Seven steps to becoming a bargain shopping pro

From time to time we all find ourselves purchasing big ticket items, and whether it's a new TV or furniture, you don't have to spend above your means to get a top-of-the-line item. There is a subset of the U.S. population -- known as bargain hunters to most -- that pride themselves on being able to find and purchase A-list merchandise for well below cost.

How can you join their ranks? It's easy. Here are seven basic steps to follow on your way to becoming a hard-core bargain shopper:

Do you need it? Before you start looking for the best deal out there you need to determine whether or not you really "need" this item. This isn't a question of whether you need an item to survive but one of if you will make use of the item you want for more than a few weeks. This is important because once you start looking at the various bargain shipping websites you'll be inundated with some of the best deals you've ever seen on items that you don't need. This first step helps you clarify what exactly it is you need.

Find your range: During this time you'll be able to get an idea of what brands, sizes and features are most important to you. By the time you're done you should have a good idea of your top and bottom end choices, regardless of price. Now you can start looking for the best deal on your top choices, many times you can find your top choice cheaper than the sticker price of the low end.

Ask your friends: After you figure out what you're looking for, let your friends know. Chances are they'll see a sale you missed or find an open box special that would have gone unseen if you kept the search to yourself. You may even find your friend has what you're looking for and doesn't use it anymore, resulting in a great deal for both of you.

Don't call ahead: This next one isn't so much a step as a bargain shopping rule to live by: Never call the store. Calling to verify an outstanding deal or check the stock of a half-price HDTV does nothing but give employees a chance to get the deal before you. Memorize this one and you're ready for the big time.

Start hunting: Your next step is to start looking at deal sites like Slickdeals, Dealnews, Bensbargains and Hot Deals Club to find the best price. When you are on the hunt for a deal you'll be best served by visiting several of these sites. But stay focused! Don't go buying a 36 pack of Pampers for $2 just because it's an incredible deal...and you don't even have a baby! Keep your eye on your prize.

Read the comments: When you find a potential deal online, make sure you read the comments left by other bargain hunters. The users at Slickdeals.net are some of the most outspoken and will definitely tell you how good the deal is. In most cases the first two pages of comments are the most useful. If a deal's no good, "slickdealers" will not be shy in sharing that fact with you.

Candy is dandy but coupons are quicker: After finding the perfect deal, the hunt isn't over. The best deals are made by finding a coupon to cut a low price even lower. You can sign up for every e-mail newsletter you can find in the hopes of finding just the right coupon, but there are smarter, easier ways to cover your bases. You can create your own coupon page using My Coupons, or search by specific retailer using RetailMeNot, which lists and rates coupons. Additionally you can buy -- yes buy -- a coupon from a site like E-Junkie, which sells coupons like $25 off $75 at Staples for just $2.95 with instant delivery.

The most important thing to remember for expert bargain hunting is the importance of research and patience. It's all about knowledge: only when you've researched a product can you be sure that you're getting a good deal. Determining the right amount of patience is also important; wait too long and a slick deal can pass you by. But purchasing without researching is worse than waiting too long. Another deal will always come along.

If you follow all these rules, perhaps one day your friends and family will adopt the same saying mine have when it comes to bargains; "WWJD" -- What Would Josh Do?"


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