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With a bit of thought, you can save a bundle

| Monday, Nov. 3, 2008

Paying full-price for something• Not in these tough economic times.

Here are tips to find the best bargains, whether it's groceries, clothes or a pair of boots:

For the mall rat

Buy offseason. Purchase things like swimsuits and air conditioners in the winter, and skis and winter coats in the summer, says Helen Malani, online shopping expert for Shopzilla.

Limit errand running. Not only does it save gas, but, by making fewer stops, you're less likely to be tempted by impulse purchases, says Kim Danger, family savings expert for Coupons.com.

Ask about discounts. Many retailers have special discounts for working professionals, seniors and people who belong to certain organizations, says Ellen Davis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation. Ask at the register.

Keep the receipt. If you go back and see an item you recently purchased on sale, you might be able to get a price adjustment, Danger says.

Consider layaway. It's a great way to shop early and avoid charging purchases, Davis says.

Sign up for rebates and rewards programs . For free or at a minimal cost, you can get things like special discounts and cash back after spending a certain amount, Danger says.

For the clothes horse

Clean out the closet. There's nothing like purchasing something and realizing three months later you have the same item, shopping expert Amy Blankenship Sewell says.

Shop full price, but buy on sale. When you're considering purchasing something on sale, ask yourself whether you would buy the item if it was full price, Sewell says. If the answer is no, consider passing.

Negotiate. In upscale stores, a sale means the store wants to get rid of the item, says Jim Camp, author of "NO: The Only Negotiation System You Need for Work and Home." See if you can negotiate another markdown, Camp says.

Give clearance a chance . You might have to dig, but some items the store is practically giving away, says Karen Hoxmeier, founder and owner of MyBargainBuddy.com.

Beware of the plastic. You might save 10 percent when you sign up, but Sewell warns that studies show people buy more from a store when they have the retailer's credit card.

Shop secondhand . You can find items for up to 90 percent off the original retail price.

For the hungry family

Check the Web. Go to store Web sites to see in-store specials. Online coupons tend to have a higher value than those you find in the paper, Danger says.

Consider the little guy. Some of the best deals are at smaller markets, such as local vegetable stores and farmers markets, Camp says.

Ask the butcher. Large supermarkets need to move their highly perishable meat and fish and will generally give you large quantities at a deep discount, Camp says. Freeze what you don't need immediately.

Clip coupons. Coupon companies issue more coupons this time of year, so it might pay to buy two copies of the Sunday paper, Danger says. Combine coupons with in-store sales to maximize savings, she says.

Keep a price book. Keep track of the price of the products you buy regularly in a notebook, Danger says. You'll begin to notice that sometimes advertised sales aren't the best bargains and that some stores' everyday prices are lower than sales prices at other stores.

Consider the drug store. Sometimes the drug store has cheaper cereal, milk and soda than the larger supermarket, Sewell says.

Buy fruit that's in season. Hint: It's the fruit that's on sale.

Leave the kids at home. Besides sneaking things into the basket, they can distract you from being patient and figuring out what's the best deal, Sewell says.

Bigger doesn't mean better. Read the price per pound or price per ounce, Danger says. A larger quantity might not be the better deal.

For the Web surfer

Compare prices. Comparison shopping engines show you the range of prices for what you are purchasing and where to get the item for that price. Some even add shipping and sales tax, so you know the best deal.

Consider shipping costs. Some online stores offer free shipping and free returns. If there's a minimum you need to purchase to get free shipping, ask a friend if he or she needs anything, Malani says.

Look for coupons. If you have found what you want, type in the name of the store and 'online coupons' or 'promotion codes' into a search engine, Malani says.

Try an auction site. Ebay has new items and the option to buy the product now, so you can avoid the bidding process.

Make sure it's the best deal. Malani suggests signing up for a price protector site to safeguard you from buying something one day and finding out that it went on sale the next.

Set a price alert. PriceGrabber.com will monitor the price of an item for you and send you an e-mail when it hits your target price.

Read reviews. Take a look at the merchant's ratings and reviews, says Greg Hintz, general manager of Yahoo! Shopping. You can avert a disaster, such as a retailer that ships the wrong items or is unresponsive.

Trust your instincts. "If it sounds like too good of a deal to be true," Hintz says, "it probably is."

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