They're the big expenses that everyone dreads: Your washing machine gives out. Your refrigerator fails.
Those situations hit the wallet hard. Replacing a major appliance is almost always an expensive purchase, often sneaking into the four figures. Having an emergency fund helps, but you're not only going to want to save money on this purchase, you're going to want to minimize your chances of facing this kind of crisis again.
Before we get started, I want to mention used appliances. I often hesitate to recommend buying a used version of a major appliance unless you are familiar with how they work or you have a trusted friend who can inspect it for you. It is very easy for someone to sell off a major appliance when it's near death or has another hidden problem. Without a warranty to protect you, this can be a purchase you really regret. Buy used, but only if you really know what you're buying.
But in most cases, you'll find yourself buying a new appliance in a tight situation. Here are some tactics to make that purchase easier -- and to delay the next time you have to repeat that purchase.
Don't worry about dings, dents and scratches. Minor superficial marks usually do not affect the quality of the working parts of an appliance, but they'll often cause the price to fall drastically. You can save a significant percentage on an appliance if you're willing to accept a scratch or two or a tiny dent. If these blemishes bother you, you can usually repair these issues at home with a bit of paint or a dent remover.
Look at (still new) older models. Stores constantly rotate models, yet they also often have a few of the older models still sitting in the back. Since these aren't the newest and shiniest items, they'll push the older models off to the side. That's where you should look.
The latest model will be right out in the front of the display area. The older models will be off in the corner -- out of obvious sight. Look at every model in the store before you choose an appliance because you'll sometimes find a nearly identical model that's been in the warehouse for several months and has a lower price. Since the "newness" of the model makes little difference, this is a great way to save a few bucks.
Utilize rent-to-own stores -- but not for leasing. Rent-to-own stores are an expensive way to put an appliance in your home. When people figure this out, they're often happy to drop that appliance at the end of the lease.
You can take advantage of this. Rent-to-own stores will often sell models that have come in off a lease, sometimes with a warranty or guarantee attached. The prices are usually pretty low, too, as the company wants to get the items off its hands. They're well worth checking out, especially when a warranty or guarantee is included.
Check ads and price match. When you need an appliance, don't just look at the ads from retailers in your area. Look at ads from any company that can deliver to you. Then, take that ad to your preferred local retailer.
You can often negotiate with that retailer using the advertised price from a competitor. Often, the retailer will price match the ad you bring in, which can save you a lot of money.
Ignore the bells and whistles. Appliances come with a lot of bells and whistles -- neat features that seem like a great idea, but you won't end up using that often or it just duplicates something else in your home. Don't get drawn in.
Consider whether or not you would actually use that feature. It might seem cool, but would you use the feature on this appliance or would you just keep doing things the way you always have? Skip those extra features and save yourself some cash.
Another factor to consider: When you add bells and whistles to a product, it becomes more prone to breakdown. The fewer components, the more likely the item is to last a long time.
Maintain your current appliances. The best thing you can do to reduce the amount you spend on new appliances is to maintain what you have. Taking simple steps like keeping your refrigerator coils clean or ensuring that your washing machine is level with the floor can extend the life of your appliances.
A major appliance purchase can really hurt your financial plans. If you take a few simple steps to reduce the financial impact of these purchases, you can turn a crisis into a much smaller financial issue.
Trent Hamm is the founder of the personal finance website TheSimpleDollar.com, which provides consumers with resources and tools to make informed financial decisions.