Isn't it always the way that when you're trying to save a bit of money or struggling to stick to your monthly budget, one of your essential appliances gives up the ghost?
If your fridge has decided to call it a day or your washing machine has spun its last cycle, you may be reluctantly shopping around for a replacement (if it's not practical or worthwhile to get it repaired, of course).
But rather than head straight to the bargain-basement budget buys that aren't as likely to go the distance (and perhaps won't perform as well as you need them to), there are some clever ways you can keep costs down when buying new appliances without sacrificing on quality or performance. CHOICE experts have shared a few tips that may help your dollars go a bit further.
From smart ovens with Bluetooth compatibility to auto-dosing washing machines or Bluetooth-speaker-equipped fridges – no matter what kind of appliance you're buying, you'll likely be presented with an array of fancy features which are undoubtedly adding extra dollars to the price tag.
Paying more for high-tech features is only worth it if you're actually going to use them, or if they genuinely affect the performance of the product. If you're trying to save money, it's best to stick to the basics. Decide on the features that are your 'must haves' and the ones that are nice but possibly not worth paying more for.
CHOICE's head of Research and Testing, Matthew Steen recommends buying the base model if you're trying to save money on a new appliance. "Often washers, dishwashers and dryers have 'families' of models and they can all be essentially the same, with some models having additional features or programs that are given different model numbers."
"Buying the base model gets you the product that matters. You may lose out on some features but you'll still likely get the same quality of performance and lifetime as the fancy expensive version of the same model," he says.
Similarly, you don't always need the latest and greatest model of fridge, vacuum cleaner or washing machine. Often, previous models that have been superseded by the latest version will be available at a discounted price - and they may be almost identical, give or take a few features or upgrades.
This can be especially true with electronics such as TVs and appliances such as premium stick vacuum cleaners.
"There's no real downside to buying last year's model from certain TV brands," says CHOICE tech expert Denis Gallagher. "The 'smarts' in smart TVs have progressed to the point where the features on offer for a 2023 TV will still be available on a 2022 or 2021 TV through a software update."
Denis recommends looking closely at the model numbers and 'product codes' - find out more of his tips: how to buy a bargain TV.
There's no real downside to buying last year's model from certain TV brandsCHOICE tech expert, Denis Gallagher
And if you desperately need a new stick vacuum cleaner but you have your heart set on a high-end Dyson, CHOICE expert Adrian Lini also advises looking at older models: "The newer Dyson stick vacuums have some upgraded features, such as a new head attachment specifically designed for hard floors and unique particle detection technology, however if you have mostly carpets, many of the older and cheaper models are still a good buy and are often on sale."
This doesn't apply across the board though, so it's a great idea to check CHOICE reviews before you opt for an older discounted model. Selecting 'discontinued models' on the bottom left filter of our product finders will show you how a plethora of superseded and discontinued models performed. Even if you're buying the latest and greatest model, you might want to check how it performs compared to the old one it's replacing.
We say it all the time, but the most expensive products aren't always the best, and sometimes while reviewing different appliances in the CHOICE labs, we find that cheaper products can perform just as well as – or ever better than – the pricier big brands.
This is often the case when we test kitchen appliances such as air fryers, food processors, stand mixers and blenders.
It's always worth doing your research – the most expensive product isn't always the best.
"In our recent review of stand mixers, where we score models based on their performance and how easy they are to use, a stand mixer from Kogan that costs $100 scored just one percentage point less than a $749 Kitchenaid Mixer," says CHOICE kitchen expert, Fiona Mair.
"Checking CHOICE reviews before you buy may reveal a cheaper brand that performs well that you may not have considered before."
CHOICE tech expert, Alex Angove-Plumb, says this is also important to remember when buying tech products: "We regularly find when reviewing laptops and other tech that cheaper products can outperform pricier ones - just don't expect a budget tech buy to top any tests. Keep in mind when considering features that just because a laptop is more expensive, doesn't mean it's the right choice for you".
Checking CHOICE reviews before you buy may reveal a cheaper brand that performs well that you may not have considered beforeCHOICE kitchen expert, Fiona Mair
Alex also advises ignoring marketing buzzwords when researching different products. "When shopping for tech, it's important to look at good-quality reviews such as those at CHOICE that cut through the jargon and can let you know how well something actually works."
"A lot of computer tech gets marketed with relatively meaningless buzzwords such as 'gaming' this or 'HD' that. But, to use those examples, 'gaming' sometimes just means 'has shiny LEDs' and 'HD' indicates a screen is at least 720p, which is sub-par by modern standards.
"By the same token, a '4K' display or TV has a decent number of pixels, but that's no guarantee of image quality or viewing experience," says Alex.
Once you've done your research and know the list of brands and products you're interested in, head online and visit a range of retailers to compare prices.
While shopping online gives you the advantage of easily comparing prices with a few clicks, it does make it trickier to ask for discounts. Some retailers offer online price matching, however it may be worth heading in store (armed with all your online research of course) to directly ask a salesperson for their best price.
Whether or not this is effective will depend on what kind of appliance you are shopping for, and even the time of year. A salesperson will likely be more keen to move old stock around the end of the financial year, for example, or if new models are about to be released. But it never hurts to ask.
This is especially true if you're buying a mattress. "CHOICE has been buying mattresses for years for our tests and we've found many retailers have a lot of room to move when it comes to price," CHOICE expert Peter Zalzuny explains.
"Sales are pretty frequent too, so there's really no reason to pay the recommended retail price for a mattress.
"If you're confident and have done your research, you can usually shave a decent amount off the price tag by haggling. Just ask them 'what's the best price you can do?' and go from there."
Discounts when shopping online
But what about shopping online? You may be able to pick up a discount by doing a quick search for promo codes. Many retailers offer discounts and promo codes for their newsletter subscribers, to certain automotive club or health fund members, or tied to a sale or special occasion, and there are a number of sites and apps that will share them with you. It can be a bit hit and miss, but an online search costs you nothing, and you can often net yourself a sizable saving for a few minutes of your time.
Before you buy anything, ensure you're clear on what comes with the product and if anything extra is needed for installation once it is delivered. CHOICE product researcher Christine Shaday has ordered and researched many products in her time at CHOICE and her advice is: "Always try to get free delivery and installation on new appliances, and get them to take away the old appliance."This will save you spending any extra money or time disposing of your old appliance. This is particularly important for large appliances such as fridges, which you'll struggle to fit in a car, or even carry on your own.
It's no use picking up a cheaper fridge, washing machine or dryer if it's an energy or water guzzler that's going to cost you more over its lifetime in energy bills.
"Your fridge is responsible for around 8% of your total household energy consumption so opting for an efficient fridge will translate to big savings in the long run," says CHOICE expert, Ashley Iredale.
If you are buying a medium-sized fridge for example (381-450L), we've calculated running costs for various models and found that the difference from one model to the next can run into the hundreds of dollars over a 10-year period.
The same goes for washing machines. Some of the top-loaders that scored the lowest in our washing machine reviews are not only water-wasting culprits, they also have some of the highest energy costs, which means that even if you pick up a cheap deal at the check-out, it'll likely cost you later.
When buying a new appliance, either in store or online, it's common to be 'upsold' an extended warranty that is framed as extra protection for you in case your product fails.
Many extended warranties don't offer good value for money.
But stop before you drop that cash, as these extended warranties are often no more than a sneaky sales tactic. Ask the salesperson, or read the fine print, and find out what guarantees it gives you above and beyond what you are already entitled to under Australian Consumer Law.
Otherwise, you're paying for rights you already have - in some cases, these warranties actually offer fewer rights than your consumer guarantees.
For example, if you buy a $2000 TV, the salesperson may try to sell you an extended warranty that guarantees you a free repair if your TV becomes faulty within a specified time period, such as three to five years after you bought it.
But under existing consumer law, you're already entitled to a free repair, replacement or refund – the choice should be yours – if your TV develops a major fault within the first few years after purchase. Find out more about what happened when we investigated the sale of extended warranties at some of Australia's largest retailers.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.