Julia Scott has negotiated for discounts on clothes, hotel rooms, jewelry, even photocopies and pizza slices.
On Sunday, the consummate bargain hunter staged a Frugal Festival to celebrate the art of penny-pinching. By the looks of the crowd that gathered at Woodley Park in Van Nuys for the event, Scott has company these days.
About 300 people showed up to snap up coupons, exchange ideas on saving money and swap free items.
It may not have been so hip to clip coupons or brag about how little was spent on a cute dress in the go-go 1990s, when unrestrained spending was in vogue.
"Frugality gets a bad name because people associate it with cheap," Scott, 31, said. "It's not. It's really about making savvy financial decisions so you can reach your goals."
Today, driven by either necessity or anxiety over the recession, more people are cutting corners and flocking to coupon websites such as Savings.com and Goldstar.com. They're also scouring for money-saving tips from websites such as Scott's BargainBabe.com. The 6-month-old site has gotten so much traction that Scott is launching an offshoot, BargainBabeLA.com, for hot local deals.
Scott, who quit her job as a reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News to write a syndicated column on bargain hunting, has amassed a following since the recession began more than 18 months ago. One of the fans is 7-year-old Serena Kropp, who started a business in January selling lanyards after her mother was laid off from her job as a quality-assurance software manager.
"She wanted to help support the family," explained said Serena's mother, Teresa Kropp. Mother and daughter came to the Frugal Festival to pick up more ideas for saving money, and Serena looked as if she hit the jackpot when she excitedly showed her mother a way to organize the family's coupons.
Kropp is among a generation growing up in a recession and learning their financial lessons, said Neal Frankle, a certified financial planner from Agoura Hills who was donating 15-minute consultations at the event.
"I believe this economy will have a generational impact," Frankle said.
When Frankle took his family to a Dodger game on Saturday, his 18-year-old daughter declined to buy a $9 slice of pizza, saying it was too expensive.
"That's something that would have never happened a year ago," he said. "It's definitely shifted the decisions my daughter makes."
Frankle's daughter could have used some advice from Scott, who recently managed to talk her way into a discount on two slices of pizza.
The vendor was having difficulty selling his pizza at an event in a park for $3 a slice. Scott offered $5 for three. She ended up getting two for $5.
Scott, who said she succeeds in getting discounts 10% to 25% of the time, offers five tips for sweet-talking merchants into a bargain.
* Be friendly and respectful. "Being a jerk doesn't work," Scott said.
* Do your research. Bring a printout of a cheaper offer from a competing merchant and make an offer.
* Go when the store isn't busy. Merchants are more willing and able to negotiate when there aren't a lot of customers around.
* Seek out the store manager. Clerks often don't have the authority to grant discounts, but managers are more likely to.
* If they decline, ask for something else, such as free installation or an extended warranty.
Scott offers a bonus tip: "Just ask. You'll never get a discount if you don't ask."