.
If you’re shopping online, use chat applications now available on some retailers’ websites. When the chat window opens, ask about a discount. Last year, I used this technique to save an additional $42 off a laptop that was already $350 off.
2. Comparison Shop Online
Even if you’re shopping in a brick-and-mortar store, use a smartphone or tablet and price-comparison website to confirm you’re getting the lowest price.
3. Keep the Receipt
What if the price drops on something you recently purchased? Consumer Reports suggests getting evidence of the competing lower price to compare against your receipt. Then, ask the retailer to match the lower price by refunding the difference.
Alternatively, return the item and then purchase it from the other retailer with the cheaper price.
4. Use Cash-Back Portals
Cash-back websites pay you to shop through them by giving you a percentage of your purchase cost back — for example, via a check or PayPal deposit.
5. Pay With Cash-Back Credit Cards
If you pay off your bill in full each month, it can pay to use a rewards credit card.
6. Tap the Power of Social Media
Following or friending your favorite retailers and brands on social media networks helps you keep current on sales, coupons and other discounts.
You may even uncover some bargains that companies have not advertised elsewhere.
7. Get on Email Lists
Check the websites of your favorite retailers and brands for an email sign-up option. Once you subscribe, they will email you about exclusive promotions.
I once saved 50% on sunscreen — a rare deal for that particular cosmetics company that I probably would have missed out on if I hadn’t signed up for emails.
To avoid an overload of retail email, create a filter. I use Gmail’s filters, for example, to direct all retailer emails to automatically bypass my inbox and go into one folder that I check daily.
8. Look Through Weekly Ads
Check your local newspaper or sites for the latest ads from retailers with brick-and-mortar stores in your area. It takes five to 10 minutes once a week to stay up to date.
Visit retailer websites for brick-and-mortar stores that don’t publish weekly ads, and for online-only retailers.
9. Temporarily Abandon Your e-Shopping Cart
If you have an account with a company, try temporarily abandoning your e-shopping cart when you shop.
Here is how it works: Browse the company’s site while logged in and add items to your shopping cart. Then, rather than make a purchase, leave the site.
The company might email you a discount to encourage you to return. There’s no guarantee, but it only costs a couple of minutes to try.
10. Swap Items With Friends
Looking for a new book or an outfit? Ask a friend if he or she will trade such an item for something you own. Or, invite a bunch of friends over for a swap party.
If you are new to this notion, there is plenty of information online.
11. Buy Secondhand
Whether you call them thrift stores or consignment shops, the internet can help you find places selling secondhand items.
Check sites like TheThriftShopper.com, which you can search by ZIP code. Or try the online store locators of national organizations such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army, and national chains like Play It Again Sports and Plato’s Closet.
For yard sales, try a directory like Garage Sale Finder or Garage Sales Tracker.
There are also lots of online-only secondhand marketplaces — just do a web search for whatever category of item you’re looking to buy (or sell) and a word like “secondhand.”
12. Buy In or Out of Season
Items like clothing, outdoor accessories and furniture, and gardening supplies are often cheaper out of season. For example, you probably will get a better deal on sandals or outdoor grills in the fall or winter.
Items like produce are often cheaper when in season. The following guides can help you determine when various types of produce are in-season:
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s seasonal produce guide helps you discover when specific fruits and vegetables are at their peak availability.
- The nonprofit Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture’s seasonality charts for fruits and nuts and for vegetables categorize the availability of foods by the month.
- The Sustainable Table food program’s seasonal food guide can tell you what’s in season in your state.
13. Use Coupons & Promo Codes
Newspapers remain the largest source of traditional coupons, with about 92% of coupons distributed via newspaper advertising inserts in 2014, according to an industry report.
Still, plenty of printable coupons and online-only promo codes can be found online.
14. Check Out Discount Retailers
Find deals daily, even on brand names, at discount chain stores. Other types of discount retailers include dollar stores, wholesale clubs and outlets.
Remember, having low credit scores can end up costing you money on interest rates and more. It’s important to know where your credit stands and how you can improve it. You can start by viewing your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com. You can also check your free credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com. If you find errors, you can take steps to correct them and improve your scores.
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Image: Eva Katalin Kondoros