Black Friday and Cyber Monday has come and gone, but nearly a month remains of the Christmas shopping season. The early birds may have bought, wrapped and mailed all of their gifts by now, but many of us still haven’t set foot in a store. So I offer these consumer tips — courtesy of consumerreports.org and the National Retail Federation — in the spirit of the holiday shopping season:
- Make a list and check it twice. Write down the names of everyone on your gift list, the naughty and the nice, and how much you plan to spend on their gifts.
Creating a list helps you budget your holiday expenses, reduces the chance you’ll forget someone, and makes it easier to find ways to save money by making the best use of stores’ buy-one-get-one-free offers.
- Surf the Net before you visit the store. Go online and check out the websites and Facebook pages of your favorite retailers to see what specials they offer.
- Sign up to receive e-mails from retailers. They often contain special offers and coupons.
- If you know exactly what you are buying someone, price the item at two or more online sites before heading to the store. It can save you time and gas money.
- Shop the night before a sale begins. Many stores program their registers each evening for the next day, so a sale price might come up if you shop after 6 p.m. even if the sale price isn’t posted yet.
- Ask a sales associate about any upcoming sales, especially on big-ticket items
- Don’t get distracted. Stores entice you with “doorbuster” specials, especially on TVs and other electronic items. If that’s what you want, don’t let the salesperson steer you toward a more expensive item. If you are looking for a better quality TV or computer, however, know that the higher-priced ones might have more wiggle room for negotiation.
- Check the store’s return policy. Not only do return policies differ from store to store, they also might also be different this time of year. Some items purchased during Black Friday weekend might not be returnable, or have a shortened return period. Also, ask whether a store has a restocking fee.
- Don’t park in the dark. If shopping after 5 p.m., make sure you park in a well-lighted area of the parking lot. Keep the items you bought in the trunk of the car and out of sight. If you drive a hatchback, cover your purchases with a blanket.