With Black Friday as just the beginning, retailers are flooding the airwaves, internet, and newspapers with “deals.” To help consumers get through the holiday spending season, Jack Gillis, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America, offers 10 tips top to help shoppers make good choices and keep from overspending.
1. Make a list: Decide how much you can spend this holiday and stick to it. When you make your list, include an amount for each person and, if you know what you’re getting them, what you expect to pay for the item. Adding your list up at the kitchen table can be an eye opener – so make adjustments early rather than when you’re running through the stores or typing on your keyboard. And when you’re shopping, keep a running total of your spending – it’s amazing how keeping tabs on your total will protect your wallet as it fills with receipts!
2. Shop around: You can easily save 10 percent, or considerably more, by comparing prices. When shopping around online, be sure you purchase from a secure site, review receipts for accuracy, and be mindful of shipping costs. If free shipping is available with a minimum purchase, be sure the additional items are really needed and don’t put you way over the “free shipping” requirement.
3. Don’t give scammers your money: If you see a popular item online for much less than the typical price, beware – it could be from a fraudster. That amazing deal may simply be a way to get your credit card information. Stick with companies you know and steer clear of email and social network offers from unfamiliar sellers – they could be scammers who will take your money and run.
4. Keep receipts: Whether buying online or in-store, keep all receipts – they’re gold. Without a receipt, retailers will usually refund the item’s current price, not what you actually paid. And if you find an item cheaper elsewhere, many retailers will match the lower price, but only if you have the receipt.
5. Avoid extra treats: When shopping online, be careful of additional “suggested” items based upon your purchases. Your savings after searching for the best price can evaporate when you buy the extras that pop up as you check out.
6. Don’t get wrapped up in debt: Avoid borrowing money for holiday gift giving. Remember, the old adage – it’s the thought that counts – not the cost. If you use a credit card, rather than debit card, be sure you know the day your payment is due so that high interest charges don’t evaporate the great buys you made.
7. Use cash: To avoid overspending, consider paying with cash. Surveys show we spend more when using a credit card – doling out the “green” is a great way to limit your spending.
8. Don’t let identity thieves steal your Christmas: Identity thieves love unsecured wireless networks – so only connect to networks that require a security key or certificate. If you use a wireless connection at home, be sure that the security features are turned on and set your own password, rather than use the default password.
9. Ask about returns: Before checking out, double check return policies and time limits. Some retailers will let you return online purchases to their stores to avoid return shipping charges, others actually provide free return labels.
10. Checkout with care: Watch out for “savings” coupons and clubs when checking out – you may be signing up for a monthly program and your credit or debit card number could be transferred to another company. These programs usually charge $10 to $15 a month and what’s needed to cancel can be a hassle.
Good luck. With good planning and follow through, you’ll be able to keep your holiday spending in line.