It’s the time of the year to be generous. We all want to buy those perfect gifts.
But in the age of easy credit, perfect can be the enemy of the good. The bills can really sting in the new year.
How do you avoid this nasty dilemma? Here are few great tips from The Consumer Federation of America:
Make a List 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. 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!
Shop Around: You can easily save 10%, 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.
Be Wary of Scams: 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.
Receipts are Really Important: Whether buying online or in-store, keep all receipts—they are 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. You can also receive receipts via email, which are easier to store and track.
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.
Don’t Get Wrapped Up in Debt: Avoid borrowing money for holiday gift giving. If you use a credit, 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. Remember, you get free credit, but only if you pay in full within a monthly grace period.
Cash Counts: 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.
Don’t Let Cyberthieves Steal Your Christmas: Identity thieves love unsecured wireless networks—so only connect to networks that require a security key or certificate. Don’t make transactions in stores, restaurants or coffee shops.
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.
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 a another company. These programs typically charge $10 to $15 a month and the rigmarole to cancel can be a hassle.
Note: Cashiers in stores are particularly aggressive in signing you up for special deals and store credit cards when you check out. Avoid them. The cards generally charge the highest interest rates.