When heading out for holiday shopping, families often get wrapped up in the excitement of buying for friends and loved ones while forgetting some of the basics of being a savvy consumer. Following are several ideas that can help you make memories instead of accumulating debt through the holiday season:
- Make a list. One of the best ways to avoid overbuying and overspending is making a list of what you plan to buy, for whom you plan to buy, and how much you plan to spend on each gift. Then, carefully cross off each person’s name from your list once the gifts are purchased. It also helps you avoid buying one for them and one for you!
- Budget for all holiday expenses. Include the cost of wrapping paper, shipping or other related costs to packaging your gifts. Also include expenditures for food, travel, decorations and any other related expenses. Be realistic about the amount you can afford to spend.
- Shop holiday sales and compare prices. Many retailers will be offering specials during the holidays to boost sales this year. Keep in mind, however, that sale prices at one store may be higher than the same products at regular price elsewhere. Being informed about prices will help you make informed choices and reduce your overall spending. You may also want to compare online prices and local prices before buying.
- Read ads and purchase terms carefully. Whether shopping online or in person, be sure you understand exactly what you are buying, the warranties, return and refund policies, shipping and delivery costs, and costs or terms associated with the products you are buying. A cheaper price may not always be the best deal.
- Ship early. If you need to mail gifts, start shopping early to ensure you have sufficient time to mail them for the holidays. Waiting until the last minute adds to the costs with extra fees for overnight or express shipping.
- Keep an eye on your valuables. Be careful about flashing cash when out in public and guard your purse or wallet at all times. Women’s purses are especially vulnerable; never leave a purse unattended in a shopping cart. Also, put your purse in the car and lock the doors before unloading your shopping cart or opening your trunk in the parking lot.
- Avoid talking on your cell phone or text messaging while walking through the parking lot; it distracts you from determining if someone is following or watching you.
- Ask for gift receipts. Many retailers offer gift receipts that code the price. Include the gift receipt in the package or keep it handy in case the recipient needs to return the item. Having a gift receipt ensures the recipient receives the same value even when an item goes on sale after your purchase.
- Save your receipts. Most retailers require receipts for returns and exchanges. You should also use them to check credit and debit card sales and return receipts against your monthly statements. Report any problems to the credit card issuer promptly.
- Look for secure sites when shopping online. Before entering your credit or debit card number or any other personal information, be sure you are connected to a secure site. Internet retailers use symbols to indicate a secure site—a website address beginning with “https://” and a closed padlock or unbroken key at the bottom of the program window. If you are uncertain about the site’s security, shop elsewhere.
- Shop with reputable merchants. Whether shopping online or in person, make your purchases with businesses you know and trust. It may be beneficial to pay a little extra to a credible, reliable merchant than make a cheap purchase from a fly-by-night shyster.
Making a spending plan and sticking with it will help diminish emotional choices that can wreck your budget in the coming year.
Happy holidays—and happy shopping!
Sue Lynn Sasser, PhD, is an associate professor of economics at the University of Central Oklahoma.