smart spending

Go 'basic' when buying major appliances

When you're out shopping for new appliances, don't limit yourself based on the models you see in the store. Ask if the company sells basic, less expensive models that may not appear on the showroom floor. Why pay for extra bells and whistles that you don't want or really even need? This month's Frugal $ense winner, Earlene Williams of New York, used this approach when she needed a new refrigerator and gas stove.

January's Frugal $ense winner: Earlene Williams
Earlene Williams, of New York, won $100 for submitting the following tip:

Save big when buying large appliances
We needed a new gas stove and refrigerator. We looked at all the display models, which came in prices that were either very high or very low. After almost buying the low end of the high range, which still had too many doodads, I asked if there were other models that were not on display. The salesman pulled out a large binder with many more models in the middle of the price range to choose from.

For the refrigerator, we chose a large model, but without ice maker, separate thermostats, exterior beverage dispenser or fancy sliding compartments. We did get an Energy Star model, however. This fridge cost under $400. We sent away for an extra set of crisper drawers, since the crisper drawers on our model were a thinner plastic than the expensive models. The refrigerator is large enough for our family, doesn't gobble electricity and saved us over $1,000 when compared to a same-size fridge with accoutrements.

As for the stove, we found a $400 model that did not have a clock or an electronic panel and was not self-cleaning. And while the burner grates were not as heavy duty as the expensive stoves, they were more than adequate. The only extra we bought for the stove was an oven handle, since the one on our modest stove was plastic and might need to be replaced some day. We saved at least $1,000 on the stove by buying one that was nice and sleek, but had virtually no parts that might need repair.

The moral of the story is always ask a salesman for his model book. The mid-range appliances are most likely to be found there.

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Bankrate: Why did you ask if there were other models that weren't on display?

Earlene Williams: I hadn't bought an appliance in so long and I was shocked that practically everything was computerized. There were motherboards on stoves. I can see the potential for repair problems with that. I asked them, "Don't you have any plain stoves that I can clean myself?" I just need four burners and an oven. I don't need any special burners. My main concern is where the knobs are, and that they're out of reach of the children. I don't need a clock that will break. Then (the salesperson) pulled out a model book, and to my shock and amazement there were cheaper appliances that looked just fine. I bought a wonderful refrigerator without a water dispenser or ice maker. It's a good size. Another thing on the subject of appliances, I needed a small freezer for the holidays. I went online to a well-known maker. I knew that the brand was sold in an appliance store near me. I asked if they had it in stock, assuming the online price would be the best price. But they were trying to get rid of it and it was $40 cheaper in the store than it was online. In that case, it paid to compare prices with the store near me.

Bankrate: How close did you come to buying the "low end of the high range" appliances?

Earlene Williams: We had actually chosen one. And I was really uncomfortable with it. I just object to a $1,500 fridge and a $1,700 stove. It goes against my grain. And our other appliances lasted so long. I wasn't aware of the technology changes. And now they have giant washers and dryers in bright colors for $1,700 each. The appliance companies have found a way to make washing your clothes a chore if you ever have to replace the appliance.

Bankrate: How long have you had the fridge and the stove?

Earlene Williams: Five years. And they're just fine. Once in a while I clean out the oven. I've never had to have either one repaired. Since those were cheap, I bought anything that I thought I might need to replace. So I got a second set of knobs and crisper drawers.

Bankrate: Are you and your family generally very frugal?

Earlene Williams: It's not something that I think about every day. But if somebody tells me that I need a $2,000 stove, I think, "What can I do instead?"

Bankrate: What are some other things that you and your family do to save money or be frugal with your spending?

Earlene Williams: I can tell you about how we give to charity without spending much money. One of the things we did was grow a 300-pound pumpkin. We brought it down to my son's school. New York City school budgets are very thin, so they're always looking for ways to bring in more money. The parent-teacher association is nonprofit. We did that so anything that gets donated could be tax write-off. We raffled off the pumpkin. The person who won the raffle donated it to his class. They divided it up among several classrooms. Every student went home and made pumpkin bread, or pie or soup. And we sold all of that from just one pumpkin. It turned into $450 to benefit the school.

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