The Savings Mom, Stephanie Nelson, frequently answers reader or "GMA" viewer questions about smart ways to save on everyday items. Below, she answers a question on consumer electronics.
Question: I would like to know how I can find the best deals on electronics products that I need to buy. I am looking for an MP3 player, a new monitor for my computer and a laptop.
Savings Mom Says: I'll admit, I am not an expert on electronics. In spite of this handicap, I have been able to buy good quality electronics at competitive prices by taking advantage of readily available research on the Internet.
First, understand what you are looking for. You might want to buy quickly, but it pays to do research when buying big-ticket items. You can find easy-to-understand buying guides for all categories of electronics on most electronics retailers' Web sites (look for a "product guide" or "buying guide" link). For example, when I looked at the MP3 player buying guide on Walmart.com, its simple format explained the four types of MP3 players available and what I needed to understand about file formats and memory. You can also find good reviews of current products on the market from pcmag.com and http://reviews-zdnet.com.com/.
When it comes to electronics, another good source of information is the opinions of other people who have already purchased the product. Web sites like epinions.com and amazon.com are good places to look for consumer product reviews. If you have a particular product model and brand in mind, you can search for reviews on these sites, or you can just search for a more general category, like MP3 players. Both sites allow you to sort by brand name, price, average rating based on a five-star system and features. Amazon gives you the ability to sort by popularity as well.
Getting the best deal. Once you have narrowed down your search to specific brands and models, you can compare prices on Web sites like shoplocal.com or shopzilla.com. Prices on the same item can vary dramatically. For example, I saw a MP3 player listed on a bargain Web site, so I copied and pasted the specific item description into the search box at shopzilla.com. It gave me a list of 12 retailers who carried that specific item, and the price ranged from $85 to $150. Always check a price comparison site before making a final purchase online.
If you decide to buy the product at a brick and mortar store, you will want to be aware of pricing policies such as price matching and price guarantees. If you find that a nearby store price matches and a store that is farther away offers a lower price, simply showing the Web site printout or store circular to the closer store will help you get a lower price without driving across town. When a store has a price guarantee, that means if you see a lower advertised price on that item within a specific time frame after you have made your purchase, you can get a refund. So pay attention to prices after you've bought the product.
Save more with coupons and rebates. If you are buying the products online, there is a good chance you will be able to use an online coupon code or a rebate to save. You can find online coupon codes at coupon sites like couponcabin.com and keycode.com. Sign up for the bargain alerts with coupon code Web sites. If you have a specific retailer in mind, it makes sense to subscribe to its e-mail newsletter so you'll be sent its coupon offers and promotions as soon as they are available. Amazon.com does a good job of listing special coupon and rebate offers on the same page as its featured sale items, so be sure to read the entire page to take advantage of extra savings.
Know retailers bargain tricks. For example, Apple.com gives teachers and school system employees a 10 percent discount on Apple products, which includes iPods. Wal-mart matches the advertised sale prices of other retailers. Bargain Web sites like overstock.com, buy.com and amazon.com offer free or very low-cost shipping on many items. J&R Computer World offers price-matching policies at jr.com. Circuit City at circuitcity.com offers a low price guarantee, promising to refund the difference in price if a customer finds a lower price advertised by a local store in your market stocking the same new item, plus 10 percent of the difference.
Timing is everything. The best way to save on electronics is to buy after they have been out awhile. Early adopters are the shoppers who stand in line for hours to buy the latest gadget the day it comes out. Late adopters (like me) wait a year or longer to buy the same item and pay half the amount. Or we buy it used because the people who bought it the year before sell it in order to stand in line to buy the next hot new item.
Hot new electronics tend to come out during the holidays, which means retailers need to clear out the last year's models to make room in their inventory for new models. Look for bargain-basement prices on last year's electronics from midsummer to early fall. Last year we found a high-quality DVD recorder for 75 percent off in August, which was reduced to $200 from its original price of $600. It pays to be a late adopter!