Lifestyle

Secrets of the super shoppers

We asked Canada’s smartest consumers how they get great deals — and how you can, too!

Fashion

For designer brands like Zegna, Armani and Canali, don’t be afraid to poke your head into vintage clothing shops. At Act Two in mid-town Toronto, Hugo Boss and Zegna dress shirts retail for $10 to $39 while Armani suits in excellent condition go for $300.

Cosmetics are pricey. But if you don’t care about brand names, go to Faces, a cosmetics franchise with dozens of stores nationwide. Prices are affordable — $6 for nail enamel, $7.50 for eye shadows and $10 for lipsticks. Popular brand names like MAC and Shisheido often retail for more than twice that much.

Shop in Alberta. With no provincial sales tax, you save 7% on every purchase.

Technology

Don’t buy the latest, most powerful computer on the market unless you have a specific need for it. The best deals are to be found among models that have just been superseded by something newer. You can usually buy a machine that’s 80% as fast as the newest units for only half the cost.

Prices for consumer electronics are often 20% to 30% lower on U.S.-based Web sites than they are in Canada. If you’re planning a trip to the U.S., shop on the Web and arrange to have your purchases shipped to wherever you’re staying. Even after paying the necessary taxes and duties upon your return to Canada, you can wind up substantially ahead.

Spend a half hour with your most recent cellphone bills and see if there’s a regular pattern to your calls. Then contact your cellphone company and see if those patterns fit into a less expensive package than the one you are on. Especially if your cellphone usage is low, it can make sense to dump your monthly service in favor of a pay-as-you-go arrangement.

If you have two or more computers connected to a high-speed Internet service and are paying for the extra connection (called an extra IP number), consider buying an Internet home gateway. This device shares the Internet service between computers and eliminates the extra IP service charge.

Be wary of extended warranties on consumer electronics products. Retailers love to pitch these deals because they make a lot of money on them, but most consumers never cash in on them.

Remember to include operating costs when shopping for an inkjet printer. Find out how much replacement cartridges cost and multiply that price by four (if you’re a light user) or 10 (if you’re a heavy user) to get an approximation of your annual costs.

Real estate

If you’re selling your house and buying another, consider the state of the housing market. As long as prices are going up, it makes most sense to buy first (because that locks in a lower price), then sell your current house later. If the market is falling, the opposite is true: sell first, buy later.

Choose your real estate agent carefully. Ask friends for recommendations. If in doubt, consider signing on with a “buyer broker”-in other words, an agent who represents only you and not the seller of the house as well. This prevents conflicts of interest and ensures you’re getting unbiased advice.

Inquire-politely-about the circumstances of a sale. If a home is on the market because of a divorce, a job transfer or an estate sale, that’s useful information. Each of those events signal that the seller may be flexible on price and would consider a lower offer.

Look beneath the surface. Nice furniture and fresh paint can make a home look better than it really is. The best bargains tend to be structurally sound homes that suffer from bad housekeeping or dismal decorating sense.

Shop around for the best mortgage. Banks will usually knock at least a percentage point off their posted rates for good customers. Mortgage brokers can also be an invaluable resource: they don’t charge you anything (their fees are paid by the lender) and they can often arrange mortgages for rates below the major financial institutions. If they don’t turn up a better deal than your bank is offering, you’re free to walk away.

Kitchen

Okay, they’re boring, but basic white appliances offer great value. If you’re buying a stainless-steel stove or fridge, remember that you’re paying a big premium for fashion, not functionality. Beware of some trendy but brain-dead designs-in particular, refrigerators with side-mounted freezers (too narrow for many objects) and halogen flat-top stoves with tempered glass (no immediate heat, prone to scuffs and marks).

The best stove for most cooks? A dual-fuel model with gas-powered burners on the stove top and an electric oven below. The gas burners allow you to instantly adjust the heat underneath pots and pans, while the electric oven provides even temperatures for baking.

Avoid small appliances like bread machines or juicers that perform only one function. You’ll get much better value by investing in a good Kitchen Aid food processor. This handy device, costing about $350, slices, dices, grates, purees and more. With minimal maintenance, it will be a mainstay of your kitchen for years.

Automobiles

Shop for a new car in September or January. Most new car models arrive in the fall, putting pressure on dealerships to clear out older models. So if you don’t mind driving this year’s model, rather than next year’s, you should be able to get discounts of at least $1,000, and maybe more. Similarly, January is a slow season for dealerships, since the post-Christmas financial hangover usually puts a crimp on car sales. This can give you the power to hammer out a better deal. Again, the savings can easily hit $1,000.

Take a real test drive. Okay, this tip might sound obvious. But Garland is amazed by the number of people who zip around town for just five-or-so minutes before buying. To understand if the car is right for you, you need to drive it under a number of different road conditions: city roads, highways and bumpy lanes. Drive for about 30 minutes to get a good feel for the car.

Be wary of “extras” pushed by salespeople. An extended manufacturer’s warranty almost always makes sense, since it protects you from any defects in your vehicle. But avoid overpriced options like rust proofing. Your car dealership will probably charge you about $700 for the procedure; places like Wal-Mart will do it for about $100.

Auctions

If you are new to auctions, start with auction houses that are members of a professional organization, such as the Calgary-based Auctioneers Association of Canada (www.auctioneerscanada.com or 403-640-9915). That way, you can be sure that sales are performed according to ethical guidelines. Established auction houses like Waddington’s in Toronto, Ritchie Brothers Auctioneers in Bolton, Ont., and Maynard’s in Vancouver have been around for ages. They will usually guarantee the authenticity of the items they sell.

Research items before you bid on them. Most auctions will reserve a time, usually a few days before the auction begins, when you can inspect items that are up for sale. Also, arm yourself with knowledge of what similar items have sold for in stores or at other auctions. Your local library should have information about particular types or art and antiques. Try the Internet as well. Simply typing the name of an item into a search engine will often yield valuable information.

Don’t forget about eBay. The mammoth online auction (www.ebay.com) can be a great place to bid on anything from original Hardy Boys novels to meteorite fragments. If you’re squeamish about bidding online, you can at least use the site as a starting point for figuring out the value of particular items.

At the auction, set a target price and stick to it. “You must do it coldly,” says Azman. However, he recommends allowing yourself to exceed your target by one bid, just in case a rival bidder pounces on your target price.

From the September/October 2003 issue.

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Super Shoppers: Fashion Super Shoppers: Technology Super Shoppers: Real Estate Super Shoppers: Kitchen Super Shoppers: Automobiles Super Shoppers: Auctions

September/October 2003 issue.

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