Don't be afraid to deal and save

When it comes to saving a dollar, there are some budgeting tips that we're happy to embrace and others that are an absolute no-go zone.

When it comes to saving a dollar, there are some budgeting tips that we're happy to embrace and others that are an absolute no-go zone.

Take the discount voucher. Some of us have no problem pulling a swifty at the cash register and claiming some money off. Others would rather listen to fingernails being scraped continuously down a blackboard.

Perhaps you wouldn't be caught in your coffin in second-hand clothes. Or you buck against having a home that smells of eau de vinegar. Or maybe bargaining anywhere other than Bali seems a bridge too far.

The money-saving tips that we accept or reject have a lot to do with how we think our behaviour will be perceived by others.

Cultural influences have a bearing, as do family habits, time and, ultimately, whether we believe the effort is worth the reward.

With that in mind, we asked three people to name a favourite money-saving tip and the point at which they would have to draw the line.

Newcastle University student Heenal Patel, 28, can't get enough of deal websites. As with many deal devotees, she uses them to snap up life's little luxuries, such as discounted haircuts, beauty treatments and restaurant dinners.

This month she hit a new deal-hunting high when she snaffled a new Nissan Almera Ti via the Living Social website.

"It's worth about $23,500, if I go and buy it straight out, and I'm getting it for 40 per cent off," she says. "I don't think I could ask for more. I'm driving a car from the 1980s at the moment."

As a 30-deal veteran, the part-time personal trainer and weight-loss consultant has learnt to do her homework before plonking her money down. A deal for a shellac manicure turned a bit sour when the nail technician went on holidays as the deal was posted and wasn't prepared for the influx of business when she returned.

Patel now looks at how a business is reviewed online, and she doesn't pursue discounts at all costs. When she finds a business she likes, she's happy to return as a full-paying customer.

No-go zone? Patel thinks it's demeaning to ask someone, particularly a health professional, for a discount.

"If a business is offering a service for a price, they've put it there for a reason. If you're not happy with their price, go to someone else who is offering it for less."

Asking for a discount doesn't bother Elizabeth Ball in the slightest. She has a long list of how it has helped keep costs down as she and her partner, Andrew, renovate their two-bedroom bungalow in Melbourne.

Coached by Andrew, who works as a retail manager, she regularly asks retailers for a discount on the last day of the month.

"That is when they have to meet their monthly targets or sometimes it's units they need to shift of a certain category line."

Their ask-and-you-shall-receive approach has also nabbed discounts from retailers they deal with regularly, such as E&S Trading. It matched another retailer's price and sold them a sink and a rangehood for under cost price.

Ball also stood her ground when she travelled across Melbourne in peak-hour traffic to claim a 20 per cent VIP discount on pendant lights, only to find that she wasn't on the A-list.

"I thought that by being on their newsletter list, you were automatically a VIP customer," she says, adding that she still secured the discount and the lights.

Their piece de resistance? A $2100 saving on their Masters kitchen, secured by cutting out the middleman mark-up for Caesarstone and using a stonemason.

The couple target retailers who are willing to negotiate and deal with the most senior salesperson. If they can't secure a discount, the next-best outcome is wangling free delivery or installation.

No-go zone? Homemade cleaning products. "I've tried some of those home-cleaning remedies like dipping half a lemon in rock salt and rubbing it over the bath to clean it, and it just made this big mess," she says.

If there was such a thing as an "I lemons" bumper sticker, Jody Allen's car would probably be sporting one.

The 38-year-old mother of two finds lots of uses for the lemons that grow on her Queensland farm, and many are about keeping her place spick and span.

A lemon came to the rescue when she started using bicarbonate of soda and vinegar instead of tablets (they cost 50 cents each) in her dishwasher. "I would cut a lemon in half and pop it in the dishwasher and it made my dishes sparkle and my dishwasher didn't smell icky any more," she says.

She also uses them to get rid of mould stains on clothing and with bicarbonate of soda as a cleanser substitute.

It's a love affair with low-cost homemade cleaning remedies that was born out of necessity, after she was made redundant when she was on maternity leave.

"We were financially doing it really tough. By the time we paid all our bills, we had only $50 a week left to spend on groceries."

It forced her to embrace the kind of lifestyle her grandmother might have lived - growing food in the vegetable patch, cooking at home and bartering with family and neighbours.

"At first it felt so mean, but then I really started to enjoy the lifestyle," Allen says.

She now encourages others to do the same through her website Stay at Home Mum and estimates her DIY cleaning products reduce her grocery bill by 25 per cent.

No-go zone: Buying perishables in bulk. Buying five kilograms of zucchinis for $4 may have its attractions, but not when they turn to mush in the fridge.

Allen may love the versatile lemon, but there are only so many zucchinis one family can stomach.

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