Frugality runs in my genes. One of my family anecdotes is how my great-grandfather and grandfather would drive around town for hours comparing prices on a gallon of milk to save a nickel. And spending more than a nickel’s worth of gas doing it.
My family prides ourselves on our ability to sniff out a deal. I’ll never forget grocery shopping with my mom as a kid. My job was to sit in the cart, run the calculator, and manage the overflowing coupon pouch. In retrospect, I never saw any other kids doing that; I thought this was completely normal.
“I can’t enjoy something unless I got a deal on it” – actual quote from my dad
The Henkler Family Crest
I’m going to share with you one of my closely guarded family secrets. How to get exactly what you want, for the price you want, with (nearly) zero effort. You can even do it without putting on clothes, leaving the couch, or spending a nickel on gas.
I don’t do affiliate links. I don’t do ads. I don’t get free stuff in exchange for positive reviews. I don’t make a single penny from writing this article or for you reading it. I pay for this site out of my own pocket as my gift to you.
Any product, site, or service I recommend is out of my belief that it could improve your life. I use everything myself first. If (and only if) it passes my excessively high standards, I’ll recommend it to you.
Figure out what you want to buy
If you don’t know what you want, there’s not much I can do to help you. This is your job. Not mine.
Use an app to find your baseline price
Prices on items can fluctuate widely, especially for popular or seasonal items. Sometimes they go on sale for a few days. Sometimes they double in price. It’s hard to tell what part of this cycle you are in when shopping online.
Your first step to getting the best deal is to get an idea of what a baseline price is for what you’re looking for.
Going to Amazon and doing a quick price-check is good and works 75% of the time. Especially for anything electronic.
But this doesn’t tell you if it was on sale yesterday. Or if another site may be selling it for less. Visiting a dozen sites is too much hassle. I have a few tools I use to figure out what my baseline price for a desired purchase should be.
You probably haven’t used this even though it’s been around since 2002 (It used to be called Froogle). You’ve been missing out. Google records the prices on millions of items from thousands of stores. And lets you search prices like you would search Google for that quiz to determine if you are a psychopath or just an asshole.
Google shopping used to be free for sellers. Now retailers pay Google for their products to show up in the listing. Many major retailers do. But some (notably Amazon) don’t.
Also, Google manipulates which retailer shows up first based on a variety of factors (one of which is how much they are paid). I’d always recommend clicking on the Compare prices link and finding a retailer you are comfortable with on your own, rather than letting Google decide for you.
This tool is amazing. It lets you view historical prices on any Amazon item for the last year (or more). Unfortunately, it’s only for Amazon.
Look at this price on a 12 pack of Wild Planet sardines. It looks like what you would see when researching historical stock prices. But for sardines instead of AAPL.
If tiny headless smoked fish in a can are on your loved one’s wish list this year, now is the time to buy. They are at an all-time low of $20.71 ($17.55 with Subscribe and Save). Prepare for the collapse of civilization today with only the best in canned meats!
Just paste in the URL of the product you are looking at to get a price comparison across stores. It currently seems to be having issues. When it is working, it is like Google Shopping but without the paid placements.
Cool name. The Tracktor works like CamelCamelCamel.
One of my favorite feature is the Movers section. Out of gift ideas and just want to give somebody something awesome at the least possible cost to you? Maybe looking for something odd for your workplace gift exchange? The Price Movers section lets you see the items on Amazon that have had the biggest recent price drops.
For example, I just noticed the Stockton Grime Minister Chain Brush just plummeted in price from $10 to $2.92 (with free shipping). A perfect gift for that friend who always has grimey chains that need some ministering but you’ve been too darn polite to tell them.
How to find the best deal
Now that you know how much your item should cost, let’s find a deal on it.
There’s only one deal searching site I use with any regularity these days. Slickdeals.net.
It’s not that there aren’t other great deal sites out there. It’s just that if you know what you want, Slickdeals makes it extremely easy to get a deal on it as quickly as possible.
Slickdeals is a community-driven site that has over 12 million visitors a month. Anybody (including you) can post a deal they find for everyone to see and vote on. The best deals found each day make it to the front page of the site.
There are a few features that let you find a deal on what you want, rather than waiting for it to show up on the front page. Let’s go through how to do this step-by-step.
Step 1 – Sign up for a free Slickdeals account
This is optional. But if you want to use the incredibly useful Deal Alerts feature I’ll discuss shortly, you need to have an account. Don’t worry, it’s free.
Step 2 – Search for what you want in the top search bar
That’s all there is to it. Simple, right?
I usually start out generic here so I don’t pigeonhole myself. For example, my wife needed a new running GPS unit. The one I gave her 7 years ago looked like you would see on the wrist of someone in a Mad Max movie (minus the spikes). Plus, the screen was shorting out.
A generic search for this would be “running watch”. But I always choose Garmin for their athlete-specific training features. So, I searched for Forerunner – Garmin’s premier line of running GPS units without specifying a model. This is what Slickdeals gave me for my search.
If you get too many results (for example, when searching items that are always on sale like televisions), you should filter the deals using the filter options on the side of the screen. Raise the rating on the left side to be at least 3 thumbs to get higher quality deals. 3 thumbs mean at least 3 other people have upvoted that deal. You can also filter by price range.
Step 3 – Pick the best deal for you
In this example, I liked the results for the Forerunner 230. I’ve heard good things about it from other runners. I also found the baseline price for this item was $180 using the tools I mentioned earlier, and that it had already dropped recently in price from $250.
Slickdeals found me a deal for $137.69. Given that this watch was $250 right up until a few weeks ago (which I found using CamelCamelCamel), I thought that was a great price.
Unfortunately, that deal had expired. But it gave me a good idea of what sort of a deal could be possible in the future.
If I needed the GPS right away, I’d look at some of the other current deals. The one for $161.99 looks promising.
If I have some time on my hands, I could wait for a better deal to show up. Let’s see what that looks like.
Step 4 – Set up a deal alert
If you’ve already completed step 1 and signed up for your Slickdeals account, you should see the red Add Deal Alert button on your search page.
Click this, and Slickdeals will alert you every time a new deal for your search gets added to their database.
Personally, I like adding Deal Alerts manually so I can tweak a few settings. To do this, click on Deal Alerts on the top of the screen. Then click on Create Deal Alert.
On the next screen, click on more options.
Fill in the search you want to be alerted on. Then change the rating to either +3 or above. That is the number of people who have upvoted the deal before you get an alert on it. I find that anything less than 3 sends me too many low-quality deal alerts.
If you set this too high, you may not get alerted on a very good deal until it has already sold out. For a specific item like a running GPS, +3 is a good start.
Step 5 – Patience
Now you wait. When someone posts a deal for the item you want that meets your threshold, you’ll get an alert. By default, this will come via email.
This may take some time. GPS units don’t go on sale every day. I may need to wait a week or two for an alert to come in if I am very picky about the brand or model.
If you don’t need your item in a hurry, setting up a deal alert is a great way to wait until you get the price you want. Then swoop in and claim your victory.
Step 6 – Attempt to sweeten the deal
Slickdealers are crazy about maximizing their deals. When you get a deal alert, make sure you read the deal comments. Oftentimes, someone will have scoured the web for an additional coupon or some other trick to save you even more money.
If there aren’t many comments yet, you can use some of the additional deal sites listed below to do your own research.
Bonus Step – Install the Slickdeals App on your phone or tablet
If you have the Slickdeals app and have signed in to it with your account, you can get your deal alerts instantly as a notification on your phone or tablet.
The best deals usually sell out extremely quickly. Sometimes in under an hour. Getting a notification on your phone can help you beat the virtual stampeding hoards.
Secondly, the app is a great tool for generating gift ideas. It is beautifully designed to showcase the current best deals that other users have found online.
Find and use online coupons when possible.
Nearly every major online retailer offers coupon codes for discounts. Sometimes they are for a particular category of items or date. There are several sites to check with before making a purchase online.
Yes, I’m posting about Slickdeals a lot. There are thousands of less reputable coupon sites out there. They’re mostly useless.
Let’s say you need some parts for your car. You can visit the Slickdeals coupons page for Advance Auto Parts or Auto Zone. This is what I’m seeing right now.
You just saved $40 off a $100 purchase you were already going to make. Or 30% off a purchase of $50. For 30 seconds of work. That’s the equivalent of $4,800 per hour.
I can’t have a deals guide and not list FatWallet. I don’t use it, but know a lot of people do.
Similar to SlickDeals but without all the window dressing. Consistently ranked as one of the best deal sites on the web.
Cashback apps offer you rewards when you initiate the purchase through the app. Typical cashback rewards are between 2% and 10% of the purchase price. These rewards are tied to making the purchase from a specific store, and sometimes a specific department within that store.
If you have the time and want to maximize your deal, these sites can help you out – particularly with large purchases. The following sites are my top recommendations for cashback apps.
Did I miss something? Do you have some advice on how to maximize buying things online? Leave your tips and tricks in the comments below.