Tips for Making a Major Purchase

Making a big purchase can be a nerve-wracking process. You worry about paying too much, you can’t decide whether or not to get the extended warranty, etc. In the end, you just don’t want to waste your hard earned cash. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. What follows are some tips for finding a good deal and protecting your purchase.

Establish a baseline for the big purchase

This is a simple step that can help you immensely. For example, my husband is currently saving up for a large screen, LCD HDTV. He has a pretty good idea of what he wants and he’s willing to save up so we can pay for it all at once. To get a rough idea of how much we can expect to spend, I ran a quick Google search. I simply searched for 42″ LCD HDTV and, within seconds, got a target price range of $660-$845 in the shopping results.

Automate your savings

Rather than paying with credit and then slowly paying it off, make a commitment to save for your big purchase in advance. Go ahead and automate your savings to help you accumulate what you need in a dedicated account. Keeping the money in a separate account helps protect you from the temptation to dip into your emergency fund to make the purchase, and automating the transfer guarantees it’ll happen.

While this sort of thing is often easiest to set up with an online savings account, many local banks and credit unions also allow you to open additional accounts without fees. We use ING Direct for our savings as we can automatically create a sub-account online and in a minute or two.

Comparison shopping

This is the fun part, as you get to shop around and try to find the best deal. The key here is to look for the best overall value for your money.

Beware of shopping base on price alone: Some people believe they are saving money by getting the cheapest item but it can backfire. There’s a difference between being frugal and being cheap. In the case of the former, you’re getting more for your money. In the case of the latter, you’re buying something that will likely wear out and need to be replaced.

In any case, double check the specs to make sure you’re getting what you want. My husband, for example, saw what appeared to be a great deal on an LCD TV. After reading the specs, however, he saw it doesn’t offer the resolution that he’s after.

Read reviews: When you go shopping for an appliance or computer, look at reviews online and also ask your friends to see which items are likely to do the best job and last a long time. Depending on what you’re looking for, Amazon.com is a great source of user reviews. Alternatively, Consumer Reports is a great source for unbiased information, and they rate just about everything (including cars).

Find the best deal: It can really pay to search a bit to find a good deal on an item. If you’re buying online, sites like RetailMeNot and Keycode can be a great source of discount codes that can save you 10-25%.

Beyond this, I use price comparison search engines to find the best deal. Even if you’re planning on buying locally, this information can be invaluable as it gives you ammunition for haggling with the merchant.

Making the big purchase

You’ve found a great deal, and now you want to protect your purchase. Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be difficult, and it won’t cost you an arm and a leg. In many cases, you can automate your price protection for free, and you might even qualify for a free extended warranty.

Price protection: Nothing is worse than buying an item only to have the price drop a few days later. While most retailers have a price protection policy, you still have to catch the price change within a certain window of time to make your claim. That’s where websites like PriceProtectr come in…

PriceProtectr saves you money by checking on prices after you made the purchase and informing you of a price drop. Simply enter the url of any item that you bought online along with the price you paid and PriceProtectr will do the rest. You’ll get an e-mail if/when the prices drops. Note that you can also use this to monitor prices at brick and mortar store with a web presence.

It’s also a good idea to check the benefits associated with your credit card. If they offer price protection, you may want to pay the item on the credit card — just be sure to pay it off in full with the money that you’ve been saving.

Extended warranties: While most big ticket items come with a warranty, many people want some extra protection. What few people realize is that, simply by paying with a credit card, you may already be getting an extended warranty. For example, the American Express Buyer’s Assurance program doubles the manufacturer’s warranty up to an additional year. Many MasterCard- and Visa-branded cards offer something similar.

Why pay for something that you’re already getting? Call the customer service number on the back of your credit card and ask about their extended warranty policy. Just be sure to save your receipts, as you’ll need proof of purchase to make your claim.

Closing thoughts

Making a major purchase doesn’t have to be a chore. If you plan ahead and save your money, you might even have a bit of fun during the process. And best of all, you’ll get a great deal while remaining debt free.

What about you? Do you have any tips for making big purchases?

7 Responses to “Tips for Making a Major Purchase”

  1. Anonymous

    Thanks for the feedback! My husband was pleasantly surprised I wrote about his HDTV hunt.

    It is very easy to miss a step or two when shopping, but being careful can really save you a bit of money.

    @Jess: Good point about asking for a price match with the salespeople. Sometimes you can come ahead just by asking.

  2. Anonymous

    Also, ask the salespeople if they have any deals going on or are willing to match competitors’ prices. I wanted to buy a camera from a particular store because it had great service, but they had a higher price. So I asked for them to match their competitor. Not only did they match it, but they threw in some goodies as well.

  3. Anonymous

    Comparison shopping is something I always forget to do. I get so excited that I’ve saved up enough money to go and finally get that “whatever” that I’ve been saving so long to get that I frequently fall victim to just getting the first one I see.

    I have to slow down and remind myself that I’ve worked so hard to save up and that I should figure out how to get the most for my money.

    Not to mention if there’s money left over, I can bump it over to my next goal!

  4. Anonymous

    This kind of goes along with reading reviews, but my advise (depending on what you’re buying) is to YouTube it. I’ve found that YouTube is an excellent source of information when it comes to consumer electronics. I recently purchased a SD digital camcorder and had been reading reviews for two days straight. Then it occurred to me – YouTube! I searched the model number I was interested in and was instantly flooded with videos of users un-boxing and demoing their new cameras! So, I got to see it action and hear their opinions at the same time. Cameras are the obvious ones, but I have found the same to be true for laptops, music players, and other items.

  5. Anonymous

    Set out a timeline for the big purchase. If you know you want to save X amount of money and it will take you 6 months for example, you have 6 months to save, research, comparison shop and find the best deal possible. Doing your homework and paying in full not only will get you the best deal, but you will be happy with the purchase because you did it the right way. I did that with my big screen TV.

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