As Schwab discovered, the “married lifestyle” – complete with mattresses, furniture and cookware – is big business at bridal expos. Resorts, cruises and tour companies frequent shows to attract honeymooners. And home goods merchants offer steep discounts at expos.
All attendees qualify, whether single, engaged or already married, says Alan Fields, co-author of “Bridal Bargains.” The admission price is typically less than $15. But be aware that vendors will want a lot of information about you, so offer a junk email address and don’t add a phone number to avoid being bombarded with wedding-related offers.
To avoid navigating the yards of tulle for nothing, check the vendor list online before you go. The roster for an upcoming expo in Fort Lauderdale, for example, includes not-quite-bridal exhibitors Reebok, The Melting Pot, American Laser Centers and craft store Michaels.
Shop for: Local coupons or a new cable, banking or cellphone provider.
Don’t worry, you can probably still walk into a student gathering spot without appearing too conspicuous.
“Either you can pass for a student or you can pass for a parent,” says Fields, who visits the nearby University of Colorado each semester to pick up discount booklets that local businesses hand out to students. The latest pack included 15% off at a local running shoe store, 20% off brake work at a local mechanic, buy-one-get-one ice cream and $5 off a $50 purchase at a neighborhood hardware store. Banks, cable providers and cellphone carriers often also have tables in the student union, offering new-customer enticements.
“You don’t have to show college ID” at the store, Fields says. “They honor the special for everyone.” Time your visit to a student center to one of the first weeks of the semester, an orientation week or parents’ weekend — that’s when the coupon books and discount offers are most plentiful.
Surplus and Police Auctions
Shop for: Furniture, electronics, appliances, jewelry, art, perfume.
Judy Bates doesn’t have a medical degree or even work at a hospital, but that hasn’t kept the former Birmingham, Ala. radio host away from the University of Alabama Birmingham’s UAB Hospital surplus auctions. Bates, founder of Bargainomics.com, recently picked up a 60-inch, solid-oak executive desk for just $16 – or about 96% less than she would have paid for something similar, even used. “The top needed refinishing, but I took care of that easily,” Bates says. Other finds included a good-condition computer for $40 and a $7,000 tractor that sold for $1,500.
Local governments, schools, airports, the military and even fire departments also host surplus auctions to get rid of furniture and supplies they can’t use. Meanwhile, the local police auction off anything they’ve seized, including the little stuff, like perfume. (Bates recently bought a $55 bottle of Calvin Klein Eternity for $2.) Shoppers can find advertisements or event listings for surplus auctions in local papers, and then call the organizers for a list of all the items up for grabs, she says. (USA.gov also maintains a list of government-run surplus auctions.) Or call the local police department to ask about upcoming auctions. Online, shoppers can visit PropertyRoom.com, Bid4Assets or Govdeals.
In any case, goods are often grouped in multiple-item lots, usually by type, for easier auctioning. “It’s still worth buying to get a good deal on one item,” Bates says. Donate the extras to the Salvation Army or other charitable shop.
Trade Shows, Conventions and Conferences
Shop for: Just about anything.
Like bridal shows, but for everything else, conferences and trade shows are stocked with exhibitors who target conventioneers with everything from boats and cars to computers, clothing and home goods.
“[Trade shows] really level the playing field,” says Cathy Rick-Joule, a vice president for the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s boat show division. Competing companies have incentive to offer better pricing, and they frequently offer exclusive deals for attendees. Like bridal shows, industry conventions have plenty of semi-related products, too. The Miami International Boat Show, for example, routinely attracts sunglasses and luxury watch makers, Rick-Joule says.
Not all shows are open to the public, so check the registration process as well as the exhibitors list before showing up or paying the attendance fee. (Shows that are open to the public clearly state so and allow ticket purchase without pre-registering or providing credentials.) Many convention sites also list coupons from exhibitors. Attendees of the Home Design and Remodeling Show in Fort Lauderdale, for example, can print deals for 15% off window film installation from 3M, two free pillows with a mattress purchase from Nature’s Sleep and 20% off pest control or lawn care from Guarantee Floridian Pest Control.
The Usual Suspects: Yard Sales, Thrift Stores, Flea Markets
Savvy shoppers know they can often find great deals secondhand, but it’s a tip worth reiterating. Jennifer Kingsley of Milan, Penn., found what she thought was a cheap silver and fake diamond ring to replace one that pregnancy swelling made too tight a fit. The salesman said he hadn’t taken a close look at the newly arrived piece, but offered to throw it in for $50 since Kingsley and her husband were buying other items. “Sold! I liked it enough that for that price, it was a good deal — even though I thought the stone was obviously a fake,” she says. Except it wasn’t. A jeweler friend noticed the ring a year later, and insisted Kingsley have it appraised. The “very nice” two-carat stone set in platinum is worth $10,000, she says.