By Mary Hunt
Extreme bargain hunters have something in common: timing. No matter what they're trying to save on, they've got it down to a science, knowing specific days (and even the exact time of day) when a bargain is at its best. Want to save thousands? Listen to their deal-hunting secrets.
Best time to book a room? 4 p.m. local time on a Sunday, says CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg. Calling then can save you significantly, but the process can be tricky, so follow these steps:
1. Call the hotel's local direct line, not the 800 number. The 800 number will connect you to a clearinghouse that books rooms for hundreds of locations. "The people who answer those phones don't have the power to give you a better deal," says Greenberg.
2. Don't ask to speak with Reservations-that will only get you routed back through to the 800-number clearinghouse. Instead, ask to speak to the manager on duty. He has the authority to negotiate rates.
3. Be courteous. Tell the manager that you're shopping for a great room rate during a specific week, followed by, "What can you do for me?" If you feel hesitant, think of yourself as a valuable commodity. After all, you want to take an unsold room out of inventory.
4. Say thank you and bask in your good fortune.
There's nothing more confusing and frustrating than buying plane tickets. One day you check ticket prices and think, Maybe I can get them cheaper if I wait. A few days later you check again-and the same seats have jumped $100 each. Arrgh! So how do you know when to buy?
The perfect time to shop for a cheap airfare is 3 p.m. Eastern time on a Tuesday, says Rick Seaney, CEO and cofounder of FareCompare.com and owner of one of the world's largest databases of current and historical airfares. "Monday night is when the major airlines announce sales. This triggers other airlines to try to match those sales on Tuesday," he says. All this takes a few hours to get through the system, which is why 3 p.m. is when the most cheap seats are available.
When are the cheapest days and times to fly? Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday generally tend to be less expensive, since fewer businesspeople fly on these days and more seats are available. The cheapest time to fly: the first flight of the day (most people don't want to get up early), followed by flights at noon and those at dinnertime.
Most markets don't view Sunday or even Monday as the start of the week. For them, Wednesday is the first day of the sales week, so that's the day they'll discount the previous week's goods (particularly meat and poultry, where you can save as much as 75 percent), says Stephanie Nelson, author of The Coupon Mom's Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bills in Half.
However, not all stores follow this rule, so to find out your store's "bargain personality," ask the produce and meat managers exactly when they do their markdowns. Then time your shopping and really save.
"My store marks down produce every day at 7 a.m., so if I shop before 9 a.m. I can be sure to get good produce at half price," Nelson says. "The meat is marked down later in the day, around 4 p.m., so I might time my shopping differently when I'm looking for meat bargains."
If you're looking for a good deal on a flat-screen TV, Blu-ray player, MP3 player or other electronics and you don't mind last year's model, shop between April and the end of the summer and save 20 to 30 percent or more, says Brent Butterworth, a contributing editor at Sound & Vision magazine. Retailers flood the International Consumer Electronics Show in January to get a glimpse of new products and place their orders, which they'll start to receive in April. So, they start the mad dash to clear their warehouses and shelves to make room for the newest models.
You'll save a bundle if you go on a Tuesday, says Mark Di Vincenzo, author of Buy Ketchup in May and Fly at Noon: A Guide to the Best Time to Buy This, Do That and Go There. That's the day restaurants are least crowded and large chains offer the best deals ("kids eat free" and "Twofer Tuesday") to lure customers.
Here's another reason to hold off until Tuesday, advises Di Vincenzo: Most restaurants don't receive deliveries on Saturdays and Sundays. Food deliveries start early in the week, which means food served on Tuesday is fresher.
Paying full price for clothes is a good way to go broke in a hurry. But knowing when to shop can save you up to 60 percent off current fashions, says Michelle McKinney Hammond, author of Divanomics: How to Still Be Fabulous When You're Broke.
If you have your eye on specific items at a big retailer like Old Navy, Banana Republic or Kohl's, Hammond suggests you wait six weeks from the time those items were first introduced in the store (that's how long it takes current items to go on sale).
Once you've waited it out, hit the store on a Thursday night, which is typically the first day of a sale at most major clothing stores. "Don't wait until the weekend," she says, "because the choices may be picked through, reducing your chances of getting the right size and style."
If you want a real deal, head to the dealership on the last Tuesday or Wednesday of the month, recommends Phillip Reed, senior consumer advice editor of Edmunds.com. This is when dealerships are getting anxious about meeting their monthly quotas.
If you arrive in the early afternoon, business is slower, so you'll get more attention from the sales staff. That also increases the likelihood that dealers will be ready to drop prices even further.
If you don't need a new car right away, the best time of year to buy one is the fall-September through December. Expect to save 10 to 20 percent on the previous year's model. And if you can wait until December, you'll get an even better deal because it's the end of the year.
Is it possible to go to the theater or a sporting event without dropping serious cash? You bet. If you show up at the box office a few hours before starting time, you may be able to get a deep discount, since the venue is eager to fill seats-but that's not always the case, and you have to be willing to miss the event if you can't get tickets.
A better option is to try StubHub.com, where you can buy tickets, often at a discounted price, from ticket holders who cannot use them. Or join GoldStar.com (membership is free), which works with more than 3,200 venues and producers across the country and discounts up to 50 percent.
Yes, stores discount bikes after the holiday shopping season in January to make room for new products that arrive in February and March. But at this time of year, here's a better idea: Head to your local police department.
There are many police and fire departments that hold auctions during the spring to sell bicycles that were stolen, recovered and never claimed, or confiscated. Call ahead to find out the schedule in your area, then show up early. The best items go quickly. You can expect to pay as low as 10 to 25 percent of retail value.
Much like clothing, a lot of sporting goods (skiing, baseball) are least expensive at the end of the new stuff, spring is great for finding bargains on secondhand gear, since people clean out their homes around now. Garage and tag sales are a boon for barely used or outgrown tennis rackets, boogie boards, skates, T-ball stands and other equipment.
When it comes to sneakers, author Mark Di Vincenzo reveals this secret: Spring is the time to get a great buy on sneakers. Athletic shoe companies sponsor charity walks and races in April, when non-serious runners hit the pavement to support these causes. And wouldn't you know it, great sales tend to accompany these spring races.
This may surprise you: Though new toys often arrive in September, the best time to buy is not during the months leading up to the new releases, but rather during October and November. Retailers like to wait a few weeks after the big new shipments arrive and then lower prices in an attempt to top their competitors. At the same time, they're gearing up for the holidays, hoping to jump-start the big shopping season.
There are two months in the year that are well known for producing bargains on new furniture: January and July. Why? Retailers are trying to make room for all the new shipments that arrive in February and August. There's nothing wrong with the prior season's items. In fact, the only difference in the new shipments could be as minor as a new selection of upholstery or a change of color.
Linens and Bedding
They used to be called "January White Sales," a retailing tactic devised back in 1878 by John Wanamaker, an early pioneer of the department store concept. Wanamaker picked specific months for different sales to keep turnover high and prices low. The tradition is still followed by many major retailers (and for some of them, the name still survives), so if you need sheets and towels, shop in January.
The Best Time to Return Stuff...
Anything you can do to make returning merchandise easier will ensure a friendlier experience and the maximum amount of dough back in your pocket. Here's the magic hour: 10 a.m. on any day other than December 26. This is when sales personnel will be at their posts, rested and ready to help you. It also happens that the more experienced employees typically work the day shift. -Edward Fox, director of Southern Methodist University JCPenney Center for Retail Excellence
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