Oth­ers’ fis­cal mis­takes good for bar­gain hunters

Great deals abun­dant for thrifty shop­pers

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - SUNDAY MONEY - By Liz We­ston Nerdwallet ▶ lwe­ston@nerdwallet.com

Most of us have wasted money on ill-con­sid­ered pur­chases or stuff we re­ally couldn’t af­ford. As we get more fi­nan­cially savvy, that hap­pens less of­ten. But we can still profit from other peo­ple’s bad choices.

Peo­ple who prize the lat­est and great­est, for ex­am­ple, quickly need to up­grade to the next shiny thing. That leaves plenty of lightly used cars and elec­tron­ics for sale at a dis­count.

Peo­ple who can’t look be­yond cos­metic dam­age also pro­vide buy­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for those who can, since sur­face flaws can ding price without hurt­ing func­tion­al­ity. Then there are the “d’oh” mis­takes: the stuff that didn’t fit or turned out to be the wrong shade of robin’s egg blue. That stuff gets re­turned so it can be dis­counted and snapped up by fru­gal buy­ers.

Here are three ways to profit from oth­ers’ mis­takes:

Buy off-lease cars

Low pay­ments can fool peo­ple into think­ing that leas­ing is an eco­nom­i­cal way to af­ford cars. In re­al­ity, leases en­sure you’re pay­ing for a ve­hi­cle’s most ex­pen­sive pe­riod — the first two or three years, when its value drops like a rock. Ve­hi­cles typ­i­cally lose about 30 per­cent of their value the first year, and a to­tal of 40 per­cent by the third year, said Ivan Drury, se­nior man­ager of in­dus­try anal­y­sis for car com­par­i­son site Ed­munds.com.

The good news for bar­gain hunters: A whole lot of peo­ple have made that pricey choice in re­cent years, lead­ing to a record 4 mil­lion ve­hi­cles com­ing off their leases this year. In ad­di­tion to dis­counts of 30 per­cent or more com­pared to a new car, buy­ers will have plenty of op­tions.

Leas­ing was once mostly lim­ited to lux­ury cars, but it’s grown so pop­u­lar that buy­ers have plenty of used makes and mod­els to choose from. That in­cludes the “it” ve­hi­cle of the mo­ment: com­pact SUVS, Drury said.

Th­ese freshly off-lease ve­hi­cles tend to have mid-range trim pack­ages, which means they’re not bare bones but they’re also not over­loaded with fea­tures you might not want to pay ex­tra to have, Drury said. They will have the kinds of safety fea­tures and tech­nol­ogy that a few years ago were only avail­able in lux­ury cars.

“They have backup cam­eras, Blue­tooth, blind-spot de­tec­tors,” Drury said. “You can get a lot, at greatly re­duced prices.”

Get re­fur­bished elec­tron­ics

Thrifty shop­pers tend to stay a gen­er­a­tion or two be­hind on elec­tron­ics, know­ing that early adopters pay a hefty pre­mium. But within a few weeks of vir­tu­ally any gad­get’s de­but, there will be buy­ers re­gret­ting their pur­chases and com­pa­nies re­fur­bish­ing those re­turns for re­sale.

De­pend­ing on the seller, though, “re­fur­bished” can mean “like new,” with fresh bat­ter­ies, new cases, and one-year war­ranties — or not.

“Some just say ‘re­fur­bished’ be­cause they wiped it down with a rag,” said Ter­cius Bufete, as­so­ciate ed­i­tor for Con­sumer Re­ports. The elec­tronic item may come with third-party ac­ces­sories, such as charg­ing cords, or none at all.

The only way to know is to “read the as­sur­ances,” Bufete said. That’s the fine print that spells out what’s been done to the item, the war­ranty (if any) and the length of the re­turn pe­riod (if any).

Just in case, con­sider us­ing a credit card that of­fers “re­turn pro­tec­tion” or “guar­an­teed re­turns.” This ben­e­fit of­fers you money back, up to cer­tain lim­its, if a mer­chant re­fuses to ac­cept a re­turn.

Check the ‘open box’ sec­tion

The phrases “open box” and “scratch and dent” are mu­sic to the bar­gain hunter’s ears. They sig­nify new or nearly new items at a dis­count — some­times a steep one.

Bar­gain shop­pers at Ikea, for ex­am­ple, know to cruise the store’s “as is” sec­tion for deals on al­readyassem­bled fur­ni­ture and other items re­turned by cus­tomers who changed their minds.

Like­wise, big-box home im­prove­ment stores usu­ally have an “open box” area for re­turns and f loor mod­els.

“Scratch and dent” stores are an­other op­tion for pick­ing up some­one else’s oop­sie. Make sure to check war­ranties and re­turn poli­cies. Sears Out­let, for ex­am­ple, has a 30-day re­turn pol­icy for most pur­chases, but not floor mod­els. Other stores make all their scratch-and-dent sales fi­nal.

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