The holiday shopping season is nearly over but the following information applies throughout the year. A big item that people purchase at this time of year is electronics. Great deals can be had but it pays to enter into your purchases with knowledge because not all deals are created equal. Following are some steps to take to ensure you get what you need and at the best price.
Do your research
There are so many brands and models of electronics some of the names aren’t even recognizable. Read Consumer Reports Buying Guides for any product your are considering buying.
Don’t spend money on features that you don’t need and won’t use. Picture-in-picture TV and 3D come to mind. Did anyone ever really need them? HD, Ultra HD, OLED, Smart TV – what’s the difference? Educate yourself on the different features available for whatever you’re buying and determine what you need. More isn’t always more.
Ask friends and family, who have a similar spending profile, about what kind of computer, printer, phone etc. they have and what they like or don’t like about it.
If you are buying online, go to a store first and look at the product. There may be something about it that isn’t appealing that you can’t see from a photo. Also, you might as well measure. You don’t want to have to buy a new entertainment center or other piece of furniture to house it.
The average American spends 20 hours a week watching television The least we can do is spend a comparable amount of time researching our television purchases.
Research prices at multiple vendors and then monitor over time
Start a log and note the exact make and model of the product, store, date and price. Calculate shipping costs and sales tax from every vendor and add this to the spreadsheet. Keep checking prices from multiple vendors on a regular basis. Sign up for email from Best Buy, Newegg, Staples, Office Depot, etc., and check those emails for sales and coupons. Sign up for text alerts for flash sales and look at the circulars every week. Check store Twitter and Facebook sites for deals. I bought my tablet through a flash sale on Twitter for 25% off. At the minimum, you’ll be prepared to analyze all the Black Friday and other holiday “sales” to see if you’re really getting a good deal.
Be prepared to purchase
Figure out how you’re going to pay for it. Of course you should have the cash in the bank but what credit card are you going to use? It may be tempting to earn the maximum credit card points but if it’s a large purchase you may want to use a credit card that offers the best warranty. If you’re uncertain what warranty your cards offer, research it now so you are ready to purchase.
Find the Best Time to Buy
Consumer Reports publishes a calendar of deals. Keep in mind these are not written in stone. They are just a guideline. By keeping a price log you will know when there is a great deal. There may be a local store with overstock or something else going on where you can score a great deal than at other times of the year.
Consumer Reports Calendar of Deals (electronics only):
- Computers: April, June, October
- Consumer electronics, small (MP3, DVD and Blu Ray players, etc.): March, May, June, September
- Digital cameras: March, April, September, October
- Televisions: January, March, November, December
- Open-box special and refurbished items. Amazon Warehouse, Apple, Best Buy, Dell, Frye, Newegg and others all offer them. Amazon Warehouse describes these deals as “returned, warehouse-damaged, used or refurbished products that are in good condition but don’t meet Amazon’s rigorous standards.” Amazon Warehouse grades these products from Used-like new to Acceptable. Someone may have bought something, didn’t like it and sent it back. There can be great deals on these items and they usually come with a warranty.
- Buy the last year’s model. Buy the previous iPhone when the new one comes out, or television or printer. Figure out when new models come out and make sure you’re not buying something that is obsolete.
- Use a trade-In program or sell your old gear. If your current phone isn’t that old sell it instead of throwing it in a drawer. Best places to sell your old gadgets. Or sell on Craigslist, Ebay or Gazelle.
- Ask for a discount. If you are prepared to buy on the spot, ask for a discount. You can mention that you’ve been shopping at other competitors but are prepared to purchase right now. Aim high. You may ask for 25% off and they may offer 10%. 10% off still beats zero.
- Get stores to price match. If you’re in-store but you know there’s a lower price elsewhere show the associate the lower price on the competitors website, sales ad, email etc.
- Shop online and use coupon and promo codes. Google search for coupon codes and check your email and store social media sites for codes.
- Use discount gift cards. If you’re buying something small like a $60 printer, where the warranty doesn’t matter, purchase discount gift cards and use them to pay stacking the gift card discount with the sale price.
- Look for professional and educational discounts. Many large employers offer their employees discounts on computers and software. Check with your Human Resources department. If you’re a student there are several options:
- Apple: discounts on their laptops and ipads.
- Microsoft: discounts on laptops, software, and XBOX.
- Verizon, AT&T and Sprint all offer student discounts.
Other money-saving tips
- Don’t replace your electronics until they are broken. It may be nice to have a giant television but if your current TV still works why spend money replacing it? Buy your cell phone outright and use it until it breaks or is made obsolete when the manufacturer stops supporting it.
- Take care of your electronics so they last longer. Keep your virus software updated and run all computer updates. Update your cell phone regularly and put it in a durable case such as an Otterbox to prevent breakage. Keep your devices plugged into a surge protector power strip to save it from being electrocuted.
- Unplug your devices or put them on a power strip. Even your cell phone charger is using energy (standby or phantom power) when it’s plugged in and not charging anything. The same goes for all devices. Keep everything on power strips, which you turn off after use, or unplug things like your laptop when you’re done. Some newer “Smart strips” turn off standby power automatically.
- If something breaks contact the manufacturer to see if it’s still under warranty. I recently broke my two and a half year old Otterbox. A new one online was $32. I emailed OB and they sent me a new one for $3.18.
- Don’t buy extended warranties. Most reports are that these warranties are just a profit center for stores. Some credit cards extend the warranty an additional year, which is most likely the life of your product.
- Check printer ink usage and settings before buying. Printer manufacturers make their money from replacement cartridges not the printer. Some printers do not allow you to set the default printing to black ink forcing you to use the more expensive color cartridges. Check Consumer Reports for printer ratings and check the specs online.
- Keep a stock pile of printer cartridges. Cartridges are never on sale when you run out. Figure out how much you pay per page. Sign up with Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy etc. to get emailed discount coupons and sale notifications. Stock up then. I also buy on sale printer cartridges with discount gift cards.
- Don’t buy brand-name premium cables. Don’t buy the super cheap cables but the mid-tier can be fine and can save you as much as 50%.