While traditional advice assumes that consumers find deals in a similar fashion, the truth is, we all use different methods that influence our buying habits. Some of us devote hours to combing sites for discounts weeks before Christmas, while our mothers, sisters or BFFs are filling their carts an hour before closing time on Christmas Eve. Personal finance expert Dave Ramsey says there are in fact six kinds of shoppers: the Bargain Hunter, the Impulse Buyer, the Loyalist, the Researcher, the Negotiator and the Woman on a Mission. Since each type has a strength, read on for strategies that match your purchasing style and will help you escape the season debt-free.
The Bargain Hunter: GETS THE BEST PRICE.
"It's painful to pay full price for anything!" says Jessica Johnson, 27, of Knoxville, Tennessee. "Getting 20 to 30 percent off is nice, but the real fun starts at 50 to 75 percent off."
Shoppers like Johnson do their research online, collect coupons and compare loyalty cards before they buy. Try retailmenot.com for coupon codes, topcashback.com for discounted gift cards that save you another 25 percent and priceblink.com for a price comparison tool that searches up to 11,000 retailers. Take your saving a step further by seeking out freebies. "Between free samples, free items after rebate and other free offers, you can literally save your entire budget," says Tim Pearsall, founder and owner of freebie-depot.com.
The Impulse Buyer: ACTS QUICKLY TO SNAG A DEAL.
"I've stayed awake waiting for stores to launch their biggest clearance sale ever," says Estella Gray, 32, of Tampa. "I even left work on an early lunch because a store I frequent sent a "secret discount" e-mail."
When shopping on the fly, it's a good idea to set aside "a small dedicated fund for impulse buys, which satisfies your urges and allows you to be respectful of your budget," says Brandon Hunt, cofounder and VP of marketing for dealscience.com. The best stores for impulse buys are Nordstrom Rack, T.J. Maxx and HomeGoods. Once you're ready to check out, go to raise.com to secure discounted gift cards, then apply them to purchases. And peruse dealnews.com or slickdeals.net for the deal of the day. We found coupons for 40 percent off at Gap, free coffee at Dunkin' Donuts and up to 70 percent off Cole Haan shoes.
The Loyalist: USES REWARDS TO SAVE BIG.
"I get the best deals where I shop most, like Gymboree, Stride Rite, DSW, Toys R Us and Michaels," says Dione Davis, 39, of Atlanta. "Certain coupons are available through mobile apps, so whether I'm online or in the store, I save."
Davis's smartest trick is using in-store rewards cards, subscribing to newsletters and customizing e-mail settings to score huge deals. For the best use of your time and money, study coupon release schedules and know the dates of major sales. "The Loyalist can rack up loyalty points like a champ, but she probably has too many loyalty cards!" says Trae Bodge, senior lifestyle editor for retailmenot.com. "Streamline using an app like Stocard, which houses the info from your cards."
The Researcher: COMPARES EVERY OFFER.
"Good shopping is finding what you want and need at a great price," explains Patti C. Reed, 59, of Atlanta. "Before your next outing, know what you're looking for and how much you're willing to spend, and have three to four options."
Remember, nondiscount stores may offer deeper price cuts, says Reed, a fan of shopping solo, clipping coupons and only going to storewide sales. If you need a hand, go to thefind.com. The site tracks purchases, locates receipts for returns and organizes everything in one place. Plus, the search tool is comprehensive and the navigation is easy. But don't go overboard: Too much research can lead to "analysis paralysis," says Tiffany "The Budgetnista" Aliche, author of The One Week Budget (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform).
The Negotiator: ALWAYS HAGGLES.
"I approach shopping the same way you buy a car—never accept the first offer," says Mia Francois, 27, of Seattle. "The harder I negotiate, the more I get or save."
Shoppers like Francois are familiar with the store's competition, the best sale days and how to say no. And they always have flyers and competitors' coupons at their fingertips. If you can't negotiate the price down, then negotiate the value up: Ask for free add-ons like extended warranties, free services (think a year's worth of car washes with a new purchase) or free sales tax. "Small businesses are more likely to give discounts, because the owner is usually present and able to offer deals," says The Budgetnista. Start the negotiation at 50 to 75 percent off the retail price, say our experts.
The Woman on a Mission: PLANS STRATEGICALLY.
"I always have a number in mind that I do not want to go over. I catch Cyber Monday, Black Friday and Macy's Friends and Family sales," says Jessica Mumford, 26, of Newark, New Jersey. "Any particular time of year I can save big, I am there."
If you're an avid shopper, many sales clerks will tell you about upcoming sales. "Ask if they can apply the discount early, or at least hold the item until the sale starts—this is a great win," says Meghan Fox, marketing manager for raise.com. "You can coordinate what items to get from which stores, and plan your day based on offer time restrictions. If the sale only lasts until noon, and another goes until 8 P.M., you'll know where to begin." With major holidays and free incentives, you may get up to 60 percent off.
This article was originally featured in the December 2014 issue of ESSENCE, on newsstands now.