You know the loss leaders, they're the hot, money saving bargains on the weekly grocery ads. They're
called "loss leaders" because the store may be selling a few items below cost to bring you
in, hoping you'll buy more once you're there. Checking flyers in my hometown this
week, I find butter, chicken, bread and eggs are hot buys. Those are all items I can use.
Butter, bread and chicken can be frozen, so I can get the limit, if I want (there's usually a
limit). The deals are at two different stores, but one store is on the way to the other, and
the markdown is large enough to warrant the gas for two stops.
Loss leaders may or may not be coupon items. In this case, the butter, bread and eggs are.
The bread and eggs are at a store which also issues plastic barcode key tags to customers,
so that instead of cutting a coupon, I can have the checker scan my tag for the sale price.
The trick of the key tag is that if you use it, the computer knows you've already
purchased the two loaves of bread you're entitled to at the money
saving price. If you use the
coupon, theoretically you could come back five minutes later with a second coupon, go
through a different check stand, and get two more loaves of bread. Far be it from me to
flaunt store policy, I'm only saying . . .
Some people turn loss leaders into rain checks. If you don't need the item immediately and it doesn't freeze, like eggs, go to the store when
they're most likely to have run out. Sunday night, for example. Then, if the shelf is indeed
bare of the item, you can ask for a rain check. Rain checks are great to collect
because they're usually good for at least a month, so you can shop the sale price at your
convenience. Be sure to ask for the maximum number of the item allowed when you get
your rain check, even if you don't plan to buy that many. When you use the rain check
you'll be able to buy up to the listed amount at the sale price.
Don't want a rain check and need that item NOW? If it's advertised as on sale, the ad
does not state that quantities are limited to stock on hand or a specific number (very
important to check) and you live in a state with an anti-bait and switch law, like
Washington, you can still save money by asking the store to make a substitution. Snag a salesperson, point out that they're out of the item and nicely ask if they will substitute a different brand of
similar quality and value.
Often salespeople are already substitution-briefed, and will offer you another brand. But
sometimes the salesperson will try to tell you to come back when they get another
shipment and offer you a rain check. That's when you tell the salesperson you need the
item now and ask again for the substitution. If the salesperson is still reluctant, ask for a
store manager who can approve it. That's usually all it takes. If they're still reluctant,
mention that according to the bait and switch law, they're required to make good on their
sale price. When you get your substitute item, if the store person doesn't give you a note
to give the checker, be sure to make a note of that person's name and let the checker
know that "so-and-so" approved the substitution.
Avoiding "Bait and Switch"
"Bait and switch" is a technique less than honest merchants of all types have been known
to use to get customers to buy an item that's more expensive than the one they came in
for. I've only needed to mention our bait and switch law a couple of times. Once it
worked to great advantage, as the item I came in for was a new refrigerator. The merchant didn't have the advertised item and tried to "up-sell" me - the insider term for
selling a customer a more expensive item than the one advertised. I trotted out the bait
and switch law and got an excellent fridge at the sale price, with delivery and removal of
my old fridge thrown in. I saved a lot of money on that deal!
Assertiveness is important. I'm typing this on a laptop I had my father buy for me at an
outrageously good price I might not have gotten, if my dad wasn't also an assertive
shopper. While he was on a trip, I asked him to pick up a laptop if he could find one at a
good price. Online I noticed that a chain electronics store had this laptop advertised at an
almost unbelievable price. I checked the store's online inventory and it said the branch at
the mall near where my father was staying had it in stock. I told me dad, he went over
and asked for the make, model and sale price. The clerk told him he didn't know about
any sale and offered my father a more expensive computer. My father said I'd just seen
the item online a few minutes ago and insisted the clerk check the store's computer. We
were right. The laptop was in stock and on sale. As my dad tells the story, the clerk had
to use a forklift to access the box, which was waa--aaay up on a top shelf in the most
obscure part of the store. We saved several hundred dollars on that deal.
Retroactive Sale Prices
About sales - sometimes you can get the recent sale price of an item even after the sale is
over. In fact some stores have a quiet policy that if a customer asks for the sale price
within a week after the sale is through, they will honor the cheaper price. I have a full
length standing mirror that I got at Target this way. But my best
money-saving success with this was in
helping a friend buy a new dining room set. The chairs to the set had been on sale the
week before. The day we went in, the chairs were back to full price and the matching
table was on sale. I brought the previous week's ad with me. I told the salesperson that
my friend wanted to buy a dining set that day, and if they would honor the sale price on
the chairs as well as the table, she would buy the whole thing immediately. In this case I
thought my friend, who was new to bargaining, was going to crawl under that table and
hide. It did take going to the store manager, but we got the table and the chairs all at sale
prices, and she was pleased with the deal when we got it home.
You may also be able to get the sale price retroactively. Some stores also have a policy
that if you buy an item and it goes on sale within a week or so, you can bring back the
receipt and get a refund for the difference.
Even if an item isn't on sale, you might be able to get a better price than the one posted -
especially on a large ticket item. My father's a master money saver - he's been known to
successfully haggle at Sears. Tell the salesperson, "I'm interested, but the price is a bit
high. Can you give me a better deal if I buy it today?" or try, "Is this your best price?"
Sometimes you'll find they're willing to come down. Or, the store may have a similar
item at a better price that they will offer you. It never hurts to ask, especially if the
store's sales staff is on commission. In those cases, usually large ticket items, the posted
price is often accompanied by a secret code that tells the sales person the difference
between the floor price and the bottom line. That info tells them how much bargaining
room they may have. One of the reasons my dad is so unusually successful at haggling is
that he's good at deciphering those codes (a skill I, unfortunately, don't have).
Price matching is a good way to save money and get a sale price without driving all over town and
spending your savings on gas. Chain stores are a good bet for this. If another store has
an item on sale that the store you're at also carries at a higher price, bring in the
competitor's ad and ask the store if they'll match the price. A lot of stores will, no questions asked. You can also often do this with competitor's coupons.
If you're age 50 or over, you may be eligible for a store's senior discounts. These vary
by store. For example, one store may offer a senior money saving discount the first Tuesday of the
month of 10 percent off to customers age 50, 55, or even 65 and older. Another store
may offer their discount every Wednesday. These may be announced in store ads, on signs in the store window, or may only be an unadvertised store policy.
Restaurants also may offer senior discounts with special menu items, special (usually
earlier) dinner hours, etc. If you are eligible, take note every time you find a senior
discount at a store or restaurant and keep a list. Mark the discount days on your calendar
and coordinate shopping around them. If you have an afternoon available, you might
even want to sit down with the phone book and call places you regularly patronize to get
a list of their senior discount policies, days and amounts. One afternoon's research may
save you a lot of cash.