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Secrets of a smart shopper

You can negotiate the price on just about everything you want to buy. Who knew?

Corey Sandler does. He's the author of Secrets of the Savvy Consumer, a helpful handbook that walks shoppers through buying everything from a house to a sweater for Mom -- and saving a bundle.

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The whole point to saving money is being a savvy shopper, says Sandler. "A savvy consumer makes the same money as the person next door, but they live better than the other person."

So before you hit the mall or the car dealer, consider Sandler's advice.

Learn to buy, not be sold
"Know when to buy, how to buy it and where to buy it," Sandler says. "It's not about being cheap. It's about devoting yourself to research to get more for your money."

Determine what items are out of season and go in for the deal, Sandler says. For example, while everyone is shopping for wreaths and sweaters, talk to the store manager for deals on a new barbecue grill or air conditioner. Or when everyone's trying on bathing suits, check out a new pair of snow skis.

"The store is going to have to put these items in storage, but they'd rather make a lower profit on you. All you have to do is ask," Sandler says.

Making the best purchase also includes understanding the retailer's mark-up strategy. Appliances are generally marked up 15 percent and books 50 percent to 100 percent. Understanding the profit margin puts you in control of the deal.

The best deals are found at stores with variety, quality merchandise, fair prices and a good return policy, he says.

The rules of supply and demand work in your favor
"Tell yourself, 'I'm going to buy when the dealer's anxious to get rid of it,'" Sandler says.

If you walk into a store and see 15 of the same item lingering on the rack, make a deal with the salesperson or manager -- especially if you plan on buying more than one item or plan to pay in cash.

This also works great when you're ready to purchase a car. Wait until the end of the day, end of the month, end of the year, or the lousiest weather you can stand, and you'll have salesmen crawling at your feet, desperate to earn their commissions.

Use this same strategy when everyone else is busy buying stocking stuffers. The holidays are a prime time to get a great deal on a washer and dryer, or dishwasher. Those poor schmoes in the appliance department are kicking the dust, looking for the best way to put presents under their tree. The best way is to make a deal with you.

Use the Internet to your advantage
Great deals don't evaporate when you go online. Sandler says the rules still apply when you are dot-com-ing a shopping list. In fact, the Internet gives you added power by putting research at your fingertips.

Shop around. The rules of supply and demand and finding the best bargain are applicable at online stores as well. Call the customer service number or send an e-mail and negotiate your way to a bargain.

Online stores have a lower overhead, and, therefore, they've got a bit more leeway when negotiating. If they won't cut you a deal on prices, ask for free shipping. Don't be afraid to pit Amazon.com against Barnes & Noble. "These stores are trying to buy their market share," Sandler says. "Troll through the sites, and look for specials," especially during the holidays.

However, Sandler warns against trusting shopbots to fetch the best prices. "I think they are a good idea, but I don't think they're there yet. I'd rather find the best price for myself.

"Be willing to invest your time. Put a price on it. If you spend two hours to save $1 on a book, then it's not worth it, but if you save $200, then you've paid yourself $100 an hour."

Ask and ye might receive
"You're not going to get a deal if you don't ask. The worst they can say is 'no,' " Sandler says.

Sometimes the salesperson doesn't have the power to make a deal, but before you scour the aisles looking for Monty Hall, ask for a manager.

To negotiate well, be well-informed -- and willing to walk away, Sandler says. "In most cases, the negotiating power lies with the person with the money to spend."

Having power doesn't mean having a bad attitude, though. "Be assertive, but there's no need to be nasty. Have respect for yourself and who you're dealing with," Sandler says.

Negotiate for the best deal when you're in charge
If you're able to plan around big shopping and traveling days, the ball's in your court. And you don't have to take the first volley that is served.

For example, Sandler was traveling with his family over the Thanksgiving holiday. The flight back from London was overbooked, and British Airways was begging passengers to give up their seats. Sandler stepped up with his family's four tickets. He turned down the airline's first offer and kept negotiating until his family received $3,000 in airline credits and a free night in London, including meals.

"Speak knowledgeably on a professional level that shows that you know how they do business," Sandler suggests. "Don't plan on paying the list price or taking the first offer. You can find it in a better place, time or way. You'll know that you got a good deal when you're happy with what you pay."

-- Updated: Nov. 24, 2004




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