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The Secrets to Snagging the Best Discounts

Kimberly Palmer
The Secrets to Snagging the Best Discounts

According to Mark Ellwood, author of the new book, "Bargain Fever," you should never pay full price -- ever. If you find yourself forking over the full retail cost for an item, you're making a serious error, because there's almost always a way to score a discount.

"I feel like an idiot if I pay full price for anything," Ellwood says, adding, "You should buy every single item marked down or discounted in some way." The only exceptions are emergencies, like if you forgot your toothpaste on a business trip. Otherwise, you should wait until toothpaste goes on sale at the drugstore.

Even at Apple, a company known for its lack of promotions, customers can find a way to score deals. Ellwood says the trick is to buy iPhones that have been turned in as faulty by other customers, and then fixed and extensively tested. "They're almost more reliable than a brand new iPhone, because they've been thoroughly tested, and they're cheaper," he says.

[Read: Could You Cut Your Spending by $1,000 a Month?]

Discounts are so prevalent today largely because of the Internet, which makes it simple to compare prices. "It would be easy to assume that it was all because of the recession, but it's not. It's because the Internet X-rays prices, and you can suddenly comparison shop in ways that you couldn't before," Ellwood says. He notes that the portion of all items sold on sale has more than doubled in a decade, with about 40 to 45 percent of products now sold at a discount.

Ready to overhaul your own shopping habits, just in time for the holidays? Here are three rules to shop by, according to Ellwood:

1. Always ask for a better deal.

"If you go into most stores, and you say, 'These pair of shoes are so cute, but I told myself no shoes, do you have any flexibility on price?" between 10 and 15 percent of the time, you will get the discount just from asking," Ellwood says.

One of his friends tried that trick at Pottery Barn, while she was in line to buy a $50 frame. She asked, "Are there any deals today?" The clerk immediately offered a 15 percent discount. It really is that easy, Ellwood says.

[Read: How to Master Your Holiday Shopping List.]

2. Leverage technology.

A slew of new apps, computer programs and online services make it easy to sort through sales and find the ones near you. "You want to make someone else do the work for you," Ellwood explains. He suggests creating a new Twitter account dedicated to following your favorite shops. That way, you'll be the first to know when they announce promotions. (If you use your regular Twitter handle for this task, it might soon be overrun with deal news, so that's why you'll want to create a separate account.)

Ellwood also recommends certain subscription services, like Shop It To Me, which sends emails when your favorite stores have sales. That way, says Ellwood, you have just one email to read every day, instead of a dozen or more from signing up for emails with each retailer.

3. Avoid the "middle man."

[See: 10 Ways Companies Annoy Customers.]

"Lots of companies reduce their prices by cutting out the middle man," Ellwood says, citing Trader Joe's and Everlane, which makes T-shirts, as examples. ProjectGravitas.com, which offers black dresses for women with hidden shape-wear in them, sells dresses direct to consumers online. They generally sell for about $300, and would otherwise retail for $1,000 and up, Ellwood adds.

He also recommends doing some "yoga breathing" while you shop, because stress can lead to more spending. Oh, and by the way, Ellwood does admit to paying full price for one item: taxis. Even there, though, he tries to share rides when he can. Otherwise, he says, he's just wasting money.

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