Previously, I wrote a post about secret eBay and craigslist hacks that will save you thousands of dollars online.
But what if eBay and craigslist don’t have the product you want, or you would really prefer to buy a new product? That’s when it is probably time to shop retail. How do you get ridiculous discounts at retail? I am going to show you a few tricks I have used to save on everything from Newegg.com computer purchases to any American Airlines flight (even the cheapest ones!)
Three Coupon “Golden Rules”
First, let’s go over a few ground rules:
- Thou shalt not waste your time on coupons that save you less than $1 (or your predefined “comfort” amount.) Spend time saving money where it really counts, instead of running around saving a few cents. Your sanity level will go up, and you will feel better about yourself.
- Thou shalt not feel guilty or “cheap” about using coupons. Manufacturers put coupons out there for a reason! They want you to try their products. I have friends who tell me, “I don’t use coupons because I don’t want to be seen as cheap.” Are you kidding me? If you feel this way, start evangelizing the stuff you buy with coupons and like (I do!) Your kind words and rave reviews will do way more for the business than the few dollars they “lost” due to you using a coupon.
- Thou shalt not spend hours looking for bargains online. Your time is valuable too. Don’t spend several hours to save a few dollars. I am going to give you a “short list” of sites you should go take a look at for coupons and deals. If you can’t find what you are looking for there, you may have to try some negotiation tactics.
Your Five-Minute “Deal Plan”
Here is the exact method I’ve used to save thousands of dollars on product purchases. Done consistently, this will take you less than five minutes per purchase. I use this system on every single product I buy online, period. It saves a minimum of a few dollars and can save you hundreds if you play your cards right. Go through each of these sites, starting with Entertainment and ending with the coupon search. Once you do, you’ll quickly know where the best price is for the product you want.
- Entertainment.com. Frankly, I think this is the #1 most valuable (and least utilized) site/book out there. You buy a coupon book for $10, and it’s filled with “buy 1, get 1 free” deals at local restaurants. However, my favorite Entertainment coupons are not for local restaurants, but for deals on American Airlines flights, car rentals, and local grocery and drug stores. In the middle of the book, you’ll find a coupon for 5% off any flight booked through AA.com — and you can purchase up to 4 tickets at the same time. That’s anywhere in the continental U.S., and there are no blackout dates or minimum spends to get the 5% discount. You can only use it once per year. My boyfriend and I used it on a trip to Miami and it saved us about $20. There are also $5 off $50 purchases at Safeway (valid every 3 months) and $5 off $25 purchases at a local drug store (valid every 2 months.) I also used their Enterprise car rental discount to get a car rental for the ridiculous rate of $9.90/day for a compact car. The guy at the Enterprise counter said it was the lowest rate he’d ever seen. I just bought a second book so I could use all the discounts again. Your money will be well-spent on this book. Get your Entertainment book for just $10!
- RetailMeNot.com. if you think coupons are a hassle, try RetailMeNot. In about 60 seconds, you can find all current coupons for any website. You can also vote on whether or not the coupons work for you. This is really a no-brainer. I use this site all the time since it’s so quick and easy. Check it out!
- Jellyfish.com. This site has a great premise. They get paid by retailers every time you make a purchase through their site, and they return some of that back to you in the form of cash back. Definitely worth it for larger purchases — use their search feature, then click through on the search results page to activate the cash back. Jellyfish offers you 3% discount on purchases at NewEgg.com — and since NewEgg.com is already a very inexpensive place to go for computer hardware and peripherals, it makes a good deal even better. I’ve also used their cash back at CircuitCity.com and Overstock.com. The only catch is that you have to click through their search results to active your cash back. Take a look at Jellyfish!
- Last resort: Google [your item] + coupon. This will grab coupons from manufacturer’s websites. For instance, recently I needed to purchase Claritin. Lo and behold, Claritin.com has a $3 manufacturer’s coupon that you can print out. Nifty! You may also find links to other sites that have coupons for the product you want.
Fighting A Common Excuse: “I Don’t Have Time”
“I don’t have time” is a common excuse for not saving money via coupons. I will typically run through the four methods I mentioned above in quick succession to combat this excuse. I check Entertainment.com (which also has printable discounts), then RetailMeNot, then Jellyfish, and finally do a quick search for item + “coupon” on Google. Once you get into a routine such as the one I outlined above, you will quickly find that five minutes spent can save you significant money. Try it a few times before you dismiss it out of hand.
Other “Deals” That Might Be Worth A Look
I typically follow the four sites outlined above to find deals. However, there are some other ways you can come across deals.
- Sign up for a mailing list. A lot of clothing stores will give you discounts for this. For instance, Kohl’s sends you a $5 coupon when you sign up for their mailing list. It may not always be worth your time, so use a throwaway email address. Also, only do this with reputable websites, or you may find yourself the recipient of unwanted spam. I’ve found Kohl’s, Chico’s, cache, Borders, and Aveda typically give pretty good discounts for signing up for their mailing lists.
- “Deal” sites. These sites are designed to induce spur-of-the-moment purchases by showing huge discounts that are only available for a few days or until a certain allotment of product is sold. I don’t recommend signing up for their mailing lists — you will save more money by not being tempted by their impulse buys! However, searching for your product on the sites, you can get an idea of what the lowest price has been recently, and can decide whether it’s worth it to buy at the current advertised price. Remember — typically, products go down in price over time, so it may be worth waiting so you can pick up a used or refurbished item on eBay or craigslist.
Frugal Tip: Avoid Buying Junk
The last thing you want to do is end up buying junk. Even if it’s cheap, junk is junk, and it won’t benefit you to have it around.
I find I most often get screwed by buying refurbished electronics under $100. Recently I bought a refurbished home phone on Overstock.com (through Jellyfish) and saved about $12 over new retail. Unfortunately, the phone didn’t work. Overstock was good about sending me a return shipping label for free, but I still had to repackage it and drop it off at a local postal center. What a hassle!
I opted for buying the new version of the same phone at CircuitCity.com (also via Jellyfish), and the new phone works great. I stated this before in my eBay and craigslist blog post and I will state it again: I strongly advise that you stay away from refurbished electronics. Refurbished non-electronic equipment seems to be fine, and in my experience, used electronics often work fine as well. It’s just that “refurbished” label that seems to be so problematic.
Also, before you buy new stuff, check Consumer Reports and read the reviews of the brand and product. I found an excellent water purifier for our office with my subscription there, for instance. I also checked their reviews before my recent purchase of a new home phone to decide what brand to get. I subscribe to their online edition so I can just log on at any time and read their reviews. Their site is excellent.
I hope this article will help you quickly grab the best deals online and offline. Don’t forget to grab your 5% discount on any American Airlines flight by purchasing an Entertainment book. Of all the deals mentioned in this post, that’s my favorite — and it’s worth more than the price of the book!
Feel free to post your own tips for getting the best deals in the comments below.