Smart Shopping During the Holidays—and Anytime!
The gift-giving season is upon us, which means shopping season is too. Now is a good time to think about who's on your gift list and what to get them. Start collecting wish lists, compare what's on them to what's in your budget and start shopping. But first…
In the past, you might have relied on the ads in the Sunday paper to find the best price on the gifts you wanted to buy. That's still a good option, but you can also comparison shop on the internet. You might find lower prices online, but remember—if you have to pay shipping, you might end up paying the same price as you would have at a store. At that point, it's just a matter of convenience. If you think the gift will arrive on time, undamaged and will not be stolen from your front porch, it's far more convenient to order online and avoid the crowds. Then again, the music, decorations and other holiday festivities at stores and malls is part of the holiday excitement for some.
If you prefer to shop in stores instead of online and you have a smartphone, take advantage of coupons you get in your email inbox. Many stores can scan the bar code on coupons in your inbox right from your smartphone. In addition, take advantage of shopping apps. ShopAdvisor is an app that tracks the items you want to buy and sends you an alert when the price drops. There are also bar code scanners that allow you to scan an item's bar code, then tell you where the same item can be found in your area and compare the price for you.
If you decide to shop online, look for free shipping when you can get it and when it makes sense. If you get free shipping on purchases that total more than $50, but you were only planning on spending $25, don't buy more just to get the free shipping.
Gift Card Giving
Sometimes when someone is just impossible to buy for, a gift card may be the best way to go—but be careful! Make sure you don't buy a gift card online unless it's directly from the retailer. If you buy a gift card through an online auction site, they are usually invalid or stolen. In addition, if you buy a gift card from one of the gift card "mall" kiosks you see in many stores, make sure the packaging is intact. MyCreditUnion.gov reports that thieves are writing down gift card codes or using devices to scan the magnetic strip on the back of the card for use at a later date. This could make it worthless to the person using it, unbeknownst to them or to the person who purchased it. If possible, ask the cashier to scan the gift card before you buy it so you know the full amount is available.
Remember, some gift cards expire, and some charge activation fees. Be sure you know these things about the gift card before you buy it. If there are activation fees, you will need to pay them when you buy the card.
Holiday sales are great because they enable you to buy gifts you may not have been able to afford otherwise, and giving someone a gift you know they'll love is part of the fun! Just plan well so you don't go over budget. After all, you don't want to start the new year with a holiday financial hangover.