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Ask and you shall receive ... a discount

Stop. Don't just blindly pull out your wallet and pay the asking price. You could get a better deal on just about anything you buy. You have the money -- you can be in control.

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"Remember on which side of the table the power resides -- the side holding the money," explains author and money-saving expert Corey Sandler of Nantucket, Mass. He adds, "There's hardly anything you can buy that there isn't a better deal than the first price you see."

In his book Secrets of the Savvy Consumer, Sandler gives three important pieces of advice:

Three rules
His first bit of wisdom: "Distinguish between a need and a want. You have to be willing to walk away from a bad deal when it's just a want." In other words you probably need a car, but you want a Porsche. Unless someone can sweeten the deal on that fancy sports car, you shouldn't waste your money.

Next, Sandler recommends, "Learn to buy -- not to be sold." He advises that you know a lot about the product or service you are buying. He even says, "It's surprisingly easy" to know more than the salesperson nowadays. When you have researched the product and its price, you know when it's a good deal and you know what extras you can ask for.

Finally, Sandler says you should always ask for a better deal. He adds, "Sometimes you get your face slapped, sometimes you get a better deal. As long as you're reasonable, you can usually find a better deal."

Does it work? Check out these examples:

Get more for the same
Sometimes a store or business won't be willing to give you a discount, but they may be willing to give you something extra. So go ahead and ask for more for the same price, like the sister of Deborah Senecal of Huntington, Mass.

While visiting California for her daughter's wedding, Senecal was content to settle for a small double room for her and three relatives. But her sister wasn't afraid to ask the right questions. Senecal explains, "My sister's first words were, 'This won't do. We need a bigger room.' She called the check-in desk and requested an upgrade. The price she was quoted was out of our budget, but she didn't let that bother her."

The sister played the sympathy card. Senecal explains, "She said to the desk clerk, 'It's really bad up here. Four women in one room, hair dryers and pantyhose flying everywhere. You've got to help us out! We've got the mother of the bride here!'" The four women ended up in a mini-suite on the corner of the building with huge windows for the price of the regular room -- and with free breakfast buffet tickets.

Get a lot more for a little more
The next story illustrates two smart shopping ploys. Call the source of the product or its home office. And for only a little more money, you can sometimes get a lot more product. Laurie Clinton of Virginia Beach, Va., discovered both of these truths when she recently shopped for a computer.

Doing research at a local Gateway store, Clinton found a $1,299 computer with an upgrade to a 17-inch monitor for an extra $215, but no printer included. She then called the home office, reachable by a 1-800 number. She discovered she could get a much better computer with 17-inch monitor and printer for only $300 more than the original bricks-and-mortar store price.

But she didn't stop there; she asked more questions. "I asked about upgrading the printer, and the guy gave me a $75 credit for the one in the package. Then he told me about a rebate from Hewlett-Packard for $50. Along with all the neat stuff like the warranty and tech support increased to three years, a better-performing computer with DVD-ROM [and 17-inch monitor and printer] only cost me $100 more than the original package I was looking at -- delivered right to my door." Clinton did have to pay shipping and handling charges as well, but she ended up with more stuff and a better product than originally planned.

Match the price
Perhaps while researching the product, you find a terrific price, but not on the brand you prefer. Try asking the company you like to match the price you like, as Palm Harbor, Fla., resident Sandra Webber did.

Comparison shopping on the Internet helped Webber find some good deals on vacuum cleaners. In fact, Webber found a cleaner at great price, but not the brand she wanted. She explains, "I asked the more 'reputable' company to match the price ... and they did! My Fantom Fury arrived four days later and I couldn't have been more pleased."

Sandler agrees with Webber's technique. He says the Internet can be an ally when negotiating with a local store. I told him I'd recently bought a baby car seat from a Web site, and saved $16 (even after shipping and handling) over the store price. The drawback is that I will be waiting until mid-July for it to arrive. He says I should have taken the Web price to a local store and then I'd probably already have the car seat installed in my car.

"Go to the local store and tell them, 'I saw an incredible price on the Internet. Will you match it?'" advises Sandler. He says stores are wising up to the Internet as competition, and even if the store won't make as much money on the sale, at least they won't lose you as a customer to the Web-based business.

Other discounts to ask about

  • Discount for cash. Merchants pay a percentage to credit card companies. And they may be willing to pass some of the savings on to you, if you save them that trouble by offering to pay with the green dough.

  • Discount for memberships. Two well-known memberships that can save you money are American Automobile Association and American Association of Retired Persons. Also consider any organization that you are a member of -- such as, the PTA, a health club, a college sorority/fraternity, an alumni group, a professional group. And check for discounts from organizations everywhere. AAA offers deals on more than rental cars and hotels; check for savings on prescription drugs and amusement park tickets. An AARP membership can save you money on airline tickets, meals and flower deliveries.

  • Discount for loyalty. A business may be willing to negotiate its prices if it is assured it will have your repeat business. Sandler provides this example: "Let's say you buy 100 pounds of birdseed each month. Go to the store manager and say, 'I will do that for the next year if you'll give me a deal.' Even if you're a new customer, you can say, 'I'm willing to bring my business here if you cut me a deal.' Sometimes they'll say no, but they're dinosaurs."

  • Ask for flexibility. I recently received a coupon from a major Internet book retailer, encouraging me to try their new music and video selections. But I'm not interested in any CDs or movies right now. I do want another book. So, I e-mailed them, asking if I could use this special deal on books. And they wrote back and said sure. I just saved $5 on a book I was going to buy anyway -- just by asking!

Negotiate everything
Don't limit your asking to stores that sell products. Remember you can negotiate almost anything -- from credit card rates to cell phone service.

Admittedly, it can be a little nerve-wracking to ask for a discount. The American culture is not used to even this small bit of negotiating for most products. Women especially worry about offending the salesperson. Sandler advises, "I don't want anyone to be rude. Just ask yourself, are you looking for a deal or looking for a friend?"

Remember all the clerk or manager can say is no. If you need or really want the product, then you might decide to go ahead and pay that asking price. But you'll never get any discount at all if you don't ask.

As Sandler says, "The bottom line is that the people who are willing to ask for a better deal are subsidized by those who aren't."

-- Updated: June 23, 2004




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