3 ways to save big

With the recession wreaking havoc, SALE! signs abound. But a lower price doesn't mean a great deal. Three places to find true steals. Illustrations by Tamara Shopsin.

Hype: Furniture stores are offering screaming bargains now.
Real deal: Mom-and-pop stores

Yes, furniture prices have fallen over the past couple of years. But large chains like Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware still charge big mark-ups. An independently owned retailer has more wiggle room to lower prices. Or head to a furniture maker's factory outlet, where you can save 40% to 70%, says furniture expert Kimberly Causey.
By Donna Rosato, Money Magazine

Hype: Liquidation sales are the place to go for rock-bottom prices.
Real deal: Survivors

Major chains like Circuit City and KB Toys are vanishing. But in the first months of a liquidation sale, stores generally hike prices to the manufacturer's full retail price and discount just 10% from there. So hit the retail rival. To compete, it'll undercut the liquidator by 10% to 30% - and the store will be around if you have a problem with your purchase later on.

Hype: Air fares are falling dramatically as jet-fuel prices come down.
Real deal: Hotels

The best deals in the travel world today aren't from airlines - most of their sales have lots of restrictions and disappear fast - but from hotels. Vacancies are at a 20-year high, according to PKF Consulting. The luxury Fairmont chain, for example, is offering 30%-plus discounts on peak rates, including a night in downtown Chicago for $99. Compare prices at Quikbook.com and look for promotions at hotel websites.