Living an ultra-frugal lifestyle can get exhausting. It feels good to save money, but some people take it to extremes that border on compulsive. When you find yourself scouring the internet to find a coupon for 10% off a tube of toothpaste, it’s probably time to reevaluate your priorities.
But there are times when extreme frugality actually pays off, such as when shopping for a large purchase. The 10% coupon that seemed so silly to use on toothpaste could be worth hundreds if used on a couch from West Elm. Getting as little as 3% cash back on a new bike could be enough to pay for dinner and drinks at an upscale restaurant. Discounts tend to scale up, so it’s always worth putting in a little legwork when you’re about to spend big bucks.
If you’re shopping around for a big-ticket item, don’t pull the trigger just yet. Here are some of the best ways to save money on your purchase.
Use Discounted Gift Cards
One of my favorite hacks for saving money on big ticket items is to pay with a discounted gift card. Sites like Raise and CardPool sell gifts cards for less than their cash value, usually between 1% and 15% off, depending on the store.
Let’s say you’re looking to buy a KitchenAid stand mixer from Bed Bath & Beyond. You can easily find a discounted gift card for up to 6% off, at which point you can combine the gift card with other promo codes or coupons for even more savings. Make sure to only buy gift cards from reputable sites that check the value of the card before selling them.
Buy Used or Refurbished
Everyone knows that if you buy a pair of pants at a thrift store, you’ll pay much less than if you went to the mall. But what’s the thrift store equivalent of buying a TV or laptop? The answer is to buy refurbished.
A refurbished item is always used but has been inspected and fixed if necessary. Some retail stores sell “open box” items that are still new but have been opened by a previous customer. Companies that sell refurbished items often include a warranty to protect against any future problems. Refurbished electronics might have some physical scratches but will work the same as a new item.
Customers can save hundreds by buying refurbished. A refurbished 2017 13-inch MacBook Air sells for $150 less than a brand-new model. Many major brands and retailers sell refurbished goods, so you can probably find a refurbished version of whatever you’re looking for.
Pay with a Credit Card
Buying a big item with a credit card gives you a wide swath of consumer protections that a debit card can’t match. Many cards offer a 0% introductory APR rate as well, which is helpful if you know the purchase is too large to pay it off in full at the end of the month. If your card has a cash-back program, you can earn points or miles that will ease the cost.
If the item goes on sale after you buy it, you can apply for a price rewind and get the difference refunded on the card. So far this is only available on select cards, such as Capital One, Mastercard and Citi. Call your card’s customer service number or look at the terms and conditions to see if this applies to your card.
Editor’s note: If using a credit card to purchase a big ticket item that is not 0% APR, be sure to pay it off in full at the end of the month. Any interest accrued on a revolving debt will quickly negate the discount or credit card reward.
Wait a Few Days
One of the best discount strategies is to put the item you want in your online shopping cart and then not buy it. After 24 hours or more, you might get an email reminding you about the item. Sometimes, it will include an extra promo code enticing you to buy.
Not every retailer that sends a forgotten cart email will give you a discount, but it’s not a bad strategy if you have a few days to wait. As an added bonus, you’ll get some extra time to mull over your purchase and make sure it’s the right decision.
Sign Up for Their Email
The last thing anyone wants is more junk email, but sometimes it’s worth the hassle to get a discount. Many online stores offer a code if you sign up for their email address or refer someone else.
If you’ve already used this tactic, try signing up with a work email, creating a new email account or borrowing a friend or relative’s address.
Use Browser Extensions to Find the Best Deals
If you’re shopping online without using a browser extension, you’re giving up free money. Here are some of the best browser extensions to use on big and small items:
This app tracks Amazon prices to see if you’re truly getting a good deal. You can sign up for an account and create a list of items to watch for, after which CamelCamelCamel will notify you when there’s a good deal. It shows the price history of the item, so you can see its lowest ever price and the corresponding date.
For example, if you want a pair of Sam Edelman flats that retail for $100, you can type the item into CamelCamelCamel and see the last time it dipped into a price range you’re comfortable with.
Ebates offers cash-back when you buy an item after clicking through their browser extension. The reward amount ranges from 1% to 20% cash-back, depending on the store and time of year. Earning 5% off a $15 purchase only nets 75 cents, but 5% off a $500 item is $25. Some stores will also provide a dollar-figure cash back, like $10 if you spend $100 or more.
The reward doesn’t appear automatically on the item, but you’ll receive a check or PayPal deposit from Ebates a few months after.
The Honey app tracks coupon codes and automatically applies them to your purchase. While other sites aggregate coupon codes, you usually still have to enter them in manually. With one click, Honey scrolls through all of the codes to see if any work for your purchase.
I only find valid codes every once in a while, but it’s still worth downloading the extension – especially for pricier items where 10% off could mean hundreds of dollars.