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Bargains everywhere for thrifty consumers

The down economy is indeed a worrisome time for many. But for consumers who have managed their money well during the good times – kept credit card debt low, saved regularly, avoided impulse shopping, minimized dining out, and maintained a high credit score – now may be time to reap your rewards.

Because of the drastic slowdown in spending, bargains can be found almost everywhere you look.

Used luxury cars: I recently drove by a used car dealer and saw a sleek, black 2005 Lexus 4D sports utility vehicle advertised for $19,500. The store manager told me that a number of people have had to trade in their luxury vehicles because of the economy. Most of the cars are in very good condition, he said. Since his shop was small, with little overhead, he could let it go at a low price.

But remember if you consider buying a used vehicle, be sure to get a Carfax vehicle history report. In this case, the salesman provided it for free. But you can also go online to www.carfax.com and get one for a nominal fee.

New car: If you desire a new car, there are plenty of rebates, low APR financing, and even some zero percent interest deals. For example, last month Toyota Motor Corp. announced an unprecedented deal to offer zero-percent financing on 11 models as it tries to woo would-be buyers sidelined by the consumer credit crunch. The incentives range from 36- to 60-month payment plans. They are offered on the Matrix, Corolla, Camry, RAV4, Highlander, FJ Cruiser, 4Runner, Sequoia, Sienna, Tacoma and Tundra.

Stocks: This is obvious, of course, with the major sell-off on Wall Street. Many investment experts say now is a good time to buy stocks if you're saving for the long term, such as for your toddler's college, or if you have 10 to 20 years before retirement. Be sure to talk with your financial advisor to help determine which stocks are best for you.

Home projects: I got a coupon in the mail from a carpet cleaning company that offered to clean five rooms for $125. That was nearly $100 less than what I was quoted last year.

If you have other home projects you've put off, such as replacing the windows with energy efficient ones or upgrading your kitchen, do them now. You can find 10-percent-off coupons online for most home improvement stores. These can be used on sale items, too. Just type the store name and the word coupon. For example, you should type “Lowe's and coupons.”

Appliances and home entertainment items: Because of the housing market slowdown, many stores are offering deep discounts on appliances, flat-panel HDTVs, stereos, cameras, DVDs, camcorders and the like. Some stores, such as Best Buy, are offering interest-free payments for up to three years on certain items. That's the same as a free loan.

Perks: Check your local spa for discounts and specials on massages, facials and other treatments. Restaurants are also offering deals. There may be breaks on season tickets to your favorite theater or sports team and your favorite magazine subscription.

Yard sales and consignment shops: during tough times, many people host yard sales to get extra cash. Others take suits and nice clothes to consignment shops for resale. Take time to scour some of these sales one Saturday morning and you could find some major deals.

Other bargains: You can also expect to find deals at flea markets, antique shops, online and live auctions, online classifieds such as Craigslist and eBay.

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