Q. Money is especially tight this year. Growing children, plus my husband and I, need many new clothes. Obviously I shop sales, but what other advice can you share to help me get the best price to save the most money?
— Betsy Bewildered
Dear Mrs. Bewildered: Most folks ask themselves the exact same question when it comes time for major purchases, whether an appliance, a new automobile, or -- like in your case -- lots of clothes. In checking around, I discovered one of my favorite sources, ShopSmart, has some impressive and easy suggestions.
1. Always look first for coupon codes and RetailMeNot.com is the best place to begin. Not only does it have codes for over 60,000 sites, but also it offers user feedback and success rates. Another goodie is DealScience.com that shows a screen of offerings from which to choose that will save the most money. The site generates a sale schedule and offers great shopping tips.
2. Comparing prices can save you lots of time and could save hundreds of dollars if you know the right avenue for which to check prices. ShopSmart has done the work for you and come up with the two best sites: Google.com/shopping and PriceGrabber.com. The latter is available as an app for Android and Apple. (The article says in order to keep from being frustrated by lots of irrelevant info, lack of specific ordering info, and so forth, then avoid altogether the following sites: Shopping.com, Pronto.com, Shopzilla.com, Become.com, TheFind.com, and Nextag.com.)
3. Haggling or negotiation is an art that we all need to learn in order to save money. In fact, I just bet that most readers have done so a time or two while at, for example, a yard sale. Today's economy almost demands we negotiate, but we need to know to whom we should open our mouths when shopping in a "real" store. Don't begin negotiating with a sales clerk; always ask for the manager or supervisor, as this is the person who has the power to effect price changes. Whether your offer is to buy one purse and the second for 50 percent off or pointing out a missing button on a shirt and offering 25 percent less, you're more than likely going to generate a great bargain.
4. Consider secondhand and/or check eBay for "first run" articles. I love browsing in thrift and consignment stores, and eBay is one of my all-time favorite online stores. In fact, just last week, I purchased two pair of shoes from eBay: a polka dot pair -and brand new - that would have cost at least double in a department store and a secondhand pair that I never could have afforded to buy new.
5. Find out when sales begin without using your time and energy to check. Hukkster.com sends you an email when a piece of clothing you love but can't pay full price goes on sale anywhere on the Web and even flags coupon codes you can use when purchasing. ShopItToMe.com also sends an email, this time pointing out the company selling your favorite brands at a discount.
6. Unfortunately, sometimes you're happily (and smartly) saving a mint but then get to the shipping and handling section where your savings go Ka Boom! One way to combat this enemy first is to check out FreeShipping.org, especially if you aren't able to find any free shipping coupons for the purchase. If you buy with your American Express card, you get free two-day shipping from Amazon Prime or ShopRunner.com.
Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears every Sunday. Email her at consumer email@example.com.
Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at www.timesfreepress.com under Local Business.