10 tips to steal the best deals this season
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Ready, Set, Shop!1 of 11
By Elizabeth Jenkins
Are you prepared for the top shopping deals of the season? Before you brave crowded malls and stores, plan your attack with these expert tips to ensure you snag the best bargains.
Bypass the Mall2 of 11
"Skip large shopping centers and malls for shops on the outskirts of town," says Kathy Spencer, author of How to Shop for Free. "People think they save time going where all the stores are clustered together, but I find you just waste time waiting in line." Instead, do your research and find locations that sit by themselves, away from the crowds. "You won't have to get there at 3 in the morning—plus, it's much easier to find a parking spot."
Make A Plan3 of 11
"Research prices in advance to help you determine whether something really is a good deal or just a misleading promotion," says consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch. "It's easy to assume everything is marked down or a great bargain, but that is not necessarily the case." And if you're in the market for a 42-inch flat-screen TV, don't settle for a 32-inch just because it's on sale. "Hold out for a better deal later; otherwise, you'll be spending money on something you didn't really want," says Woroch.
Divide and Conquer4 of 11
On Thanksgiving, Spencer sits down with her sisters-in-law and the group shares what is on everyone's wish lists—including children and spouses. "Then we make a plan based on where we can get the best deals on those specific items," explains Spencer, who spreads all of the newspaper ads for the relevant stores across the dining room table. "Someone goes to one store, someone else to another, then we reconvene in the afternoon to exchange what we bought and cash up." Spencer prefers shopping alone, comparing the day to a military operation. "Get in and get out," she says.
Eschew the Accessories5 of 11
Electronics typically yield the best deals over Thanksgiving weekend, but beware that the door-buster items often require accessories like cables and ink cartridges—which won't be on sale. As for warranties, save your money: "Electronics—especially televisions—have a rapid depreciation value, so a long-term investment doesn't make sense, and warranties are normally serviced by third parties who might not be reliable," Woroch explains.
Scope It Out6 of 11
Pay an advance visit to the stores you'll be patronizing to get the lay of the land. "They have big palettes filled with the door-buster items, and they separate them around the outskirts of the store," says Spencer. "I've seen TVs in the men's underwear section, so you never know what to expect!" A walk-through the day before Thanksgiving will ensure you know where your must-have items will be located. Got your eye on a great new dress? Try it on ahead of time, that way you won't waste time in the dressing room on Friday.
Strike a Deal7 of 11
Use an app like Red Laser or Snap Tell to compare prices while you're in a store. "Retailers may be able to offer more wiggle room if you can prove the same item is being offered for less at another store," says Spencer. Some retailers will even match prices found online if a nearby brick-and-mortar competitor has the item in stock. "The sales people understand that you can easily leave to buy the item elsewhere, so it behooves them to match the price," says Woroch.
Explore All Avenues8 of 11
Keep your options open: "Stack coupons, promotions and even credit card incentives," says Spencer. "In some cases, it's worthwhile to apply for the store credit card and get 10 percent off your first purchase or $25 off your first bill." Another smart saver: Spend a few dollars on a 10-percent-off card from a seller on eBay. Simply type in what you're looking for, the name of the store and the word "coupon." "Look for the Sellers' Badge when comparing your choices—it means eBay stands behind that person—or choose someone with a 98.5 percent rating or higher," advises Spencer.
Become A Fan9 of 11
Follow a store on Twitter or like their Facebook page to get the inside scoop on new promotions," says Woroch. And register on the store's website to get access to email deals like discount coupons and free shipping. "You can also go straight to the retailer's website to hunt for deals or to the Black Friday page on CouponSherpa.com," says Woroch.
Surf Smart10 of 11
"Start browsing and bookmarking pages early because those Cyber Monday deals will begin at midnight Sunday night," says Woroch. "The hot items go pretty quickly on Monday, so online shop for things you can't carry as easily on Black Friday," says Spencer. Bonus: If you enter the site through ebates.com, you'll earn cash back on any purchases you make online.
Wait Patiently11 of 11
If a tryptophan haze keeps you from leaving the house or you just can't stomach the crazy crowds, don't despair, there are still plenty of deals to be had after Cyber Monday. "More than 1,500 retailers participate in Free Shipping Day on Monday, December 17," says Woroch. "And you may see additional markdowns later in the season, so sometimes it does pay to hold off."