Your best deal or freebie ... ever!

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flea market - for best finds postAs bargain hunters, we've all scored deals. But the sweetest of them all? I asked my frugal friends at WalletPop to share the scores they still brag about. Can you top them?

A sharp eye led blogger Jennie Phipps to the score of her life. "I was at a flea market in Buenos Aires and saw a really pretty ring with several small stones surrounding a much larger one. I assumed -- mostly because the gold setting was an odd pinkish color -- that the stones were rhinestones. I offered a price in Argentine dollars and the seller refused, then I pulled a crisp $20 American out of my wallet and the seller happily accepted it.

"Back home, I took the ring to a jeweler to have it cleaned up a little and the stone tightened. The jeweler asked me where I got the ring and I told him the story. He said that he estimated that the ring was nearly 200-years-old -- based on how the diamonds were cut. DIAMONDS! He said the design was popular in Europe for many years, so he couldn't really date it nor could he estimate the value. He thought I ought to get it appraised by someone who specialized in antique jewelry. I never did. I wear the ring now and then -- I think it's lovely, and I don't want to sell it."

Luck landed Vera Gibbons a freebie worth $6,000. "Best freebie -- an all-inclusive paid trip for two to Canyon Ranch. I won it in a drawing at the annual ISPA conference [a media event to showcase new spas and treatments]. I took my mom. The event was free, and so was the drawing. We went to a spa in the Berkshires. I think we went for four to five days. It was a nice long stretch -- stayed in a suite and had all sorts of fun treatments (facials, massages, etc.) and ate fresh food. We had an amazing time. When we checked out, they said, 'You're all set. Hope you enjoyed your stay.' We did -- and then some." I'm so jealous!

Linda Doell saved a treasure from turning into trash -- and netted a free antique! "Keep an eye on building renovations and demolitions for antiques. My husband scored a free 3-foot by 4-foot Art Deco stained glass window from the demolition site of a 1910s era pharmacy. The workers were ripping the windows out of their casings with crowbars! He asked if he could have any since they were busting them up, and they gave him one. He later tipped the workers $20 ($10 each). The window is still in its original wood casing, which Ed refinished."

The ever-savvy Jason Cochran negotiated a 25% discount off the asking price of his downtown New York City apartment. "The previous owners had moved abroad and were trying to sell it. But the person who tried to buy it before me got tangled up in red tape during the sale, and his purchase fell through at the last minute. Right at that moment, I showed up, and I put in a bid that was significantly lower than the asking price. I thought I'd be rejected, but I had to try. The owners were so tired of trying to unload their old apartment that they snapped up my offer with no counter bidding. It was done in a day. It was a great lesson: Often, in real estate, if you approach a seller who's tired of selling or who's recently been burned by a long sales failure, you can get a sensational deal just by being a nice guy at the right time." Jason admits the place needed a little TLC, but seeing how the pad came with loft ceilings and tons of light, and was walking distance from Times Square, Greenwich Village and the High Line Park, he was happy to whip his new home into shape.

Following the crowd can pay off, as Teresa Ciulla found. "About 14 years ago, my husband and I went shopping at Best Buy on Black Friday for a computer for his mom. As soon as we got inside, we noticed everybody running to this stack of boxes. We had no idea what they were, but they were disappearing fast, so we grabbed one, then tried to figure out what it was and why everybody wanted one! It was a $77 scanner with a $70 rebate. So we bought it, sent in the rebate and ended up paying just $7 for it!"

Josh Smith took advantage of a retailer error to save big -- but was asked not to return. "Back in 2005, while still in college and always in need of blank media, I found a deal on rewritable media from Office Depot, which is the holy grail of shopping deals -- up front discount, pricing error, and two stackable coupons. The deal popped up on Slickdeals.net, and I immediately emailed a friend and asked, 'How bad do you need DVDs for the rest of your life?'

"The math worked out like this. Add 19 spindles of DVDs to your cart, and choose in-store pickup for an initial 50 percent discount for a total of $104.30. Then take 50% off with an Office Depot coupon for a final price of $42.15. When we went to pick up the load of DVDs, which I still have about 50 of, there was quite a bit of back and forth and the manager essentially said that she would sell them to us but not to come back to try and buy any more."

Josh saw another deal pay off when he tracked down a retailer's CEO. "I bought an NEC monitor from Staples in late 2005 that involved a $90 NEC mail-in rebate. After the rebate failed to arrive from the processor and normal channels at NEC failed to provide help, I Googled the president of NEC's name and, upon calling after hours, was able to search extensions by name to get his voicemail. Long story short, the president of NEC called me himself and assured me that I would get the rebate, which I did. About six months later, the initial rebate was processed as well so I saved another $90. Extreme? Yes. But totally worth it."

Bargain Beau Lou Carlozo says "Garage sales still represent for me the Mother Lode of Bodacious Bargains, and over the years, I've scored quite a few deals: an antique snare drum (painted silver as a play prop, stupidly) for $25 and two Italian-made suits, my size, for free ($40 after dry cleaning and slight alterations). But the bargain I'm most proud of? A royal blue Paisley Zegna tie, current style, never worn, for a buck. I bargained down from $2 bucks. Retail price? $125. Now that's Bargainalicious!"

Patience translated into big savings for Kelly Phillips Erb. "Last school year, Lands End had an online sale on school uniforms just after school started. I was able to score several navy jumpers for my daughter for $2.50 each. They normally retail for between $30 and $35, I think. I wish I could say it was my fabulous sleuthing but really, I just stumbled on it while looking for uniforms.

"My lesson? Shop after the fact. While I couldn't get the sizes I wanted for my older daughter in jumpers, I bought her a number of shirts for $8. I just checked the e-mail to my friends about the sale...it was mid-September, a good two weeks after most folks have started school."

Geoff Williams helped cut out a huge monthly bill for his family. "My best deal was getting my wife to quit smoking this year. As far as I can tell, we're saving at least $200 a month, and our health insurance premiums will soon be able to come down several hundred dollars. It's been a big deal in my household."

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