Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Holiday Shopping on a Budget

Make a list and set a budget. List the people you plan to buy gifts for, the type of gifts you plan to buy, and how much you plan to spend. Include the cost of cash gifts, holiday travel, extra food, wrappings, decorations, greeting cards, and postage. If it relates to the holiday season and it costs money, add it to your budget.

Shop around. A “sale” price isn’t always the “best” price. Some merchants may offer a sale price on the item you want for a limited time; other merchants may offer items at a discount everyday.

Look for price-matching policies. Some merchants will match, or even beat, a competitor’s prices.

Go online. Check out websites that compare prices. If you decide to buy from an online merchant, keep shipping costs and delivery time in mind.

Carefully consider bargain offers that are based on purchases of additional merchandise. For example, “Buy One, Get One Free” or “Free Gift with Purchase.” If you don’t really want or need the item, it’s not a deal.

Clip coupons. Coupons are useful when they save you money on what you’re already planning to buy. Check coupons for any restrictions. For example, do expiration dates apply, or do you have to spend a certain amount before you can use the coupon? Some retailers will accept expired coupons, and even coupons from their competitors. Check with the retailer before you leave home to learn their policy.

Ask about sale adjustments. If you buy an item at regular price and it goes on sale the next week, can you get a credit or refund for the discounted amount?

Consider layaway. Layaway purchase plans are designed for people who want to buy merchandise without using credit or paying the full price immediately. When you use layaway, you typically make a deposit – usually a percentage of the purchase price – and pay over time until you have paid for the item in full. In exchange, the retailer holds the merchandise for you. To avoid problems, get the store’s layaway policy in writing.

Keep an eye on your wallet. Don’t flash cash. Keep an eye on your credit or debit card during transactions, and get them back as quickly as possible. If your cards are lost or stolen, report the loss or theft immediately to the card issuers.

Use credit and debit cards with care. Save your receipts. You need them for returns and exchanges. Check credit and debit card sales and return receipts against your monthly bills and statements, and report any problems to the credit card issuer promptly.

Ask about refund and return policies. Many merchants may have different refund and return policies for sale items. For example, clearance merchandise may be on final sale, meaning no refunds or exchanges.

Keep good records. Whether you’re ordering by mail, phone, or online, it’s important to keep detailed information about the transaction, including your order number, shipping costs and dates, warranties, and refund and return policies.

Ship early. If you’re sending gifts to out-of-towners, factor in extra time for shipping. If you wait until the last minute, you may pay a hefty price for express or overnight shipping.

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