I’m not cheap. Really.
I’m happy enough to spend my hard-earned ducats on the latest gee-whiz gadgetry. (More than happy, my wife would tell you.) What I don’t want to do, though, is pay more than I have to for it. I think it all stems from an unfortunate car-buying incident where the dealer added a year’s worth of payments to my car loan without me noticing. I’ve been obsessive about getting ripped off ever since.
Thanks to the Internet, it’s a lot easier to find great deals on all sorts of things that would otherwise be beyond the reach of my budget. Take cell phones, for instance. A quick trip to Amazon.com will land you a plethora of mind-boggling deals. Pay for a cell phone? Why? If you’re willing to switch providers you can scarf up a state-of-the-art camera phone and actually make money on the deal — after rebates of, course, but more on that in a minute. Even if you’d prefer to stay with your current carrier, you can use those Amazon deals for leverage in negotiating a brand-spanking-new phone. In my case, for instance, my provider told me that, while they couldn’t cut me much of a deal on the phone itself, they’d make it up to me in extra minutes and free months of service. I wound up with a new Motorola RAZR V3 and six months of free calls, which netted out to $30 to me. Sweet.
The greatest thing about pricing over the Internet is that it levels the playing field. Now, everybody knows what deals the merchants are willing to make. And with increased competition online, they’re willing to make a lot. One popular pricing strategy is called the “loss leader.” It’s a highly desirable item that a merchant prices for a low price — often even below cost. The hope is that when you come into their store (either brick and mortar or online), you’ll pick up another item or two — with higher profit margins — while you’re there. Many of these items require coupons. The trick is having enough self-discipline to do a “hit and run” — get just the item you came for, then get out.
Rebates are probably the most popular strategy right now — especially in technology. Rebates can represent a great value, but again — self-discipline comes into play. Make sure to read the terms and conditions and follow them to the letter. You also have to be in a position to front the entire cost and wait the six-to-eight weeks or longer until your rebate check arrives. Merchants love rebate deals because a lot of people don’t bother turning them in — and that means more money for them. My personal rule is that I have to complete and mail the rebate form before I allow myself to install or use the item I bought.
Deal finder sites are a great tool for the tech shopper — it’s like having a whole team of researchers do your work for you. DealsOnTheWeb.com, DealMac.com and its sister site DealNews.com are great resources for finding special promotions, rebate offers, etc. If you’re looking for a specific item, CNET.com has a price tracker that can help you find the best current price at both physical and online stores.
Many brick-and-mortar stores have price protection policies, where they’ll meet or beat competitors’ advertised prices. Most exclude web merchants, but a few will still deal if they think they’re about to lose out on a sale. It never hurts to ask, but make sure they know you’re ready to put cash on the barrel.
As for eBay, I’ve never found the prices to be compelling enough to make me want to put up with the hassle and risk of PayPal, unscrupulous buyers, and lack of instant gratification. If you’re a happy eBay shopper, more power to you; it’s just never been my cup of tea.
Technology shoppers are in a great position—if they have the patience. With tech, you can always get more for less if you’re willing to wait. The hard part is knowing when the time is right to make a purchase. I did it well when it came to my digital camcorder and digital camera. I didn’t do so well years ago when I bought a Power Mac 7200 that became obsolete far too quickly for my tastes. Right now, I’m playing the waiting game on a new G5 and a Bluetooth headset for my cell phone.
The thrill of playing on the bleeding edge of technology is something I’ve learned to outgrow after considerable damage to my wallet. Now, I’m content to let others pay the price of being a pioneer. I’d rather wait for the mature versions that cost a fraction of the price. And when I can get a great deal on them as well, I’m a very happy geek.
I may not be cheap, but I’ve found that being a frugal shopper gets me a lot more cool toys.