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How to plan for a large purchase: The full breakdown

At a glance:

  • Find the price range of your purchase

  • How to research purchases beforehand

  • How to comparison shop for major purchases

  • Summary of planning for a large purchase

Once you have decided on buying a major purchase and you're sure you can afford it, it's time to think about planning for it.

Good planning can not only save you a lot of money, but it can save you headaches down the road when it comes to repairs.

Find the price range of your purchase

Armed with your list of wants and needs, you can begin your research. Starting with your list of needs, using the search engine of your choice, find the least expensive product on the market. Next add in your list of wants, and find the most expensive product on the market.

Those two numbers represent the full possible range of your upcoming purchase.

At this point, you may already know how important your wants are as compared to what you can afford, and you may already be thinking of how you will pay for it (i.e., from old savings, from new savings, from credit, or from any combination of those.)

Caution

A word of caution about cost versus value: The old adage "You get what you pay for" is worth remembering before you make your purchase. The least expensive product that meets all of your needs may not be the best value, at least not for a product purchased new.

How to research purchases beforehand

Thinking back to the old ads for the Yellow Pages, whether you intend to buy online or in a store, "Let your fingers do the walking," at least during the research process. The Internet offers much more information than ever before about any product in which you are interested, complete with specification and price comparisons.

Whatever the planned purchase, and however you plan to make the purchase (online versus in store) arm yourself with not only product information, but questions. The more you know — or learn — about the product, the easier it will be to narrow your search.

Customer reviews

One of the best online research tools is customer reviews. Even if you don't buy online, as you do your product research, read what the consumers who already purchased the product have to say about it. Just about every store has customer reviews on its Website. Consumers typically rate products with a five-star system, one star being the worst and five stars being the best.

Read good and bad reviews. Weed out unnecessary information so you only compare information relevant to your search. The best thing about reading customer reviews is that there is usually no incentive to a customer to write a good review.

Conversely, unless a customer has a major axe to grind against a store, there isn't any advantage to writing a negative review. Therefore, you will likely find only honest feedback.

So, let's say you're thinking of purchasing a new washer and dryer. You can go to www.sears.com or www.homedepot.com, as examples, and look for reviews of the specific models you are considering, even if you have no plan to purchase from them. You can find customer reviews in many places including www.amazon.com.

Another excellent source for unbiased information for just about any product made is www.consumerreports.org.

Ask friends and family

A final note along the line of customer reviews is to just ask around. Mention your planned purchase at the soccer game, at your job, or after church. You will likely find someone who just made a similar large purchase or know someone who has. The more you ask, the more you'll learn about the product(s) you are interested in purchasing.

The importance of research

Researching your major product is the single most important part of making your major purchase. You now know what features of the new purchase you need and what you want. You know what you can afford. Either by going from store to store or looking online, you should already have an idea as to the model options of your big purchase.

Based on customer reviews and other research you have done, you have ruled out certain models and are considering others.

Do your research before making a big purchase. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Do your research before making a big purchase. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

How to comparison shop for major purchases

It's time for another list or chart.

Down the side of a piece of paper, list the features of the purchase that you decided upon. The price will be at the bottom. So that you are comparing apples to apples, exclude any extra costs such as shipping, delivery, installation, and warranty, as examples, and put them in separate rows.

Across the top of the paper, show the manufacturer/models. You can now fill the grid boxes with an X, giving you a big picture of your options. It might look something like this:

Extended warranties

A few words about extended warranties:

  1. Be sure when you compare them that you look at the length of extended service, exactly what is covered, and the cost.

  2. Some charge cards (American Express, for example) provide extended warranties on major purchases. So, even if you plan to pay in full for your purchase before interest accrues, you may want to pay with your credit card. In that case, you don't want to pay for two extended warranties.

Shipping

If you have decided to make your purchase online, ask about shipping options. Some stores give you the option of shipping your purchase to your home at an additional cost, or ship it to a nearby store for free. You can only use this option if you have the ability to pick up your purchase.

How to find more price and product information

The list of websites dedicated to price and product comparison shopping is endless. You can use them to find a wealth of information on prices and features.

Summary of planning for a large purchase

A little bit of planning and research go a long way in helping you make a big buying decision. One of the more valuable tools is the customer review, which many large businesses allow on their Websites. These can be a big help in getting honest evaluations of products.

It also helps to draw up a comparison chart so you can see in written form how the competition stacks up. Companies that sell different versions of a particular product sometimes offer a chart of what each version offers. Internet packages are a good example of this. You may find this approach helpful when comparing your alternatives.

This content was created in partnership with the Financial Fitness Group, a leading e-learning provider of FINRA compliant financial wellness solutions that help improve financial literacy.

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