Home Improvement Stores — Buying Guide

How, when and why to shop and save at Sears, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Menard’s and Ace:

In general, the big stores that specialize in home improvement are great resources to save a lot of money on big-ticket items for the home, especially major appliances, lawn and garden equipment and home repair/remodeling products. They’re knowledge and selection are superior to big box stores like Walmart and Target, with wider brand selection and very competitive seasonal pricing. For everyday home items and decor, big box and other niche stores tend to offer better selection, and over-all savings.

Home improvement stores (especially Sears and Menard’s) also compete with Amazon, Ebay and Overstock on the big-ticket item prices and on savings for many smaller seasonal items, including cordless power tools/kits. To assure over-all savings, spring shoppers can capitalize on general seasonal discounts, like Home Depot’s bi-annual $5 off $50 deal, Menards 11% off everything rebate, Lowes 5% off everything credit offer, Sears Bonus Days 15% off +5% cash back and Ace Hardware $10 off $100. Many big home improvement stores (see Sears above) also participate in cash back sales on FatWallet (and at sister site Ebates) during special spring Home and Garden promotions that align with current sales, offering smart consumers an edge on getting even more savings by simply clicking through these rewards portals.

Local Tip:

It’s true, the bigger national stores can offer some excellent discounts based on carrying huge inventory, but there can be benefits supporting your smaller local/private hardware stores. For example, on select items, some local hardware stores will match prices if you ask. Also, many local stores carry a generic discount brand of everyday hardware items that compete with the big store prices. Plus, most local hardware stores hire experienced craftsman that can help you problem solve DIY projects. They also keep a big list of contacts and recommendations for finding a good local handyman, maintenance services and private contractors.

What TO Buy:

Hardware and Building Materials: Nuts, bolts, screws, nails, hinges, knobs, etc. can be purchased in bulk at home improvement stores with some of the lowest prices available, anywhere. This includes a vast list of building materials. Home improvement stores also offer considerable customer service knowledge to help you configure and purchase all the right hardware and materials for most DIY projects, whether your in-store, or purchasing online for delivery.

Coatings: House paint, primers and deck coatings are priced very competitively at home improvement stores and the brands they carry usually include mail-in-rebates that can save shoppers an additional $5–30 on multiple style, colors and quality levels. Plus, home improvement stores have color matching systems that are very efficient, and free.

Major Appliances: Refrigerators, ranges, dishwashers and washer-dryer and sets get offered at 10–40% off during seasonal sales throughout the year, usually with free delivery and haul-away from most home improvement stores.

Power Tools, Kits and Tool Storage: Power tools and multi-tool kits see some of the best prices anywhere at home improvement stores, especially during peak holiday sales and Father’s Day sales. This includes tool storage products such as garage cabinets, roller tool boxes and sheds. Tool kits often include exclusive bonus items that aren’t offered with kits from other stores and additional savings via limited-time rebates from top name-brand purchases. And the big home improvement stores return/exchange policies and processes are made to be very convenient.

Home Lighting: Exterior lighting prices are some of the best available at home improvement stores, and interior lighting pricing is excellent for permanent fixtures, including ceiling fans. Although, other home decor lighting like free-standing lamps and decorative home lighting options can be quite limited at home improvement stores for both options and style. Prices and selection on bulbs are very competitive with big box and Amazon, and often cheaper purchased in bulk.

Patio/Outdoor Living: The sales and selection on grills, patio furniture and accessories rival most big box stores, although premium quality patio items should be purchased at a specialty outdoor store. Most home improvement stores include free local delivery, assembly and haulaway, with assembly being a key selling point (especially if you’ve ever tackled putting a grill or patio furniture set together, all by yourself).

Lawn and Garden: For the DIY lawn person, items like mulch, pavers, fertilizers, seed, and annual plants are sold with exceptional seasonal discounts at home improvement stores. As well, so are garden tools, hoses and watering tools where many prices even compete with Amazon. Heavy equipment pricing on mowers, snowblowers, cultivators and wireless yard tools are some of the best available, especially at Sears.

What NOT to Buy:

Landscaping Plants: Although seasonal sales at home improvement stores can be really good for some plant pricing, the quality can be hit or miss, especially trees and bushes. These items, which can last a lifetime, are often a smarter purchase from a qualified nursery or landscaping specialists. Annuals, on the other hand, if fresh, are usually a better buy for your budget from home improvement stores, but buying early is key for best results, and selection.

Home Decor: Rugs, furniture, picture frames, wall art, etc. are limited and often “cheap” in quality but not cheap in price unless on clearance at home improvement stores, and the selection tends to be basic and limited for style, as well.

Cleaning Products: Although selection of cleaning supplies and tools may often be better at home improvement stores, average prices for home cleaning products are usually a little better at big box stores, unless you can apply a store member discount.

Small Kitchen Appliances: Inventory and brand selection is usually limited at home improvement stores, as is often the quality and prices. Best bet is to shop big box during big holiday discounting for these items when prices can be tremendously low, especially Black Friday deals.

Consumer Electronics: Let’s just say for most items, this isn’t where you want to go to buy consumer electronics for a number of reasons, including quality, selection and especially price. Unless you’re looking for something to get you by because you’re capitalizing on the fact that you’re in-store, or have a rewards card and are getting a seasonal discount. The one exception would be Sears, which carries many major consumer electronics brands, including Apple, Samsung and others.

Automotive Tools: Most big home improvement stores do not carry high-quality brand or specialty automotive tools (Sears, again is the exception with their coveted Craftsman Tool line). These stores will carry some automotive tools and general automotive products, if you’re in a pinch, but usually over-priced for the value.

Store Benefits:

Sears: Although Sears generally doesn’t sell a vast selection of hardware and building materials, they compete in pricing for most items home improvement stores sell and are the most competitive for tools and automotive products. Sears also has an expanded family of products and services like Sears Home Services (discounts on home repair, maintenance and cleaning), Sears Outlet (20–75% off big-ticket home items on clearance) and PartsDirect (discounts and repair guides for over 8 million parts for name brand home products, filters and appliances).

Ace Hardware: Ace Rewards allows members to build up points for modest savings over time, but also offers access to member discounts on select products.

Lowe’s: Offers credit card that allows user 2 options for the majority of purchases, 1- 5% off or 2–6 mo. 0% financing. Great tactic for buying big-ticket items during seasonal sales ahead of tax returns or bonuses. Lowe’s also includes in-store gift card incentives on big-ticket purchases in the form of marlin-rebates.

Menard’s: Offers a bi-annual 11% rebate (mail-in) on everything you buy (for limited time) each spring and fall.

HomeDepot: has a bi-annual coupon of $5 off $50 or $10 off $100 that, combined with cash back, is one of the hottest deals in the fat wallet forums. Plus, HomeDepot gives out a 10% “movers” discount through local post office which can combine with veterans and seniors discounts.

Rebates:

Home Depot and Lowes also have a handy Rebate Center online offering one time rebates on remodeling/building materials and appliances up to $800. Sears has both appliance rebates and automotive parts and tires rebates and Menard’s and Ace Hardware offer rebates, too. This is a good place to start before making big purchases on building materials and major appliances as you can save $100s on purchases that have an eligible rebate. All have similar features on their sites asking shoppers to choose your product category and enter your zip code, or enter model/SKU # and then search. The majority of these rebates are tied to federal tax-credits, especially if they are Energy-Star approved products.