by Jennifer Wallis
Every year around the holidays, a mysterious phenomenon occurs in malls across the country. In the predawn hours of the day after Thanksgiving, while it’s still dark and most people are nestled in their beds, a secret society of dedicated individuals roll out of bed. They leave the house, sometimes still in their flannel pj’s, to hunt for bargains.
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My best friend is one of these devoted bargain shoppers. She and her mom have made it an annual tradition. They arrive at the mall before 6 a.m. Like lions stalking their prey, they lurk by the entrance, ready to stampede as soon as the doors are unlocked. In everyday life, they are the nicest women you will ever meet. But on this day, if you get between them and a 50% off Elmo, you may catch an elbow in the gut.
I do not have this killer instinct when it comes to shopping. I’d rather stay in bed and skip the mall melee. I refuse to get into a hair-pulling fight with anyone over a discounted doll. Yes, I love a good bargain like anyone else. However, if I have to push and shove, just count me out.
So, for those of you who are sale lovers but not fighters, I have some tips for you. You can still save money and emerge unscathed. Over the years, I have learned to save money without having to outrun anyone.
Try these Black Friday shopping alternatives:
Especially around the holidays, many companies offer free shipping. I like to accumulate everything my son has on his wishlist and buy it all at once, online. I get great prices and then am able to take advantage of the free shipping option. I enjoy one-stop toy shopping without ever having to endure long checkout lines.
If you’re shopping for major appliances, furniture, or electronics, many stores offer 0% interest for a certain length of time. Normally, I don’t recommend financing things if you can help it. In this case, you get to borrow the store’s money for sometimes up to 2 years for free. If you choose to finance something at 0% interest, just watch out of the catch (yes, there is one). You must pay it off before the 0% interest expires. If you don’t, you will be charged all of the interest that has accrued during the 0% time period. So, you will end up paying hundreds of dollars in interest, which defeats the purpose of taking advantage of this great deal. So, if you finance it, pay it off before the free ride comes to an end.
Rewards, frequent flyer miles and cash back… oh my
If you do have credit cards, sometimes, you can let them work for you. Many credit cards give you purchase points whenever you use them. Some give frequent flyer miles. Others may give cash back. If you are disciplined, you can reap these rewards without any down side. You can charge on the card, rack up the points and just pay it off every month. So, you get all of the rewards without paying any of the interest. Some limit the amount of rewards you may receive but it can still be a great deal for you.
Ask and ye shall receive
Many electronics and furniture stores offer special deals on "open box" merchandise. These items are usually in perfect condition but have just been returned. They will be discounted and have special sale tags on them. The thing that many consumers don’t realize is that salespeople can negotiate on the price of open box merchandise. So, just flash a smile, make an offer and see what happens. I was able to purchase my TV, refrigerator, dishwasher and DVD player all at huge discounts because they were open box merchandise. I asked the salesman to reduce the price further and he happily obliged. Combine this with the fact that I financed them all at 0% interest and paid it off before the 0% expired, and call me a savvy shopper.
Many stores offer great coupons for their regular customers. If you wait until a sale and then combine your savings with a coupon, you can get some really great bargains.
Some may think that bartering for items went out with the horse and carriage. Not true. Many small business owners may be willing to give you an item for a service you offer. One of my friends was able to agree to treat a store owner’s lawn in exchange for several very expensive guitars. He did this for other items, too, such as clothing and sunglasses. He is a small business owner and would just approach other small business owners and ask them to trade. Surprisingly, they said “Yes” much of the time. If you have a service that you can offer such as lawn care, decorating, or cooking, don’t be afraid to ask someone to trade with you.
No matter how you choose to shop this holiday season, I hope that each of you has a safe and happy holiday season. Remember, don’t lose you cool and blow your budget this year. Good deals are out there if you just practice some patience. If you are one of the devoted early morning sale seekers, I salute you. Enjoy your 100-yard mall dash but don’t look for me to join you. If you find a great deal, good for you!
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Copyright © 2005 by Jennifer Wallis. All rights reserved.