Best Bargains

Best Look for Less

Willing to be a bit of a guinea pig? Get your hair cut for $5.50 by students at the Fairview Beauty Academy (440-734-5555) in Fairview Park. Go all out with a $10 manicure, $20 pedicure, $10 facial, $20 updo or $5.25 shampoo and set (mostly for the gray-and-curly crowd). Walk-ins only. Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Best Happy Hours

It's not just cheap beer anymore. Today's happiest hours feature everything from free sushi to cheap martinis. Here's a guide to five of our favorites:

Alfonso's: Cleveland, (216) 252-1594; Middleburg Heights, (440) 845-9610. All drinks for 99 cents from noon to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday; half-price apps during that same time. All-you-can-eat pasta Tuesday nights for $5.99 for adults and 99 cents for kids.

Century at The Ritz-Carlton, Cleveland, downtown, (216) 623-1300. It's a high-class happy hour with free sushi on Thursdays from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

Jillian's Billiard Club, the Flats, (216) 575-0300. You'll have to wait till next summer, but every Friday, from Memorial Day through Labor Day, a Labatt Blue draft costs whatever the temperature is from 5 to 9 p.m. Prices were low all this summer, with an 80-cent peak. But volume was high, with a record 3,966 ounces one Friday. There are half-price apps, too.

Liquid at Fusion, downtown, (216) 479-7717. Half-price drinks Monday through Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. Not only the place to drink, but the place to be seen.

Morton's, The Steakhouse, downtown, (216) 621-6200. Free tenderloin sandwiches seven nights a week from 5 to 7 p.m. Wash 'em down with a $4 martini (normally $12) during those same hours on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Best Bidding

Young people may be surprised to learn that eBay didn't invent auctions. To prove it, we attended a real-life, live auction at a small house in Northfield, where we found retro household goods, furniture and collectibles — at bargain prices. To scout out other auctions, simply check out the classifieds in your local paper.

Given that we're auction newbies, we asked around for tips. Pick out what you'll bid on at the preview (bring paper to take notes) and observe the bidding for a while before jumping in. Plan to spend several hours at the auction (bring your own chair if it's at a home), since the items you're interested in may take a while to come up for bid and prices will be lower later in the day.

Our insiders said that attending an auction at a home is usually a better bet for variety of merchandise, entertainment value and potential bargains. Auction-hall owners, we were warned, often seed the audience with members of their staff to drive up bidding. Plus, Ohio law exempts merchandise sold at a temporary place of business from state sales tax.

So what'd we find? A wooden swivel-tilt office chair for $25, an old-fashioned sewing machine for $25 and a cedar chest for $30 — and those were the most expensive items.

For what will you haggle?

As suspected, 82 percent of our respondents bargain for cars. What's more surprising is that 48 percent will haggle for hotel rooms, 39 percent for furniture, 33 percent for appliances and 32 percent for jewelry. The lesson? Don't be the sap who pays full price.

But how does one go about it? "The first trick to haggling is always ask," says Steve Rosen. "You get a better deal more often than you don't." Rosen, a Beachwood resident and owner of Cleveland-based Business Sounds on Hold, once bought a $4,000 hot tub for $1,000 — and returned two other hot tubs that weren't quite as great a deal. He once saw a $600 fireplace on clearance for $250, asked for a better price and paid $100.

"Most people are afraid to ask and so they don't. They feel: 'This is Circuit City, this is Best Buy, this is Sam's Club, their prices are fixed, they can't lower the price.' Well, that's not true." Any store with a lowest-price guarantee has room to adjust prices, Rosen figures. If a salesman can't do it, ask a manager. Often, they'll give you about 10 percent off, maybe more. "There's something of a rush that you get from it," Rosen adds.

Ask a Retiree

Which restaurant offers the best value for early birds?

Rose Marie Kocsis, a retired secretary, and six of her friends have been visiting restaurants before 6:30 p.m. for the past eight years. Each Wednesday night, you can find them at a different eatery in or around Parma. Among the best for food, service, prices and atmosphere are Piper's Three (440-526-5454) in Broadview Heights, Carrie Cerino's (440-237-3434) in North Royalton, and Kocsis's personal favorite, Bucci's Brick Oven (440-888-9800) in Middleburg Heights. "The food is excellent," she says. "They have nice portions and we never finish them."

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