26 February 2010

Screw Big Box Stores, Buy Simple Items Online!

In part of my series about helping people save money and buy products online, here's some tips I've gathered from years and years of doing it! Most of this relates to electronics, but these tips are good for just about anything you can buy in a store that would normally charge you a ridiculous amount more for it than you can find online.

Think of every product you want to buy as you would a used car. Crazy as that sounds, you'll save a ton of money just by negotiating with the salesman when you are out buying a used car. No one (at least no one I know) goes to a dealership and sees a car with a price on it and says "I'll take it!" How come we can't do that in stores for lesser priced items? At the local gun store, the price tags have higher than normal prices, but I've learned that if you talk to them for a few minutes, they'll drop the price at least $100. And believe me, I've spent quite some time in there - hell, a few of the guys know me by name and what guns I've shown them from my collection! Who wouldn't want to save a hundred bucks on a $700 purchase? So what's the difference between that an a $700 laptop? A $400 digital camera? A $20 USB cable? The point is, don't overspend because you need something right away. I learned that lesson when two of my desktop computer's exhaust fans died within a day of each other and I needed to get new ones to keep it cool.... Spent $15 EACH on fans that would have cost only $7 each at a discount computer parts store or $4 each shipped online.

Know where to shop, then how to shop. Best Buy (also known as WORST Buy) sells the same thing you can buy online or in another store for 100-400% more. Seriously, if you want to spend $2,000 on a new HDTV when you can buy it at CompUSA for $1,300, I'll create a donate to my PayPal account button in a heartbeat for you to get rid of the $700 extra you don't care about. What does Best Buy offer you that you can't get at CompUSA? The same service, the same TV, the same warranty - what is the hold up here? Once you know the places to look for great deals, keep watching them until they have something that fits you! I was at CompUSA this past weekend and saw a 42" 1080p Full-HD monitor for $999. That's not a BAD deal, but they can do better.... I'm typing this on a 47" 1080p I got from them for $649. Yeah, you read that right - 5" bigger TV, same features, for $350 less. What about cables? CompUSA charges $20 for simple USB cables. I bought (2) 4-Port USB Hubs, a 6ft HDMI cable, (3) 2ft USB A to Mini USB cables, a 5-in-1 OEM HTC adapter for my phone, and (2) Mini USB to Micro USB adapters yesterday on eBay for a grand total of $18.31 SHIPPED (from China, though, so it isn't going to arrive for 7-14 days). The HDMI cable would have cost me $39 at the least in any big box store, some of them are $80 and up! That means CompUSA isn't the place to shop for cables, but they are for HDTV's, and you have to recognize those sort of things!

Search for your item number and once you've found the best price, keep searching.Check out my other blog posts on How to search and How to shop, and employ those techniques with everything you want to buy. If you HAVE to see how the item works, use Best Buy or wherever else for that, then search it online. There's an awesome store in the ritzy mall near me that sells the highest end electronics known to man at the highest prices known to man. I get the model number from there after playing with the item and learning if it is right for me, then search online to find it for a fraction of the price. Don't believe me?

I took this picture on Friday, November 23, 2007, 4:27:20 PM with my unlocked HTC TyTN II phone that I paid $750 for online. Later on that year, I bought a replacement one since the keyboard got damaged and couldn't be fixed by my warranty company (more details on that later) for $500. I first paid less than 70% of what they wanted in this store, and later, 45%. Did I REALLY want this item? Yes, I needed an awesome cell phone that worked for business, and at the time, this was it. I paid less than $700 on my latest phone, an unlocked HTC Touch Pro2, and have two of these TyTN II's still for sale at $280 for both (ugh).

Searching is hard, why can't someone do it for me? Yes, Sir Laziness, someone has. BeatMyPrice will ask you what you're looking for and OPTIONALLY, where you found it and for how much - you can just put in what you're looking for to see if anyone has posted it cheaper online already. And once you know where to buy something from, always use RetailMeNot to possibly get even deeper discounts from them! Just enter the website you found and see if they have any legit coupons posted. They'll even tell you what percentage of people who tried the coupon got it to work - just be sure you do the same for other people in the future. Both BeatMyPrice and RetailMeNot are from the same company - try BugMeNot as well, that's a cool one to use if you hate registering for something just to see the post they don't want you to see without providing your ever-sacred email address.... Also try TheFind, my mom recommended that to me!

Even if you don't know WHAT you want to buy, have the companies tell you WHEN something is on sale easily. Just sign up for their newsletter! Ohh, you don't want to flood your inbox with tons of mail? Then filter your messages so they don't appear in your inbox and go to a folder or label (if you use Gmail) you choose - mine is called Promotional Mail. Currently I have 630 unread messages in there, and I delete them every 2 months or so, if I remember to.... but that's okay, because when I want to check on something or see what specials are available, I look in there and click around a bit to see who's got what on sale! Just sign up for the newsletter and when you get your first one, filter it out by getting their email address and making sure it doesn't go to your inbox after being marked Promotional Mail. I can't help you do everything now, so don't ask how to do it if you don't know how, just read the Help section of your email account provider or program like Outlook or Thunderbird and they'll guide you right along.

Now that you know how to search and buy and also where to buy, how do you protect your purchases? SquareTrade. Those who have been on eBay long enough will remember that name when SquareTrade was the name they gave their dispute resolution company, but since the purchase of PayPal, ST was moved over to handle warranties on purchases on AND OFF eBay. Get suckered into buying something at a big box store, hopefully you'll be smart enough NOT to get the warranty from them as well and buy one from ST. Their prices are insanely reasonable, and if you search RetailMeNot like I said above, you can find coupons to use to drop the prices down EVEN MORE! I have said 50% off their already low-priced warranties with coupons found in my email box or on RetailMeNot. Some items have the option to extend warranties out to 3 years for still 30% less than you would have paid for the ONE year warranty at the big box store!

How else can you protect your purchases? American Express offers Purchase Protection (also see FAQ) and Extended Warranty (also see FAQ) for certain cards. My AMEX Blue is one of them and I love it - if something happens to my item in the first 90 days.... ANYTHING.... I call them up and the purchase is protected. Even if it is lost or stolen. Broken or defective. If (as their example online states) a thread comes lose out of my brand new sweater and leaves me with a giant hole. They take care of it and I don't have to worry a bit. They'll even extend my warranty equal to the duration of the manufacturer's warranty, for up to an additional year. Since you should be using a CREDIT card instead of a DEBIT card as I suggested on my other blog post, why NOT use AMEX for these two reasons alone?

As always, if you have any questions or anything to add, let me know and I'll help you out!

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