It’s that time of year again. Holiday shopping season is officially upon us. Retailers have dusted off their holiday-themed mixed-CDs, begun designing grandiose Santa Claus displays, and hired additional employees to counterbalance the influx of crowds in the forthcoming months.
For consumers, it can be easy to get carried away by the spirit of gift giving and the stresses of the holiday season. The Better Business Bureau advises consumers to be informed and prepare accordingly when shopping for gifts for your loved ones. The BBB has compiled a list of “Do’s” and “Don’ts” to make holiday shopping easier and more efficient this year.
DO: Make a shopping list and check it twice. Decide how much you want to spend on each person and stay true to it. Take the time to plan and develop a budget for holiday shopping. Then, stick to that budget and keep track of all your purchases. There are smartphone apps which can help you keep track of spending as you shop.
DO: Pay with cash. Consumers spend 30% more when using a credit or debit card versus paying with cash. Paying with cash will help you avoid overspending. Plus, with banks considering the implication of monthly fees for using debit cards, sticking to cash is the best way to keep your money in your own pocket.
DO: Try to use a credit card that gives back. Using cards that offer cash back or rewards points are a great way to save money during the holidays; however, you should only use a credit card if you are able to pay it off before being charged interest on your transactions.
DO: Consider shopping online. Many online retailers offer discounts that are not available in stores. Even if you do not actually buy online, you can successfully do some comparison shopping before you visit a shopping centre - where you will inevitably be bombarded with holiday music, re-routed by children waiting in line to meet Santa Claus, and ultimately slowed by the crowds and line-ups. Basic tips for shopping online include:
DO: Comparison shop. Would you like to get a digital camera for your significant other? Do not just settle for the first one you find. Research and compare the prices offered by various retailers. You may also want to consider searching for coupons and discounts beforehand.
DO: Check your bank and credit statements frequently. Keeping track of all your purchases is the best way to avoid overspending. Additionally, viewing your statements will allow you to see if there have been any suspicious or unauthorized charges to your account.
DO: Consider alternative gifting. Large families can be expensive to buy for. Drawing names for holiday shopping places greater emphasis on the acquisition of one fantastic gift for one fantastic family member. Group gifting is also a possibility. Buying one big gift for the whole family to enjoy, or sharing the cost of a gift with other relatives, is a great way to stay within your budget this holiday season. Alternatively, suggest giving to a charity of your choice in the recipient’s name, or crafting handmade gifts.
DO: Consider making gifts for people on your list. If you are on a strict budget, being creative and making gifts can keep the real meaning of gift giving alive. It is also a great way to spend time with your family while crafting and preparing for the holidays.
DO: Keep receipts and read the fine print on return and exchange policies. It is important to know whether or not a gift can be returned or exchanged, and what the terms and conditions of that exchange will be. This applies when shopping online and in-store. In addition, read online consumer reviews to further inform your buying decisions for both retailers and for the products they offer.
DON’T: Let guilt drive spending. Money does not speak louder than your intentions, so shake it from your system before you hit the stores.
DON’T: Apply for store cards just to get a discount. Do not focus too heavily on discounts. A discount of 30% off sounds especially tempting when you are spending large amounts of money on holiday shopping; however, each time you apply for a store card, it initiates a hard inquiry on your credit report, which could knock your score down a few points. You could be tempted to spend more than you should at one store as well.
DON’T: Impulse buy. You could end up spending more money on gifts. Retail sales clerks may see you with one gift, and try to “up-sell” you another. They might even try to convince you there are products to compliment what you already intend to purchase.
DON’T: Shop with children. Children are a hand-full and shopping with yours could prove to be a distraction. You run the risk of your child being overwhelmed or distracted by the holiday shopping crowd, which could lead to a tantrum or slow you from reaching your gifting goals. Shopping with your child could cause you to impulse buy in order to finish shopping more quickly, distract you from finding the best deals, and cause you to make purchases you had not intended.
DON’T: Wait until the last minute. The less time you have to spend on shopping for that perfect gift, the more likely you spend outside your price range.
DON’T: Shop for yourself. Shopping for yourself is one of the quickest ways to blow your budget, as transactions can add up quickly. Sticking to a shopping list might be tough, but resist the temptation and your bank account will be happy that you did.
DON’T: Open packages. This is especially true for electronic devices. If there is any possibility that you might return or exchange the item, keep it sealed. If the product has been opened, store policy might cite that a return or exchange cannot be possible.
Ultimately, consumers are advised to take your time and exercise caution when shopping for gifts this holiday season. It could mean the difference between surprising a loved one with an extraordinary gift and falling victim to holiday shopping scams.