How to Pay Less for Almost Everything
Buy what you want, when you want, with cash to spare
The Best Way to Buy Big Appliances
Appliances are among the toughest items to score a deal on because markups are low. So if you’re in the market for a new washer, dryer, fridge or stove, know going in that you will really have to do some legwork. That means shop around.
When Pat Foran, author of Canadian Consumer Alert: 101 Ways to Protect Yourself and Your Money bought his washing machine, he had a plan. “I knew I wanted a Maytag, so I phoned a Maytag dealer to get a ballpark price, which turned out to be $600. I phoned one store and they told me the price was $650, but they were having a No GST sale. That sounded great, but I thought, I’ll phone one more store, and they had exactly the same model for $550-and it wasn’t even on sale. In ten minutes, I saved myself $100.”
It’s easy to find sales these days. But why stop there? Here are dozens of insider tips and savvy strategies to help you get the lowest prices on haircuts, house paint, clothes, cameras-you name it.
Hardware and paint-store customers who overestimate how much paint they need return the unopened cans, which are stocked in the “mistints” section. Cans of this “remnant” paint-perfect for bathrooms and other small projects-sell for half price. “Everybody makes mistakes,” says Jacqueline Glass, an interior decorator and featured expert on Citytv Toronto’s home-decorating shows. “And many times the colours are really quite nice.” Best time to go: Monday. You’ll likely get a better selection as the do-it-yourselfers make their returns over the weekend.
Whether it’s distinct home-décor items or luxurious fabrics, the best deals are always closest to the source. Ethnic communities in Canadian cities are peppered with family-run stores offering great finds at dirt-cheap prices. “I have found rice-paper lanterns for $5 in Chinatown, compared to $30 elsewhere, and wrapped sandalwood soap for less than a dollar, compared to $6 at a boutique,” says Elaine Yong, Vancouver’s Citytv consumer specialist. These areas can also be great for groceries. You’ll often get the freshest produce for half what you’d pay at a big chain.
Save Shipping Charges
Some retail stores, such as outdoor specialist Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC, in eight cities across Canada), will order items for you from their catalogue or web site if the store doesn’t carry it, and waive the shipping costs to the store closest to you. At MEC, for example, for orders up to $1,500, you save $6.50.
If you carry a balance on your VISA or MasterCard (36 percent of Canadian cardholders do), make sure you get the lowest interest rate going. All banks offer low-rate credit cards: These come with an annual fee of perhaps $20, but typically charge around ten percent a year. No-fee standard cards often charge 18 percent.
On a monthly balance of $2,500, a standard card will cost you $450 a year in interest, a low-rate card $250. Industry Canada’s web site (www.strategis.ic.gc.ca) offers a Credit Card Costs Calculator that will help you find the best deal.
Stores offering charge cards often give a ten percent onetime discount on your day’s purchases if you open an account when paying. Some stores have no-interest deals: At Home Depot, for example, there’s no interest for six months on purchases over $450 charged on their card.
Dispensing fees for prescription drugs vary from pharmacy to pharmacy. At the big drugstore chains, charges can be around $12, compared with Wal-Mart, which charges around $6.50, or Costco, which charges just $4.49.
A Night Out
Shop Global, Buy Local
Whether you’re in search of a new couch or snow boots, chances are the person behind the counter of your local store cares whether they get your business, and has the authority to cut
If you go out a lot, the Entertainment book could save you hundreds. The book, which sells for $33 to $60 through charity fund-raisers and online at www.entertainment.com, gets you deals on hotels, movie tickets, restaurants, sporting events, zoos and theatres in more than 160 cities across North America, including Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal.
Don’t spend more than you have to. If your car is designed to run on regular gasoline, there may be no reason to put in the more expensive premium gasoline. Check your owner’s manual. The best times to fill up are Monday and Thursday mornings. “There is a definite gas cycle,” says Pat Foran, CTV’s consumer reporter. “Gas prices generally go up Friday, stay up through the weekend, then drop Monday, go up until Thursday and drop again.” Go to www.gasbuddy.com to check out prices at gas stations in ten major cities across Canada.
Winners stores buy overstock directly from designers and retailers, and sell it for 20 to 60 percent less than department or specialty retailers. The same goes for its home-furnishing outlet Home Sense. Each store gets thousands of new items every week, so the trick is to pop in on a regular basis. Lidia Pirc, a registered nurse from Mississauga, loves Winners. “Recently, I bought a Halston linen suit for $100,” says Pirc. “It would have cost well over $500 at a boutique.”
Keep an Eye on the Chains
The Hudson’s Bay Company, or HBC (The Bay, Zellers and Home Outfitters-Déco Découvertes in Quebec-all fall under the HBC umbrella) has recently taken a page out of Winners’ retailing book, going to its own suppliers to get stellar deals. Look for Special Buys or Power Buys in every department, and you’ll likely walk away with a great deal on a well-known brand.
” We don’t buy anything unless it’s already 50 percent off-that’s our starting point,” says Debbie Edwards, senior vice-president, HBC procurement. Recently, for instance, The Bay scooped up Nine West, Nina Ricci and Richelieu costume jewellery. “These were products normally retailing at close to $100,” says Edwards. “We put them out at $9.99.”
Bluefly.com purchases overstock straight from designers and retailers, and sells it for 35 to 75 percent off. That means you could get those $239 Gucci sunglasses for $133 or $157 French Connection men’s pants for $66. But you’ll have to add PST and GST, plus shipping and duty. Do the math first.
The Shoe Company (www.theshoe company.com) sells brand names at an average of 30 percent off. If you do find a better deal elsewhere on the same item, The Shoe Company promises to beat that price by ten percent. You can’t lose.
Many retailers, such as Roots and Sears, have clearance centres- that’s where you’ll find the deeply discounted items. Ask someone on staff where they consolidate their sale stuff. And at certain chains, the clearance inventory for the area eventually makes its way to one store. At Smart Set, a chain of women’s clothing stores, smaller stores will ship their end-of-season items to bigger stores, where they are deeply discounted. To score at a clearance centre, stop in regularly or ask when new deliveries are scheduled. Sears clearance centres move discontinued and surplus catalogue items, and anything that lands there has already been marked down. Within a few weeks, the items are usually marked down again. You can easily save up to 50 percent. But at clearance centres, take a close look at the product, advises Bruce Cran, president and chief executive officer of the Consumers’ Association of Canada. “There may be scratches or flaws.”
Specialists don’t necessarily offer special prices; instead, try your supermarket. When Kristina Matisic, a British Columbia-based consumer specialist and executive producer of The Shopping Bags on W Network, was planning her wedding this past summer, she found one of her best deals at her local grocery store. “I went to a few different florists,” she says, “and one of the best quotes I got was $900, which included my bouquet, centrepieces and two large arrangements. At my grocery store in Kelowna, they did all of that, plus threw in boutonnieres and corsages, for just $500. They were beautiful.”
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Pay Less on the Net
People would be surprised how far they can get just by asking for a better price. “Some store owners actually expect you to try and talk them down,” says Marina Strauss, retailing reporter for The Globe and Mail. “I recently bought carpet for my stairs. I knew the prices out there and went into a local independent store where I had purchased stuff in the past. I reminded the salesperson that I was a repeat customer-if you buy at a certain store more than once, they will be more amenable to negotiating-and I was able to talk him down 20 percent.”
Brand New on eBay
Remember, eBay isn’t just for vintage Barbies and beanbag chairs. You can find brand-new merchandise-shoes, musical instruments, toys-from eBay “stores.” The sellers are sometimes companies looking to unload closeouts (IBM runs a store) or individuals who are selling closeouts they’ve bought from manufacturers. Theresa Bruce, cofounder of Canadian Shopping Deals and an avid online shopper, enjoys bidding for what she’s after. She recommends having a maximum price you’re willing to pay and sticking to it: “It’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of bidding,” she says. Her best buy on eBay: a child’s white tuxedo, which she scooped up for $20. To find eBay stores selling new goods, go to www.ebaystores.ca.
Elaine Yong, at Citytv in Vancouver, refuses to pay full price. “Have a price in your head and ask for it,” she says. “If you have a CAA card, mention that. In my experience, nine times out of ten, hotels will drop the price.”
There can be huge price swings depending on where your grocery store is located. If it’s in an affluent area where real-estate prices are higher, grocery prices will be higher as well, even in the same chain. The opposite is also true.
If you’re in the market for a new car, check out www.roadcompanion.ca. For $19.95, you can type in the make and model of the car you’re after and find out exactly what the dealer paid for it. This will give you the upper hand when negotiating. You can also find out how much people have paid for the car at dealers in your area. Not very good at negotiating? For $100, Road Companion can handle that as well. “On average, people save between $400 and $2,000,” says André-Martin Hobbs, Road Companion’s project and development manager in Montreal. They also have information on used cars and will do that negotiation, too.
Dirt Cheap Housekeeping
Ask housecleaning services how much less it would be if you alternated or eliminated the cleaning of some rooms. Molly Maid, a housecleaning service available across Canada, charges about $78 to clean a three-bedroom, two-bath house. “How much you save depends on the room and how long it takes to clean that room. For instance, if you eliminate a basement, you could save $15 to $30,” says Kevin Hipkins, vice-president and general manager of Molly Maid.
You can save if you go to the source. “I was shopping at a high-end boutique and came across an antique mirror that looked like an old window frame,” recalls Anna Wallner, a consumer specialist in Vancouver and co-host of The Shopping Bags. “It was $375, and
I just loved it, but it was out of my price range. But on the back was the name of the local man who had made it. I found him in the white pages and went to see him in White Rock [B.C.], where he had a garage full of similar mirrors. I bought one for $50.”
You can also get a deal at museums across the country. For example, an annual family pass for the Museum of Natural History in Halifax costs $25. A family is defined as two adults plus kids. So if you share the pass with a friend and his or her kids, you pay just $12.50.
Hand Over Your Head
Large salons will often charge much less for cuts by junior staffers. And you’ll likely get some sort of perk if you come in with a friend or two in tow. Anna Wallner in Vancouver makes sure her stylist knows when she has referred someone to him.
” Referrals definitely count. Whenever I recommend my hairdresser to one of my friends, I get them to tell him.
” Chances are, over time, you’ll get better service, or maybe he’ll give you a freebie.”
Online Versus Real World
Find a bundle of online deals in one spot at www.canadianshoppingdeals.com.
Theresa Bruce and Pamela Buttazzoni met online, and in 2000 the two Alberta moms launched Canadian Shopping Deals to make it easier for cybershoppers to find great buys in Canada. They point you to the deals with on-site links. Another tip: Sometimes retailers price differently for online shopping and real-world shopping. They may have sales on the Internet that they don’t have in the store and vice versa. Check both.
Click on www.chapters.indigo.ca‘s up-to-80-percent-off section and you’ll find everything from kids’ books to gardening guides to history-cheap. Alice Munro’s Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, which retails for $34.99, is just $7.99 here.
If you’re wary of cybershopping, Costco offers great deals on fiction, cookbooks and more, often up to 50 percent off retail prices.
Though they rarely adver-tise them, most major stores such as Sears and The Bay have price-adjustment policies, so if you buy something and it then goes on sale, they’ll refund the difference. At The Bay, it’s within 14 days.
Dollar Stores Steals
Dollar stores have come a long way: stationery, party favours, candles, cosmetics, arts and crafts supplies-all for a buck… or two. Some are starting to carry pottery and dishware. “They are getting better distributors and better supplies,” says The Globe and Mail’s retailing reporter, Marina Strauss. “They are a great way to pay less.”
Smart Day Care
My friend Claudia has hit on a novel way to cut her day-care costs: She and her neighbour, who each have two kids, share a nanny.
” One week all the kids are at my house, and the next they’re at hers,” says Claudia, a Toronto marketing manager. “Combined, we’re saving $5,000 a year.”
” Pre-Owned” Electronics
Now you can buy computers and electronics that have been returned, repaired (if necessary) and tested, often for 30 to 50 percent less than they cost new.
” The problem with refurbished items is that you don’t know what the initial problem was,” says Bruce Cran of the Consumers’ Association. “Try it before you buy it. And negotiate for the best, longest guarantee you can get.” Savings can be significant: At Future Shop, a refurbished NEC LCD 17-inch monitor goes for $529.99 instead of $769.99.
Big retailers have their own private labels, which are generally less expensive than national brands. “These lines are often copies of the bigger name brands, and they’re pretty good stuff and way cheaper,” says Strauss.
Repairs and Services
Many contractors employ crews year-round and are willing to offer discounts when orders are slow, particularly in winter. Nonemergency tree work, for example, can be done at any time. “It doesn’t harm the tree to trim it during weather extremes,” says Bill Gardiner of The Tree Doctor near Ottawa. And you could save between ten and 15 percent. Another tip: Since companies often charge for travel, try to get two or three neighbours to have work done at the same time. And how about having two different jobs done by one company? You could save a bundle. Jacqueline Glass put in a pool last summer and also wanted landscaping done; landscapers were quoting as high as $75,000. “So we got the company that installed my pool to do it: they charged us $5,000.”
The Shopping Channel
Inventory that hasn’t been sold on TV goes straight to the web site’s clearance section, where prices can be cut by more than 60 percent: When I checked, a silver-plated hurricane table lamp had been marked down to $14.88 from $49.99. Shipping costs vary depending on the weight of your purchases.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY LOREN MOONEY, ANN MATTURRO, CYNTHIA DERMODY