I used to be shy about asking for a better deal. Seeing sticky price tags marking up costly merchandise led me to believe that store prices were fixed, immovable. Boy, was I wrong.
[In Pictures: 8 Painless Ways to Save Money.]
The first time I opened my mouth and dared to ask for a discount I instantly scored 10 percent off -- a savings of $5 on a pair of denim jeans on clearance. It doesn't sound like much, but over the years I've honed my haggling skills and saved myself thousands of dollars, just by asking the right questions to the right person. You might be surprised by how easy it is to save a few bucks -- just by following these 10 tips you too can get an instant discount on anything.
1. Find the store manager.
Whether you're shopping for shoes or electronics, your golden path to discount nirvana usually starts with the person in charge. Most store managers have the power to instantly discount merchandise by up to 15 percent, while many employees don't have the authority to save you a dime. The key is to always be respectful of store employees since many work on commission, and kindly ask if the manager is available to answer a few questions.
2. Ask the right question.
"Is this the best price you can offer me?" It's a simple question to ask, and politely posing it to the right person is free. The only cost to you is the possible disappointment of walking away with zero savings or leaving the store without your purchase. Just don't be disrespectful or difficult when you deal -- many stores were hit hard during the recession and may not be able to discount to your ideal asking price.
3. Offer to pay in cash.
Merchant credit card transaction fees can range from 2 to 8 percent, costing retailers big bucks. Offering to pay for your purchase in cash could easily save you money if the vendor is able to slash those built-in fees from a cash-only sale. Paying in cash can also help you win the war on plastic -- check out these 5 Ways to beat your credit card debt for helpful tips.
4. Shop the less busy hours.
Consumer Reports says that serious shoppers should learn to time their haggle in the evening or early hours when stores are usually less busy and so clerks have time to talk. "Late in the month, when salespeople are trying to meet their quotas, can be a good time to bargain for big-ticket items."
5. Click to comparison shop.
Before stepping foot in a store, educate yourself first by doing your research online. Always check online flyers and competitor prices to find the best deal of the day and to download printable in-store coupons. Vendors want your business and may beat a posted price if you can show them the competitor's deal.
6. Skip the store, shop online.
If you know your size or don't need it today, ordering online may be your best path to scoring a discount. Many brick-and-mortar businesses offer online shoppers Web deals and deep discounts -- pricing they don't usually offer in-store shoppers due to shelving space costs. And many online retailers can often discount over traditional businesses since they don't have expensive store-front spaces to pay for.
7. Use secret online coupons.
Online shoppers can save even more money by searching the internet for secret promotional or coupon codes. Just launch your favorite Web browser, open your preferred search engine, and enter the retailer's name and the words coupon code. Depending on your search results, you may find several promotional codes that can be entered into your online shopping cart. See 8 Stealth Ways to Uncover Big Savings with Secret Online Coupons for more sneaky cost-cutting coupon tips.
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8. Find the flaw.
Does the table have a visible scratch? Is the shirt missing a button? If you don't mind a flaw or two, then choose to buy the less-than-perfect item to save money. Most retailers will offer discounts on floor models and demonstration merchandise if they show signs of wear and tear but are still perfectly safe and usable. Bigger deals can be found on items sold "AS-IS", but be aware that these generally cannot be returned or exchanged.
9. Review your service plans.
When was the last time you checked your cable, satellite television, internet, or cell phone service plans? Chances are the competition may offer deals for those disgruntled customers looking to make a switch. If you love your current provider, it could still pay to comparison shop the competition and ask your vendor to match the deal.
10. Shop out of season.
Buying an air conditioner in the cold of winter or shopping for snow tires in the heat of summer can save you up to 75 percent off the in-season price. When seasons change, retailers must clear out their inventory to make room for new seasonal stock and will often offer deep discounts to savvy shoppers not bothered by last season's items. So shopping for fancy chocolate after Valentine's Day and stocking up on wrapping paper after Christmas is the smart way to snag a discount when living on a tight budget.
Kerry K. Taylor writes at Squawkfox.com, a blog where personal finance and frugal living are sexy, delicious, and fun. Kerry is the author of 397 Ways To Save Money: Spend Smarter & Live Well on Less.