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Big-Ticket Shopping Mistakes You Can’t Afford to Make

Advice from the pros on how to get your money's worth on five major purchases

graphic of sales tickets with pictures of expensive items like a tv a car and a washing machine

ben mounsey-wood

En español | Overpaying for a box of cereal or a shirt isn't a big deal financially. But when you're spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a purchase, getting the best possible quality at the right price is crucial. And while a new car or washing machine is always a tricky purchase, pandemic-related price increases and supply-shortages have made it even harder to find good values among these and other big-ticket items.

So I asked leading experts how to get the best deals when it comes to five major purchases. Here are their top tips for regret-free shopping.

Washing machine

Avoid surprise costs. Front-loaders get top scores on cleaning power but can cost more than top-loaders. What's more, you might have to spend an extra $200 or more on a pedestal — double that amount if you want your washer and dryer to match in height. Otherwise, a lot of bending over to reach into a low-set door may get tiresome.

Change the color. Always compare the prices of different color options. Earlier this year, for example, a “champagne” version of one Samsung washer was priced $50 higher than the white one.

Go big and small for bargains. In addition to local dealers and big-box stores, be sure to check for deals on the websites of manufacturers, such as LG and Kenmore. Shopping locally has its benefits, though: You can expect personalized service, and independent dealers may even price-match big-box stores. —Tobie Stanger, senior editor, Consumer Reports

Grill

Go big! You can cook meats, veggies, corn — your entire meal! — all at once, saving time and money. (You can always use fewer burners than you have, but you can't add capacity.) To save money, skip features such as a side burner for a pot or a built-in thermometer, which can cost an extra $100 or more.

Consider a pellet grill. Originally built for smoking meat, they're easy to use and great for slow cooking. But they can handle vegetables or anything else you'd put on a conventional grill. Their fuel, made from compressed sawdust, costs slightly more than charcoal briquettes.

Factor in delivery and setup costs. Grills can be heavy, and some come unassembled. —Chef Tony Matassa at BBQGuys.com.


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Car

Be willing to travel. Because of manufacturing slowdowns and a drop in trade-ins, expect fewer vehicles for sale locally. To get the most for your money, widen your search. A recent online quest for 2018 Honda Accords with about 20,000 miles uncovered one 8 miles from the starting zip code for $23,000. Raising the search radius to 100 miles turned up a match 62 miles away for $1,250 less.

Check the history. A third-party vehicle report from a company such as Carfax can reveal if a used car has been in an accident or needed repairs. Dealers should supply this info for free.

Maximize your trade-in. Demand has been high for used cars in the pandemic; your current car's value might surprise you. Compare trade-in offers along with purchase prices to get the best deal. —Ivan Drury, senior manager of insights at Edmunds.com

TV

Trust your eyes. Most new large-screen TVs have what's known as 4K resolution. You can spend more for a higher-resolution 8K set. You can also trade up for a set with an organic LED (OLED) display, which has higher contrast. Or you can decide that a 4K LED or LCD screen is awesome enough.

Consider unfamiliar brands. Consumer Reports’ recommended models include TVs from Vizio and TCL, which can cost hundreds of dollars less than similar models from big names like Samsung and Sony.

Test the sound. At a store, ask a salesperson to silence other TVs so you can listen. Many sets and TV speaker systems — often called “sound bars” — have a feature that boosts dialogue to make speech more intelligible. —James K. Willcox, senior electronics editor, Consumer Reports

Mattress

Hit the sales. The biggest markdowns typically happen during Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.

Try e-shopping. Mattresses sold online can be as good as or better than those sold in stores. And they're usually returnable if they disappoint you.

Skip the box spring. Your old one is probably fine. That can save you $150 to $300, on average, for a queen size.

Get on the scale. If you weigh more than 200 pounds, don't buy an all-memory-foam mattress; it won't provide enough support. —Bill Fish, general manager of SleepFoundation.org

Lisa Lee Freeman, a consumer and shopping expert, was founder and editor in chief of ShopSmart magazine from Consumer Reports.

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