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Make a deal! 5 surprising bargain-hunting tips

Do you love a good discount? “ShopSmart” magazine shares smart advice on how you can save a significant amount of money with your cell phone, online coupon codes and more.
/ Source: TODAY

Looking for some great bargains for the holiday shopping season? Before you pay full price, “ShopSmart” magazine shares smart advice on how you can save a significant amount of money with your cell phone, online coupon codes and more:

These five bargains don't require any extra work. You just need to know where to look for them. Once you do, you can save a significant amount of money very easily.

FruCall (, 888-DO-FRUCALL)
Peering at products on a screen the size of a sugar packet is hardly an ideal way to shop. But your cell phone is great for doing a quick price check. Say you're in a store looking at a big-screen TV and the salesperson is offering what seems like a can't pass-it-up deal. You could step outside, punch up a shopping-comparison site on your cell phone, and check to see if you can get the TV for a lower price elsewhere.

Using a mobile phone and either placing a phone call, using text messaging or the mobile version of their Web site (or maybe sneaking onto an Internet-enabled computer at the store itself), FruCall can look up the price of the product you're looking at and let you know if it's cheaper anywhere else. All you need is the product name, the model number, or its bar code/UPC number. Contact the toll-free number (888-DO-FRUCALL) and enter a product's 12-digit bar code. There is no sign-up fee, and there is no monthly fee.

If you like the idea of comparison shopping via cell phone, another new service is Slifter (, which is currently focused on electronics and sporting goods. You punch in the product info and your ZIP code and it will point you to the nearest stores and provide their prices. “ShopSmart” offers a service that delivers “Consumer Reports” ratings. Or you can check out other cool shopping tools designed specifically for phones.

Online coupon codes
If you shop online, you've probably noticed that when you check out, most Web sites have a space for you to enter an “online coupon code.” These codes can save you tons of money, but if you don't have one readily at hand, you might not think twice about it. That's a mistake! You might be able to find one by surfing the Web. Dozens of sites list discount codes for online stores — but not always the one that you're looking for. A quick way to zero in on promotions: Type the store name and “coupon code” into a search engine like Google.

Although no one site will give you everything you need, using a combination of different sites can help you find what you're looking for. Some of our favorites:

  • is nicely organized.
  • has a huge number of retailers.
  • has a busy message board where members post codes they have found.
  • clues you in to rebates and freebies.

The Freecycle Network ( a ski rack, fertilizer spreader or ferret cage? You might be able to nab it for nothing at the online bulletin board The Freecycle Network™ is a community-based service made up of 4,182 groups with 4,130,000 members across the globe. It's a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving and getting stuff for free in their own towns. Each local group is moderated by a local volunteer. Membership is free, and you join a specific community group that includes your geographical location. People in your area will post items they want to give away.

The caveat: This setup isn't a one-way street — you are expected to post your goodies for swap, too. However, it's an easy way to get odd items from people close to where you live. The products on this site really run the gamut — electronics, furniture, and every odd and end. It also prevents unnecessary waste and keeps good stuff out of landfills. Oh yeah, and it's entirely free!

If you like this community-based site, you can search the Web for other newsgroups of like-minded bargain hunters on yahoogroups. It's like having an extended family looking out for you!

Out-of-order hotel rooms
Most people will be traveling to visit family this holiday season, and if you're looking to stay at a hotel (as opposed to crashing with the folks), here's a tip that might help you get a cheaper hotel room. When making a reservation or upon arriving at the hotel, ask if the hotel has any “out-of-order” hotel rooms available. Some rooms may have a minor defect, such as a broken TV or a carpet stain that hasn't been fixed yet, but that you may be willing to live with. Make sure to get precise details on exactly what the defect is, and be ready to negotiate for a price you're comfortable paying.

We should point out that when traveling, hotels in general offer a lot more leeway with cost than with any other travel expense. If you're savvy, hotels are the one place where you could really save a significant amount of money. 

For starters, a lot of hotel chains are franchises, which means they are individually owned. So your best bet is to wait until you get there and find out what the staff there is willing to do for you. If asking for an out-of-order room doesn't work, ask what other deals they might be able to offer you. If they aren't willing to budge on price, try to negotiate some freebies, like free breakfast.

If you book your room through a site where you prepay, you can at least try to negotiate for freebies. It doesn't hurt to ask.

By the way, if you're looking to save money on hotel rooms, and out-of-order hotel rooms aren't quite your speed, try This site specializes in getting rid of excess rooms for various hotels. You pick a location and a particular number of stars, and the site will give you all the prices for available hotel rooms in that area at that level. However, the site won't give you the name of the hotel until you pay. That's because the discounts can be so good (in some cases hundreds of dollars) that the hotels don't necessarily want to associate their name with those prices.

Dynamic pricing
This one is a little more complicated. Due to a little-known trick called “dynamic pricing,” you could be charged a different amount for the same item as someone else when shopping online. The price offered by a Web site depends on the time of day, the availability of the product and whether you've looked at the item online before, which is traceable through the use of cookies. Sometimes, when you have looked at an item online before, retailers will charge you a slightly higher price the next time you view that item, because they already know that you are interested.

In order to take advantage of dynamic pricing and get the best possible deal, do multiple searches on several price-comparison sites in different browsers (such as Internet Explorer or Firefox) and even on separate computers to check if prices vary. You can also clear out cookies from your Web browser to cover up those electronic footprints.

For more great shopping tips and information, check out the latest issue of