When we talk about bargain hunting and getting the best price on items that you need, it’s usually with the assumption that you have time to shop, compare models and prices, and wait for sales. Most of the time that’s the case. But there are times when you need something right now and you can’t wait. Think about what happens when the refrigerator conks out and the food is spoiling. Or the washer is broken and the laundry is approaching the ceiling. Or your computer goes kaput and you have a big presentation to finish. You need a replacement and you need it now. How do you avoid spending more than you have to in these circumstances?
First, investigate the repair option. Many things can be repaired rather than replaced. What you have to decide is whether or not the repair is worth it. If the repair can be made quickly and for a reasonable amount of money (i.e., not for more than the cost of a new item), then that may be the best option to get you back up and running. You’ve been served notice, though, that the item is on it’s way out so now is the time to start actively shopping for a replacement. The repair can buy you time to deploy your best bargain hunting strategies and get a good replacement at a good price.
If repair isn’t an option or if the repair will cost more than just buying something new, then you have to look at purchasing something quickly. You’re not going to have time to hit every store and compare every price, so you want to do the best you can with limited information. The first step is to gather up the current week’s sale flyers (or get them online) for the stores nearest you and see what’s on sale right now. If there are models that interest you, mark them down. Double check to see if there are any coupons available for that retailer that could lower the price.
Next, hit the Internet to see what’s available there. Most physical stores won’t price match an Internet retailer, but you might find the model you want for less on the Internet. Weigh whether or not the extra delivery costs and time are worth it before purchasing. Some physical stores offer different merchandise on their web sites, so look to see if there’s a better option there. If you find something you want, some retailers will ship it to the physical store for free.
While you’re on the Internet, take some time to read reviews of the models you’re interested in. Ideally you want to check reviews from regular consumers like yourself, as well as professional reviews like those from Consumer Reports or Good Housekeeping. This simple step can keep you from purchasing an unsafe or poorly performing item.
Now that you’ve got a short list of acceptable items, check to see if the stores around you have them in stock. Many stores have online inventory checking, or you can just call. This saves you from running all over town to discover that the item isn’t available. While you’re at the store, check the return policy. When you’re buying on the fly you want the best return policy you can get. If you don’t like the item or it does not perform as you expect, you want to be able to
return it. Ask about restocking fees and (for large items) pick up fees.
At the store, don’t make the mistake of telling the salesperson that you need it right now. This takes away all of your negotiating power. If the salesman knows you’re desperate, he knows he can get full price out of you. Act casual and try to negotiate. If your efforts are rebuffed you can always pay the asking price, but it can’t hurt to ask for a discount or for a discounted floor model, if available.
Once you’ve bought something, keep an eye on that store’s sale flyer for the next couple of weeks. If the item goes down in price, many retailers will refund you the difference. Some stores will only do this for a week after purchase, others for fourteen to thirty days. You might yet be able to shave some more off the purchase price.
Planning a little ahead can save you a lot of stress when it comes to buying things on the fly. You know that certain things will always have to be replaced. Cars, appliances, and electronics don’t last forever. You know when something you own is getting old, starting to make funny noises, or not performing as it once did. When you get these hints of the items’ impending demise, start your research. Get a feeling for what’s out there and how much it costs. Watch sale flyers
and see what some good prices are. Look at some models, even if just casually, and see which features you like and dislike. Start to get a sense of what you really want on your next item, what you want but could live without, and what you absolutely do not want. This way you’re not starting a search from scratch when you’re stressed and need to make a quick decision.
It’s not fun to buy things in a hurry. Most of us that are frugal by nature hate it because we’re always afraid that we’re going to get screwed on the deal. It makes us uncomfortable when we can’t use our full bargain hunting arsenal. However, it doesn’t have to be a completely awful experience. Following the steps above can take some of the stress out of the process and get you a decent deal.