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Minor damage, major savings for you

Scratches, dents or slight irregularities can mean big discounts, and the imperfections may be too small to matter.

By Donna_Freedman Jun 27, 2012 1:13PM
Image: A woman looking at a washing machine in an electrical shop © altrendo images/Stockbyte/Getty Images
When you buy new you expect perfection, right? Maybe not, according to Ed Avis of Five Cent Nickel, a personal-finance blog.

Some people don't mind a ding, scratch or close "sell by" date "because they know they can save tons of money that way," Avis notes in an article called "Less than perfect: 5 ways to save by buying slightly damaged goods."

You may be nodding in agreement right now. And if not? Keep reading, so that Avis and I can convince you.

For example, "cosmetically damaged" appliances sell for less -- sometimes a lot less. Stop by the service desk of a home center or appliance store and inquire about scratch-and-dent models in the back.


Ask for a better price, Avis says, if you think the markdown doesn't reflect the marks on the item. (For tips, see "5 things worth haggling over.")

An appliance out on the showroom floor may also show dings or dents. Make an offer. A former co-worker did this and got a high-end fridge at a considerable discount. (The scratch was completely hidden by an adjacent cabinet.)

"Display" items -- for example, the griddle or coffeemaker set up so you can see how it looks -- also have a useful life span. If the product is sold out and the display model really looks its age, find a manager and "tell him you’ll take it off his hands if the price is right," Avis suggests.

Garments and more

Clothing, accessories, housewares and gift items routinely cost less at stores such as TJ Maxx, Avis says. Some have minor imperfections. Some don't.

Since mistakes do happen, some manufacturers set up outlet stores to sell slightly irregular items. A growing trend, however, is outlet stores that sell last year's goods, overstock items and store-branded goods made cheaply and/or exclusively for the outlets. (Post continues after video.)

"The best deals at outlet malls" notes that the less-expensive designs generally don't mean huge differences in quality. For example, jeans might be plainer, and sweaters might have cheaper buttons. The article concludes that "you're not really sacrificing much, and the savings may be well worth it."

Remember, too, that name-brand items can also be found at yard sales and thrift stores. It takes patience, but you may strike gold. I've seen nice garments that bear department-store tags and gift items still in the shrink-wrap.


Filling the cupboards

As I noted in "The cheapest bread you'll ever buy," the sell-by dates on bakery outlet goods are often similar to the ones in the grocery store. Avis points out that if the outlet is attached to the bakery itself you'll get the same stuff supermarkets are getting, "but at a large discount because there's no middle man."

It's not just bread either. You'll find rolls, bagels, English muffins, pies, snack cakes and, depending on the outlet, items such as pretzels, spices, baking mixes and jams.

I'd also suggest checking your region for "salvage grocery" stores. Food, toiletries and household products end up there for a number of reasons, including post-holiday clearance (gingerbread-scented air fresheners, anyone?), manufacturer overruns, label or packaging changes and, yes, damage during transit.

A cornflakes box that got crushed on one end? No problem. A slightly dented can is probably fine, too. According to this U.S. Department of Agriculture fact sheet, you should not use any that is swollen, leaking, extensively rusted, has visible holes or punctures or is crushed/dented badly enough "to prevent normal stacking or opening with a manual, wheel-type can opener."

Finally, watch for dented-can bins in supermarkets. Sometimes these carts or shelves contain those holiday-themed products, or items that just didn't sell well, in addition to beat-up cans and boxes. 

The damage can be pretty superficial -- for example, a torn label or a minor ding. Sometimes there doesn't seem to be any obvious reason for items to be remaindered. Years ago I bought two hair dryers for $5 apiece; I'm still using one of them.

Readers: Do you ever buy irregular or scratch-and-dent stuff? What's the best deal you ever got?


More on MSN Money:

Jul 3, 2012 10:22AM
I needed a refrigerator.  The Big Box Store was going to sell and deliver a slightly scratched  floor model.  The scratch was on the lower side, it would be hidden by cabinets.  The day before they deliverd it, I got a call saying they wouldn't be bringing the damaged appliance after all.  They brought me a brand new,still in the box, one instead - for the bargain price!!!  Customer Service!!! 
Jul 1, 2012 12:47AM

Purchased demo models at an appliance warehouse when I need a fridge, washer and dryer.  Would have purchased the dishwasher as well, except the space is small and I needed to get a brand they did not carry to fit in the space.  They come with all the warrenties, the delievery people are more professional and when I did have a problem with the washer a couple of weeks after the warrenty went out, they let me purchase an extended warrenty and took care of the problem.  If you look at the place where the scratch or dent it you could save upto 50% without anyone noticing the imperfections.  No sense paying full price when deep discounts are possible. 

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.