Get It For Less: 2011 Edition
Earlier this year, MainStreet launched a new weekly series called Get It for Less in which we highlight proven strategies to save money when shopping for everyday products even when it seems like the deals are hard to find. In most cases, all it takes to save big on a purchase is knowing which stores offer the best prices and at what time of year (or even what day of the week) you’re likely to find discounts. Other times, the trick is knowing what tools to use to find the right deals and when to ask a retailer for a discount.
If there’s one guiding philosophy behind the series, it’s our belief that consumers should never pay full price for a product because chances are there is always a better price somewhere. As the year comes to a close, we decided to highlight some of our favorite tips to help you save a little money during the holidays and beyond. If there’s a particular product or service you’d like to see us cover in the coming year, let us know in the comments section!
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The price of movie tickets has skyrocketed in recent years and is now approaching the dreaded $10 milestone nationwide average (and much higher than that in certain cities like New York). Fortunately, there are still plenty of ways to score a discounted or free ticket.
Most moviegoers are probably aware that matinee tickets are cheaper, but how many know that some theaters like AMC have pre-matinee shows any time before noon where tickets are usually even a couple dollars cheaper than matinee prices? If that seems a little too early to enjoy a movie, we completely understand. Many theaters also offer discounts for students, seniors and military personnel that don’t have to be redeemed at the crack of dawn. These may not be advertised in front of the theater so you should ask an employee for more details.
Even if you don’t fit into any of these categories, there may still be discounts available. Costco and AAA both promise their members significant discounts on tickets and many workplaces provide discounts as well, whether you know it or not. Just take a few minutes to consult your human resources department.
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Christmas Trees & Decorations
Counter-intuitive as it may sound, the next week may actually be the best time to get a bargain on Christmas-related goods, though it may be a little nerve-racking to wait until the very last minute.
When it comes to Christmas trees, there are several ways to save money by comparison shopping and haggling with merchants whenever possible, but the most effective strategy may just be to shop in the final days before Christmas. As is the case with many seasonal products, sellers need to move the trees before the holiday or they’ll be effectively worthless. If you shop a few weeks before Christmas, sellers will likely feel that they have more than enough time to get rid of the inventory, but the closer it gets to the holidays, the more desperate they’ll be to sell what’s left and the more power you will have to bargain with them.
Christmas decorations are a little trickier. The absolute best time to buy ornaments and other items is the day after Christmas when stores are trying to get rid of anything left in stock. According to one shopping expert we spoke with, stores may cut prices by 70% or more. Needless to say, buying decorations the day after Christmas won’t do much to help you this year, but it can save you money next holiday season. What’s more, some department stores do offer price adjustments within a certain time period after it’s purchased if the price is marked down. So even if you pay full price now, you may be able to get money back later. In fact, there’s even an app called Savvy that lets consumers take advantage of price adjustments from more than 40 retailers without actually having to set foot in the store.
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It’s probably too late to find many great deals on flights for the holidays, but there should be plenty of deals for flights between Jan. 5 and Feb. 14. As George Hobica, the president and founder of Airfarwatchdog.com, told MainStreet last month, “The fares go down because people are all traveled out, so prices drop domestically and internationally.”
Travelers can also expect to find deals on domestic flights that leave between Labor Day and Thanksgiving when families are less likely to fly and on international flights after mid-August when students are back in school.
It’s not just the time of year that matters though, it’s also the time of week. According to Hobica, the cheapest days to fly domestically are typically Tuesday and Wednesday and the cheapest days to fly internationally are Monday through Wednesday, though there are sometimes exceptions. For that reason, it’s good to sign up for airfare alerts from websites like TripAdvisor, Hotwire and Bing to notify you when the fare price drops significantly.
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Unlike with airlines, there really is no across-the-board rule for when hotels are at their cheapest. Instead, the peak and off-peak travel periods vary from city to city and so do the prices.
“In the big business cities – including much of the Northeast – rates tend to be better in the summer because demand is lighter,” Bob Diener, president of Getaroom.com and a co-founder of Hotels.com, told MainStreet. “On the flip side, rates are better in the fall for Florida, the Caribbean and Mexico.”
Regardless of how you make your arrangements, Diener suggests booking rooms up to three months in advance for domestic hotels and up to six months in advance for international hotels, as many offer discounts of 10%-25% for those who book in this time period.
Photo Credit: Unique Hotels Group
If you haven’t already purchased a proper winter jacket, the next few weeks may be the best time to do so. According to Michelle Madhok, founder of SheFinds.com, the absolute cheapest time to find winter wear like jackets is January through March when retailers try to clear out their inventory to make room for incoming spring collections. But be warned: if you shop too late in March or wait until April, there won’t be anything left worth buying.
In the meantime, Madhok and other shopping experts we spoke with recommend signing up for pricing alerts from websites like Pricegrabber to notify you when a brand or product goes on sale. And don’t forget to check coupon websites like RetailMeNot and CouponCabin to land promotions regardless of the time of year.
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Did you know that some grocery stores will waive the cost of a product if they ring it up wrong? Neither did we, until we heard it from the shopping guru who has actually done this.
“Most stores have some kind of policy that if they ring an item up at the wrong price, you get it for free,” Stephanie Nelson, a popular blogger for CouponMom.com, told MainStreet. “I’m not too shy to point that out in a nice way.”
For those who are a little too shy to take advantage of this policy, there are less-awkward ways to save on groceries. For starters, keep in mind that grocery stores often are not the cheapest place to find groceries. As a general rule, Nelson says big box stores like Wal-Mart have more competitive prices on packaged goods, drugstores have more promotions for cosmetics and discount chains like Aldi and Save-A-Lot carry many other grocery products for a fraction of the price.
If you do want to shop at a traditional grocery store, your best bet is to stick with chains like Kroger and Safeway, which Nelson says tend to be among the cheapest of the bunch.
Photo Credit: Daniel Morrison
Magazine and Newspaper Subscriptions
Perhaps more than any other product on this list, subscriptions are the one for which you should never, ever have to pay full price.
There are countless websites promoting discounts of half-off or more on newspaper and magazine subscriptions. The best of the bunch is probably Amazon’s Gold Box deals, which offers $5 magazine subscription specials every day. The only downside, as some shopping experts have pointed out, is that some publications offered on this and other sites may be set to automatically renew at a higher price, so be sure to set a reminder for yourself to cancel or renegotiate the subscription before it comes due.
If there’s one rule for finding discounts on subscriptions, it’s that new customers always do better than existing subscribers. For that reason, if you do have a subscription, it may actually pay to cancel it and reapply for a new one in order to get a better deal. At the very least, you can reach out to the magazine or newspaper company and threaten to quit unless they let you continue at the original price.
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Seth Fiegerman is a staff reporter for MainStreet. You can reach him by e-mail at Seth.Fiegerman@thestreet.com or follow him on Twitter @sfiegerman.
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