I definitely wouldn’t consider myself an impulse spender. At least not on items of $50 or more. That seems to be my line of what I would consider a small purchase or a big purchase. Everyone has a different number for that line, but the important thing for everyone is to make sure you get what you really want when spending a larger amount of your money.
When I want to make a big purchase, I never go out and buy it right away. There is a process I go through to make sure I get exactly what I want for the best price and that whatever I’m getting is of high quality. I wish information like that just fell from sky into my lap, but it doesn’t. It takes a lot of work to prepare for a big purchase in my household. Here are many of the things I do to ensure I’m getting the best bang for my buck.
Research, Research, Research: I cannot stress this one enough. The bulk of my big purchase preparation is in this step right here. The Internet is the best tool for this one. You want to buy item X. If you don’t know much about the item you want to buy, a good first step for research would be to research the item in general. If you want a new HDTV, search for “HDTV reviews” or something similar and more often than not you will find websites devoted to comparing different types and models of what you are looking for. Pay attention to what features you want and which ones you could live without. This way you know that you are paying for what you want instead of paying extra for a bunch of stuff you’ll never use. Browse online stores to see what products and features are available. If you are looking for an electronic item, try Best Buy, Circuit City, Office Depot, or even Wal-Mart. For appliances try Lowe’s, Home Depot, Sears or Best Buy. There are a lot more stores that you can look at, but the ability to view the product online and then go see it in person is invaluable.
Pay Attention to User Reviews: A company can tell me all about how great their product is and why I should buy it, but unless I hear it from someone who actually owns the product and has used it for a while, I’m not as quick to believe them. Many websites give ordinary people the opportunity to leave their feedback/opinion on the products they’ve purchased in order to help others who are thinking of purchasing that same product. I say ordinary people because often these are not experts in whatever the item is, but just someone who bought the product and either has good or bad things to say about it. Epinions.com is a good place to start. Simply search for the product and see if anyone has given a review on it. Also, online stores like walmart.com, sears.com, and homedepot.com offer the option to leave a review on the products they sell on their website. We recently bought an oil filled radiator heater because of the reviews we read on a website. We had no idea if it worked, but after reading many reviews from people who had the same item and who raved about how well it heated their home, we were sold!
A great website for reviews on automobiles is MSN Autos. Buying a used car can be a bit of a scary process, but you can make a little less scary by researching the make, model and year of car you want to buy. Granted all used cars are going to be different, but if you read mostly all positive reviews on a car with only a few negative, you at least know your chances are greater of getting a quality car. On this site, you can select the specific year you are looking at, find out what options come with each trim, read safety ratings as well as read reviews that owners of that car have posted.
I did a lot of research on my 2000 Honda Civic before I bought it 5 years ago and I’m so glad I did. I read mostly good reports on the car, with a few minor problems that I decided I could live with. I’ve now had that car over 5 years and have put over 100,000 miles on it and it has been nothing but good to me. It’s never left me stranded, has needed only minor repairs and still averages over 40 miles per gallon.
Measure: Make Sure it Fits I wanted to make sure this one was higher up in the list because there is nothing worse than doing all your research, finding out exactly what you want, and then realizing it won’t fit. I’m not just talking clothes. It’s a car fitting in your garage, a TV fitting in your entertainment center, furniture fitting in your living room, etc. It can be the greatest product in the world, but if it doesn’t fit in your house or in your lifestyle it’s not worth it.
Before we started researching and preparing to buy our HD DLP Television, we measured our entertainment center to figure out the biggest TV we could fit in there. We liked our entertainment center and didn’t want to have to buy a new one so we were limited to buying a 42 in or smaller. That kept us from the temptation to spend more and get a bigger set that we didn’t need.
Wait Just a Little Longer: Sometimes waiting a little bit can bring you substantial savings. If you go out and buy exactly what you want as soon as you know what it is, you could be paying top dollar for the item. Instead, take a breather and start looking in store ads and looking for sales where the price could drop. Holidays are a great time when many stores have sales on almost everything in stock. Sometimes you can even ask a store associate if there are any upcoming sales in the future. When shopping for appliances at Sears, an employee told us that in 2 weeks they were having a sales event where all the appliances would be 10% off.
Waiting is also beneficial when trying to buy something that is a new product. When we were researching our TV we were sure we wanted a Samsung because the salesman at Best Buy told us that was the best one. When it actually came time for us to purchase the TV, I read the reviews again and there were a lot more negative than positive. So we ended up going with a Toshiba. Being patient and waiting allows other people to figure out the kinks and negatives of new technology while you can benefit from that information and avoid the “duds.”
Price Compare/Match: Many stores these days will match another store’s price of the same item they have in stock if theirs is more expensive. Some will even beat the price by a certain percent. When we were shopping for area rugs for our new home, I found the perfect rug I wanted at Target.com. Unfortunately, Target’s website didn’t offer much information on the product so I searched elsewhere for it. I found the exact same rug at a site called buyrugsdirect.com. This site offered free shipping and a 10% price match guarantee. I e-mailed them with the link to the rug on the Target site to get the discount. While they wouldn’t beat Target’s price because they couldn’t verify that it was in fact the same manufacturer (which I later found out it was indeed) they were willing to beat another price I found at a different website. And the free shipping was an added bonus since shipping prices on area rugs can tend to run pretty high. Plus, I got a 5% coupon for being a new customer.
It’s not always easy to find the same product at different online sites in order to price compare, but there are some helpful websites that make it easier. One I’ve used many times is Shopzilla.com. You simply type in what you are looking for and it will scan multiple stores and bring you back a nice organized list of that product’s prices in different stores – including shipping.
Find Discounts: Many stores will offer special discounts for special circumstances. If you fit into any of these, you can save some money. My husband is in the military, so the first thing I look for is a military discount. Many smaller stores and shops offer military discounts as their way of honoring our soldiers. While it’s harder to find at bigger national stores, stores like Lowes and Big Lots often offer a 10% military discount on military holiday weekends (Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day). 10% can save you a lot when making a big purchase. If you are interested in signing up for a store credit card, many offer a certain percentage off of your first purchase. Many online sites and stores also offer discounts for AARP members or government employees or senior citizens. It’s worth checking out if you could be eligible.
Save First, Then Buy: I know – this one is the hardest. Patience is not my strongest point either. But if I can save money by saving before I buy, then it’s worth it. Many places offer a discount simply for paying with cash. I’ve never paid straight cash for a large purchase, as I don’t like to carry a large amount of cash around or deal with the hassle, but I’ve paid on my own credit card instead of using store financing. When we bought our living room set at Mor Furniture, we saved 5% by paying “cash” (which for us was using our credit card) instead of financing through them and having no payments for 1000 years (ok, a bit of an exaggeration). After paying that card off as soon as the bill came, it was nice to know that we won’t still owe for that furniture for years to come.
And when we bought our TV at Sears, we were eligible for a 10% rebate if we applied for and used a Sears card. That 10% was almost $100 so we took advantage of that. With our new Sears card we were also offered 6 months no payments, no interest financing. So I took the money that was for the TV and placed it in a 3 month CD so it could collect interest before we paid the TV off. I was able to earn another $10 on that money before I had to pay the card. It’s not much, but it was something.
There are many ways to prepare for a big purchase you plan to make and these are just a few of my suggestions. By following these and maybe some others you may have of your own, you can help ensure that your big purchase is worth the money you paid for it.