How to Buy Smartphones, TVs and Tablets for Less

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How to Buy Smartphones, TVs and Tablets for Less
Kumar Sriskandan/AlamyBuying a refurbished item or display models can help you save on your next purchase.
By Susan Johnston

It's no secret that electronics such as televisions, tablets and smartphones are big business. However, upgrading to the newest, shiniest gadgets can take a hefty toll on your budget. Read on for strategies that can help you save money in this product category.

1. Sell your old device. Before upgrading to a new smartphone, laptop or tablet, consider selling or trading in your old device. Many retailers and wireless carriers offer trade-in programs. "The more current the phone or gadget, the more credit you can expect to receive," consumer and money-saving expert Andrea Woroch says.

While retailers typically offer a gift card toward future purchases, trade-in websites including Gazelle, BuyMyTronics and Glyde offer cash. "Some sites will buy it from you even if it's broke, though naturally you'll get a lower buyback," says DealNews.com spokesman Mark LoCastro. "That's money that you can in turn use for your new gadget purchase." You may get more money reselling the device yourself through eBay (EBAY) or Craigslist, but that option also requires more legwork to complete the transaction and more potential for the buyer to flake out or defraud you.

2. Know your needs. According to Stephanie Humphrey, weekly tech columnist for Ebony.com and founder of the blog A Matter of Life and Tech, it's a good idea to determine how much storage space and what features you need before a shopping excursion. That way a slick salesperson won't upsell you to a model that has extra bells and whistles you won't use. Customers sometimes "go in and say, 'Gimme that one,' and it's more expensive than what [they] need," she says.

With most non-Apple products, you can usually add more disk space later if needed, although it's often cheaper to buy the right amount from the start. If you must upgrade your disk space later on, Humphrey says you can save money if you buy the component pieces online and install them yourself.

3. Consider buying the previous generation. iPhone 5s may be popular among the tech cognoscenti, but if you're price-conscious, consider an iPhone 4 or 5 (not 5s). "Electronics have one of the fastest depreciation values on any consumer good as manufacturers and brands release new updates and models on popular gadgets every few months," Woroch says. "What's hot today may be old news in a few months, so it's not worth paying a premium just to get the latest bells and whistles."

LoCastro adds that a previous generation device is often still capable of running the latest apps and software. "You might just sacrifice a faster processor or thinner design," he says.

Timing your purchase to the release of a new model can also save you money. "The best time to buy a current-generation iPad is toward the end of its life cycle," LoCastro says. "So the minute you hear rumors that a new iPad is in the works, chances are retailers will discount the current iPad. That rule generally applies to all types of gadgets, from smartphones to tablets."

4. Look for open-box deals or refurbished devices. Many retailers sell open-box items at a steep discount. "Open box may just mean it was the display model, or [an employee] may have opened it to show someone and that person decided not to purchase that item," Humphrey says.

Refurbished devices have typically been used and returned to the manufacturer, which usually restores it to factory settings and tests it for defects. Humphrey says it's a good idea to buy refurbished products from a reputable source, and make sure it's factory certified.

5. Exercise caution on secondary markets. Worldwide sales of smartphones to end users totaled 968 million units, and tablet sales reached 195.4 million units last year, according to Gartner (IT), a technology research and advisory company. Plenty of these functional devices wind up on the secondary market when the owner gets tired of them or decides to upgrade.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%Craigslist and eBay are two popular sources for used devices, but they can be riskier than buying directly from a retailer or manufacturer. Humphrey likes that eBay displays reviews from previous buyers. "You want sellers that have a lot of ratings so you can get a feel for how many people have walked away satisfied," she says. Just be cautious about what you read. "There's a whole industry now around buying fake reviews," Humphrey points out. Craigslist connects local buyers and sellers, allowing them to meet in person to test a device. "The only real way to know if a product is going to function is to power it up," she adds. If you're conducting a Craigslist transaction in a public place for safety reasons, you can easily test out a smartphone or laptop, but trying out a TV or other large device becomes trickier.

6. Skip the extended warranty (most of the time). Retailers make much of their money from selling extended warranties, not from the products themselves. Your credit card may automatically offer protection beyond a standard manufacturer warranty for some items, so it's worth checking before you pay for an extended warranty. Also consider the type of gadget you're buying. "When it comes to televisions, you're usually safe to skip over this added expense," Woroch says. "While warranties do offer peace of mind, HDTVs are surprisingly reliable." Humphrey says you probably don't need an extended warranty on a TV, but it might be worthwhile for a laptop or tablet. "You're transporting those, so there's more of a chance that you'll drop it or scratch it," she explains. Still, the manufacturer warranty may not cover accidental damage such as water damage, so read the fine print before you buy.

How to Buy Smartphones, TVs and Tablets for Less
Car dealerships, unlike many other retailers, expect you to haggle. It's built into their price tags. So if you pay the sticker price for any new or used vehicle, basically ever, you're getting hoodwinked. When you walk into a dealership, prepare to haggle over just about everything -- the trade-in value of your car, the price of the car and extras like warranties. You'll have more leverage if you have more cash, but even cash-strapped buyers can and should negotiate.

Real estate agents expect some negotiation. But when buying a home, negotiation doesn't have to be all about price. If the seller isn't willing to come down on the price, ask for extras. For instance, ask that the seller pay more closing costs (which basically amounts to a cheaper deal for you). Or ask that the seller take care of some maintenance issues you found when you had the home inspected.

Mortgage companies will quote you a rate when you ask, but that doesn't mean you need to stick to that rate. If your credit is good (find out if it is, first) or you have a big down payment, you have plenty of leverage to negotiate a lower rate. And if you can't straight-up negotiate for a lower rate, you may be able to save by paying for points. This basically means you put more cash down for a lower rate, and, in some cases, it can save you a lot of money.
If you're renting from a landlord for the first time, rent may not be as negotiable. But if you're getting ready to renew your lease, don't just accept the now-higher rental price you're quoted. Keep in mind that it's a pain for rental companies and landlords to get you moved out, prep the property and move someone new in. Unless you're living in the hottest area in town, they'll likely lose money looking for a new renter. This means they may be more willing than you'd think to negotiate pricing.
Insurance companies usually get special rates from doctors' offices and hospitals. But those rates don't automatically apply to uninsured individuals -- or those who haven't yet hit their deductibles. If a medical bill isn't going through your insurance company, negotiate it. Often times, the doctor's office or hospital will come down on the price, so that it's closer to (or if you're lucky, even less than) what your insurer might pay.
If you're in good standing on your credit card account, you have plenty of negotiating power. You can negotiate lower rates, annual fees and higher credit limits. Even if you aren't in good standing, credit card companies can help you come up with a payment plan if you can't afford the minimum payments. You just need to ask.
When hiring someone to maintain your lawn, re-roof your home or pop out a dormer window on your second story, always get at least three quotes. And once you have those quotes, negotiate for a better price or a better deal. As with buying a home, you don't just have to negotiate for a lower price. Some service providers and contractors won't bring down the price, but they will often add in extra services for the same price -- or at least for a discount.
If you've recently gotten away from your cable or Internet company's promotional pricing, you may be in for a shock. Most of us fail to read the fine print that says just how much the service will cost after the promotional period. Before you call the company, look at the promotional offers other services in town are offering. Then, tell them you're considering switching so you can get a better deal. You may not talk them all the way back down to the promo price, but you can get pretty close.
Any time you buy big-ticket items like furniture or appliances, you should negotiate the price. This is especially true if you're buying in quantity -- for example, if you're purchasing both a washer and a dryer or an entire living room set. If the salesperson won't negotiate with you, ask to talk to the manager.
As with credit card companies, if you're in good standing with your insurance company, you may be able to negotiate for better rates. At minimum, you should ask about bundling your insurance policies to see how much that could save you. And if you notice your insurance company is running a new promotional deal that you're not in on, ask about it. The company may sign you up just for asking.
Collections calls are never fun, but they can be productive if you look at them the right way. Once an account of yours has gone to collections, that means the company has paid pennies on the dollar for the account. In other words, your $5,000 debt may have cost them $200 to take over from the original company. So a collections company may accept $1,000 for a $5,000 debt -- or possibly even less. 
Whether you're shopping at a thrift store or a garage sale, you should always negotiate the price of used stuff. You can usually buy two or three things at once to get a better deal, or just negotiate for a better price on a single, bigger-ticket item.
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