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How to Get a Bargain

"Can you do better than that?" Sometimes that's all it takes to shave off a few bucks from the price of a DVD player or get a handful of additional basis points added to a CD rate.

Though it's sometimes hard to get over the discomfort of asking for what you want, doing so can pay off in spades. The tactic is commonplace at some retail establishments (think car dealerships and flea markets). But it also works with small, locally owned stores competing with the shopping mall down the road. Heck, it even works at the mall.

To make asking a little easier, follow these tips:

Timing is everything. The best time to strike a deal is after major holidays and when stores swap out seasonal merchandise. If you see a new item that you like, but would like a lot more at a lower price, get friendly with the sales staff and ask for a call when there's a markdown.

Continue to comparison shop. Shoppers can get a deal even after they've made a purchase. Price adjustments are becoming more common everywhere from fashion stores like Gap (NYSE: GPS  ) to furniture retailers. If an item you bought is marked down in a particular period of time, a retailer will often refund the price difference. The Washington Post reports that just 5% to 10% of shoppers take advantage of price adjustments.

Know the store's policy. Most stores will honor a price adjustment two to four weeks from the date of purchase. Others like Kmart (Nasdaq: KMRT  ) will refund the difference within just seven days of purchase. Remember to bring along your receipt. And mark your calendar: Most stores allow just one price adjustment per item.

Ask if the store will match a competitor's lower price. Sometimes all it takes is a Sunday flyer from the store to get a sweetened deal. Some retailers -- like Circuit City (NYSE: CC  ) -- will even award an additional 10% off to customers who spot a better deal elsewhere.

Have the competitive offer in hand when you make the phone call. One Fool was offered a $25 renewal bonus with his discount broker but saw a $50 bonus for new accounts from a competitor. When he mentioned that to the customer service representative, the employee offered the Fool 21 additional basis points over the life of the CD. That turned out to be a $75 bonus.

Be willing to walk. If you are greeted with stony silence after asking for a discount, either take the offer or prepare to shop around.

Your time is money. Consider whether it's worth your time to shop around. Comparison shopping and standing in return lines take time. For some, it's sport. For others, it's just a pain in the neck. Before you break a sweat, pick a compelling dollar figure that compensates you and your wallet for the extra work.


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