Bargain hunting sale itemsPerhaps you were smart and started your holiday shopping early. The rest of us will be scrambling for gifts at the right price this season. But whether or not you’ll be gift shopping, do you know when to stop looking for the right price?

A recent hunt for a replacement pair of running shoes inspired the question. I tried three different stores, all very different types of business. The first was a local sporting goods business. There I found the perfect pair for my overpronating feet, but the $110 price tag (and annoying staff) turned me off from buying my much loved Asics Gel-1120 on the spot. The second shop was a discount shoe retailer across the street. Everything there looked like it was fresh out of the mid-90’s, not to mention that not one shoe looked capable of withstanding a stroll around the mall. Finally I trekked over to a big-box sports retailer hoping that’s where I’d find a good deal. Each shoe looked like space gear designed by Solid Gold dancers — just imagine shiny, bulky and impractically high-tech.

I walked away from my bargain hunting experience empty handed and with an hour and a half down the drain. Persistent (or stubborn) devil that I am, I tried my luck with online shopping. Glory be to the shopping gods, I found my Asics online for $27 less, and with free shipping. But my size wasn’t available: by then it was now two hours down the drain.

Besides the waste of time, here’s what else gets me:

- Each store, whether brick-and-mortar or online, would have amazing deals on some shoes, but then others that were way overpriced, confirming your suspicion that you should shop around because a better deal may be around the corner.

- You have no idea how long an item may have been on sale, so when you find the item you want at the right price, the size or color you want may be going fast, or already gone. And can you really trust the sales clerk to put a sale item on hold for you? (Having worked in retail, I wouldn’t be so faithful…)

- You’ve got a million other things to do on your to do list; more people to shop for during the holiday season.

So when do you call it quits:

- After an hour of unfruitful store hopping?

- When you realize the price difference isn’t that significant across stores?

Or do you engage in these potentially time-consuming practices:

- Buy the item at the first place you see; do a return / get refund if you find it cheaper elsewhere?

- Force a store to do a price-match offer?

Or do you use a time-saving strategy such as:

- Check all the flyers in the paper before shopping (But who still reads print news?)

- Refer to a website such as Black Friday Ads that compiles all the local flyers?

- Shop online with price comparison websites like Pricegrabber or MySimon?

I’m not exactly sure. My time is valuable to me. Online shopping tends to have better prices, and I can do more efficient price comparisons. But then I can’t try things on or inspect quality like I can when shopping at a brick-and-mortar store. I think from now on two hours is my max for bargain hunting. If I didn’t put some time into finding a good deal, I’d feel bad about my purchase. Bottom line: I want to feel happy with what I bought.

But how about you, dear readers? As always, your ideas are welcome. At what point do you pull the plug on bargain hunting and just buy an item?