Next time you’re at a dinner party and there's a lull in the conversation, ask people about the biggest bargain they have ever bought. And then fill everyone’s glasses, as you’re probably in for some fantastic stories.

When it comes to bargain hunting, sheer luck sometimes comes into play, such as when I drove past a donkey cart on its way to the dump and spotted an antique oak washstand with marble top about to be sold for firewood.

OK, it was painted orange and I had to have it treated for a beetle infestation, but I paid R30 for it. (That was in 1995, when R30 was worth quite a bit more than it is now). The washstand still has pride of place in my bedroom.

Don’t be intimidated by sales patter. These people have been trained to make you feel you have to prove something. Who cares if the salesperson thinks you’re cheap? You are – and you are proud of it.

Being a bargain hunter takes time and effort, but it means you will usually get more for your money. You will get fabulous things at knockdown prices, and your friends will start asking your opinion whenever they want to buy something. Here’s how to become that person.

Keep your eyes and ears open

In short, never stop looking. Make a habit of listening to what others say, using recommendations and regularly checking ads in papers and online. A really good bargain will be gone quickly, so you have to be on the ball. Be informed, be suspicious, but be ready to take a good opportunity when it comes your way.

Tell everyone what you are looking for

Friends and acquaintances are often great sources of information. Tell people what you want, both face to face and on social media. This is the way you find out about the great second-hand car your friend’s aunt is selling before anyone else knows about it.

Be a savvy buyer

In short, don’t buy trouble. Steer clear from the cheap washing machine that doesn’t spin properly, or the car with a grinding gearbox – however low the price might be. You could be purchasing a bottomless pit of endless repairs. If something looks too good to be true, be sure that it’s definitely the case. Small imperfections that don’t require mechanical input could bring the price down, put off other buyers and get you a real bargain. Just make sure the sure the trouble doesn’t run deeper.

Mind your step at sales

People go into a frenzy at sales, because that’s what retailers want you to do. And they achieve this by telling you something is a bargain and it won’t be available at this price ever again. A bargain is not a bargain unless you would have paid full price for the item anyway.

Remember that items are on sale because they weren’t selling in the first place. The skirt with the dicey colour or the slightly odd-shaped baking dish are not bargains, regardless of the price, because they are going to end up unused at the back of your cupboard.

Keep cool at auctions

Auctions are places where a fool and his money are soon parted. If your heart is set on something, your emotions and ego could take over – you could end up paying much more for something than it is worth, because someone else was bidding against you.

Remember that some of the more unscrupulous auction houses employ so-called ghost bidders to increase selling prices. Decide beforehand what the absolute maximum price is that you would pay for something, and stop bidding when it goes beyond that.

Be a cash buyer

This always gives you strong negotiating power, especially when it comes to big items such as houses and cars. If the buyer competing with you will only know in two weeks’ time if he has been granted a bond, he is not in a strong position. With cash in hand you get to push the price down, because the seller is wanting this painful process to be over and he wants his money.

But few people are in this strong financial position. If you are, use it to your advantage. Having the cash also gives you the opportunity to buy immediately when you spot a bargain, before someone else beats you to it.

Watch the papers

Watch out for ads of auctions, closing down sales, and seasonal specials. Sometimes shops have bulk merchandise to move and they are prepared to let it go for low prices. Just don’t get carried away and don’t believe something is a bargain before you have done your homework and compared prices elsewhere.

Be suspicious, but not paranoid.

Do the online thing

This is where real bargains are to be found these days. Gumtree and OLX are free and easy to use, and it doesn’t cost the sellers anything. Check out online sellers that will deliver such as Scour online classifieds regularly for what you want. Be patient. There will be more ads tomorrow.

Remember to add travelling costs to the price of an item, and watch out for things such as house clearance sales. Better bargains are to be had in these than when items are sold individually. Don’t buy anything you haven’t seen, and always see if you can negotiate the price.

Take care when meeting sellers or buyers. Do so in public places if you can, and don’t go alone. Also tell someone else where you are going and who you are meeting.

Online scams are rife, so do be extra careful.

Use the phone

Petrol is expensive and phone calls are not. Phone around and compare prices before you get into your car and go to the shops. One phone call can save you a fortune. Call to see if something is in stock before you hit the road.

Be prepared to negotiate

Don’t be shy to do this, especially with sellers of second-hand goods and huge things such as cars and houses. Most retail outlets won’t negotiate, but many other sellers will. Just don’t look too keen and don’t gush. If a seller senses that you are smitten with something, they know you’ll buy it anyway.

Comment on some flaw and make them think that you might still change your mind. It’s done the world over. Make a ridiculously low offer and work your way up from there, but don’t go beyond your maximum pre-decided price.

Buy second-hand stuff

It’s very difficult to buy something new that is a bargain. (Just like when it comes to houses, the same principle applies: you can’t build a bargain, but you can certainly buy one.) Second-hand cars, household appliances, furniture and millions of other things are sold at a fraction of what they cost new.

A couch can be cleaned, a car can have a valet service, a dent in a washing machine can be straightened out. But stay away from faulty stuff that could cost a fortune to fix. Household goods such as curtains and crockery can be found very cheaply second-hand. Buy directly from sellers – second-hand shops have already added their (sometimes quite substantial) bit.

Have an expert handy

Make friends with an expert, and ask their advice. A good mechanic can stop you from buying a lemon, an upholsterer can tell you when a couch is finished, and a handyman will know if a shelf is about to collapse. Listen to what the experts say and don’t be gullible when it comes to sales talk.


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