Friday, August 8

Beyond compare

Okay, so yesterday we covered getting something for nothing. But if you're reading this, I have to assume that those tips didn't work. (Unless, of course, you just love me so much that you can't get enough!)

My optimism notwithstanding, we're now down to the brass tacks: You're going to have to fork over at least some money.

Depending on your time line (and desired item), you may want to consider thrift and consignment stores. But if that yields no results, you need to head to my favorite resource: the Internet.

Timing is key

Just because you're paying for an item, don't assume you're stuck with retail prices.

One of the best ways to find deals is to know your seasons.

You probably already do this to some degree, usually via end-of-the-season sales. Like when you get a winter coat marked down 70% because it's May and 80 degrees out. Or when you find clearance prices on volleyball equipment in October.

Basically, like most of my tips, this is just a matter of taking your current know-how one step further.

Most merchandise has a season when it's easiest to find sales. You wouldn't expect to get a great deal on coolers in January, would you? Well, it's the same with bigger items, too.

  • Entertaining

When Tim and I were looking for a folding table for our games nights, we found only high prices. But about a month before Thanksgiving, we saw everything associated with entertaining guests go on sale. The obvious reason behind this is that you invite friends and family over -- usually far more than you're used to having.
So, starting in early November, you should always be able to find good deals on folding tables, folding chairs, tables with leaves and/or inserts -- anything that helps you cram lots of people around the food and/or TV.

(As a footnote, by the time folding tables were on sale, I had found one purely by accident at a thrift store for $5.)

  • Looking for slightly more grown-up furniture?

Keep an eye out around Labor Day, Veteran's Day, Memorial Day and (sometimes) Fourth of July. (Please don't ask me the rationale behind this. I'm still baffled.)

At any rate, for whatever reason, furniture stores and warehouses tend to have blowouts on these weekends -- particularly couches, although dining and bedroom sets tend to be perennial favorites, too.

I got my beloved microsuede couch for under $400 during the Memorial Day weekend. Why so cheap? The store wanted to lure customers in, betting that they would end up buying more than just the couch. (Retail stores do this frequently: "Loss leaders" of five cent paper will get parents to Staples to shop for school supplies, for example.) It probably worked for others, but with me it meant that the store broke even and I got a very comfortable couch for not a lot of money.

  • Electronics

I think most people know that the best seasons to shop for electronics are from Black Friday until Christmas and then again around Father's Day. Just like (much to my chagrin) Mother's Day means sales on vacuum cleaners and cookware.

I have already politely informed Tim that if I ever get something like that for Mother's Day (unless I have explicitly requested it), there will be trouble. To me, those gifts say, "Gee, thanks for doing all that cooking and cleaning and child-rearing. Take a whole one day off and then you can get back to work -- but more efficiently!"

  • Wedding stuff

Wedding stuff is available on Craigslist all year-round, but summer & fall are the high seasons. Spring brides sell in the summer; summer brides sell in the fall. Also flooding the CL listings are household items -- unwanted wedding gifts that the couple can't return.

  • Gym?

Thinking about joining a gym or weight loss center? You'll want to look in the first two months of the year. That's when companies offer all sorts of deals, trying to cash in on the optimism of New Year's resolutions . This is also a good time of year to find sales on organizational and storage items (resolutions again).

Here and now

But maybe you can't wait for seasons to change. Well, you can still skirt around the edges of retail. And thanks to the Internet, you can do it at any hour of the day!

The first step is to use other people's work. Sites like Shopzilla and Yahoo! Shopping will take the lowest prices from around the Net and present them to you in tidy, list form.(A note of caution, not all the information will be up to date, so be sure to click through to the actual retailer and double-check all the information: same make, model and price.)

This provides you with a good baseline comparison. You can evaluate whether it's a better deal to buy in person or online. (Don't forget to take factors into account like sales tax and shipping when determining the end cost.)

Once you've seen if there are any obvious deals,
you can start your own search. Open up a search engine. (You can use any. I prefer Yahoo or Google, but Blingo does give you a chance to win with every search.)

Now it's just a matter of teaming your product name with useful words like "cheap," "sale," "discount," or "deal." Try different combinations of the product name & words.

The key to searches is perserverance. Don't get discouraged if the first couple searches don't yield new info. I look up random things all the time on the web, so I've learned that you have to change your angle of attack. If "sale" or "discount" isn't working, try "affordable" or "savings." Heck, try "too expensive." Someone might rant about it and be given advice by other people in a forum somewhere.

I have done hundreds of web searches in the past couple of years. Tim's eczema requires a lot of attention -- and really good lotions. The lotions tend to be $8-10 (on the cheap end). So it's important to find any and all deals possible.

When the lotion was Sarna ($12-14 a bottle), I bought in bulk from an online drugstore, bringing costs down to $8-9. The bulk meant cheaper prices, but also free shipping; the online part meant we saved on sales tax.

These days, he's head-over-heels about Aveeno Eczema Care. (And can I just shill for a minute? It's fabulous stuff! If you have any trouble with eczema, you have to try it.) That stuff is around $10 a bottle. The last time we stocked up, I got a good deal through There was a first-time customer coupon taking $10 off and offering free shipping.

When we realized that part of the problem with Tim's skin was sweat- and heat-induced, we wanted to invest in moisture-wicking clothing. But most of the gear you can find is heinously expensive. New Balance and Nike have great gear, but it hovers around $55-70.

With web searches, I found
Sierra Trading Post, which has tons of great deals on this stuff. We got 8-10 shirts for just over $100 (including shipping). Tim wears them all the time, especially in the heat of summer. Between that and Target sales on Champion moisture-wicking gear, Tim is far more comfortable these days.

So this proves once again, that you can find just about anything -- even things that seem far out of your price range.

And remember that, any time you join any kind of online club or sign up as a user on a website, you can often get a special offer -- 10% off, free shipping, something like that. If no special deals are offered, do yet another search for the site and see if you can't find a coupon.

What if you can't find a deal?

Sometimes, no matter how skilled a search-engine user you are, there are no deals forthcoming. It's rare, but it does happen.

At that point, you need to do the next best thing: Find places that will
keep track of the deals for you.

These days, everything has a blog. The proof? I found a
blog specifically about sales on bras, underwear and lingerie.

So chances are that someone is out there, keeping track of good deals for exactly the product you're looking for! Sign up for the RSS feed and keep your eyes peeled.

Whew, well just *talking* about all this shopping has tired me out. (Or maybe it's the lack of sugar. Today was day 8 of no sweets. I miss candy sooooo much!) So I'm going to go ahead and wrap it up.

If anyone has any additional suggestions (or questions) please comment! I'm starting to get some good page-hit numbers, but you're all so quiet!

What would you get if you could only find it cheaper or discounted?

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Blogger Kris said...

Wow, great list of ideas! I've gotten hooked on couponing in the last year - it's my new hobby. Imagine...a hobby that saves money, not spending more! lol I've been getting lots of stuff free combining sales & coupons, and it's a blast.

re: eczema. I was recently diagnosed, and waiting to get in to see a dermatologist. I'll check out the lotions you mentioned. Mine's in a weird spot - scalp (ugh) and in my ears. How crazy is that?!

August 8, 2008 at 6:34 PM

Blogger Abby said...

Thanks for commenting Kris! (It's so quiet in here otherwise...)

Yeah, it's kind of a weird high -- saving money, isn't it?

As for eczema, well Tim has it on his scalp and ears too. In fact, his skin just split in one of his ears (owie!)

I just read an article that says the FDA made Aveeno repackage the Eczema Care stuff because the agency thought it made the lotion sound like medicine. Whatever. Anyway it's due out again this fall, apparently. Maybe you can get a free sample by writing and asking about it?

Tim's been loving this hemp stuff from The Body Shop. (It's not cheap but given how uncomfortable he is at any time, I'm just figuring out ways to save, like the rewards card and stocking up during sales.)

Anyway body butter or the face protector should help your ears. And, depending on your own sensitivity, it helps soothe his scalp sometimes. We've also been noticing lately that exfoliating helps. His body completely overproduces skin cells and such, which means he heals quickly but also that too much skin sits there and makes him itch. So maybe be sure you're brushing your scalp thoroughly every day? Because even my scalp tends to itch when I don't brush it regularly.

Finally, hopefully you know about Aveeno oatmeal baths. Drawing a bath and then dunking your head might help when you're itching up a storm. (Wal-Mart has a relatively affordable generic brand that works well, and if you like it, I know there are some make-your own recipes out there.)

August 9, 2008 at 12:16 AM

Blogger story girl said...

You have lots of great information here! I'm subscribing to your RSS feed now. Thanks!

August 9, 2008 at 8:26 AM


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