1. Discount fixation.
Retailers advertise deep discounts to get you to bite. But don't take them at their word without comparing prices. A store's sale price may reflect a markdown from the regular price, but there's no guarantee the manufacturer's suggested retail price isn't actually lower. Think more about the item you're buying.
"The stupidest thing people do is focus more on price than on quality," says Dan de Grandpre, editor-in-chief of Dealnews.com. "Especially on Black Friday. You see really low prices because in many cases it's cheap stuff."
Avoid unfamiliar brands, be wary of the cheap version of name brands and don't go crazy for bogus bargains on footwear, apparel, power tools or anything else, cautions Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at the NPD Group.
2. No budget.
Skipping a holiday spending budget is a surefire way to overspend. Make a list that includes amounts for each person you want to buy a gift for and stick to it. Be sure to create an overall budget that factors in other holiday-related expenses. Without a plan, you'll get caught up in the hype and go for the feel-good purchase.
The American Financial Services Association Education Foundation offers an online worksheet to help you create a holiday spending plan; visithttp://www.afsaef.org/HolidaySpending.cfm. Besides planning your gift list, it helps you track spending on decorations, cards, travel and entertaining.
3. Debit dangers.
Debit cards carry the advantage of taking money from your account and not saddling you with future payments. But using them on big items is risky because they don't offer the purchase protections that credit cards do. For instance, if you fail to report any misuse of your bank account within two days, you may be liable for the first $500 billed to your debit card instead of the first $50.
If you have a problem with a purchase you made on a debit card, you may eventually get your money back. But it will be much more trouble and take longer than if a credit card had been used, according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
4. Return policy missteps.
Tossing away receipts can be costly. Their obvious value is for exchanges or returns, but there's another plus too: If the price is lowered after you buy an item, a receipt should enable you to get a credit for the difference. Be aware that return policies are changing, however, and retailers are increasingly refusing some returns or giving gift cards for the amount in question. Certain stores are particularly diligent about tracking returns. If your credit card shows you return items too often, you may be stuck, according to de Grandpre. Also make sure you understand a website's return policy if you're shopping online.
5. Being low-tech.
Smart phones are changing how we shop. Scores of consumers are following their favorite brands and retailers on social networking sites likes Twitter and Facebook, and retailers are taking full advantage. It's much easier for businesses to launch and retract deals online where matching inventory with demand is less of a challenge. Coupons and last-minute offers can arrive as e-mail alerts or through social network accounts. Smart phone apps like Coupon Sherpa also provide in-the-moment help. It enables iPhone users to search coupons by category or store name, and find the nearest location. According to Deloitte Research, nearly one in five shoppers plans to use a cell phone during the shopping process.
6. Extended warranties.
Here's when to buy an extended warranty, says Greg Daugherty, executive editor of Consumer Reports: "Basically never." The manufacturer's warranty should protect you against any defect for up to a year, and the cost of protection beyond that generally isn't worth it. Instead of wasting anywhere from tens to hundreds of dollars on an extended warranty, put some extra cash in your emergency fund to help cover possible repairs or replacements.
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