December 25th is less than three weeks away, so if you haven’t finished your Christmas shopping yet, you might want to get going. But quickly and carelessly browsing and buying at the store can cost you time, money, and more. Keep these shopping tips in mind to make sure you don’t end up saying, “Bah, humbug” to the whole holiday season.
1. Know the rules
Putting a purchase on layaway can ensure that you get what you want without having to pay for it before you get it. But many retailers are getting more stringent on their layaway policies, and imposing fees and restrictions on . . . uh, layawers.
The same is true for the retailers return policies. Proof of purchase (i.e. the receipt) is usually mandatory, but there also may be a limited time window to return a particular item. A “restocking fee” might be charged, and you may end up getting a store credit rather than cash back on the return.
On the flip side, some stores offer “price protection” on certain items, meaning that if you buy something today and find it for sale at a lower price later, you may be eligible to receive some or all of the difference from the original retailer.
Check with the store employees or website to see which policies might affect you, and get the terms in writing.
2. Price check
If one of the many flyers in today’s paper contains an eye-catching item you want to buy, call the store in question to make sure the item is still in stock. If you can, have it reserved until you can pick it up.
Bring the flyer with you to the store to match the price on the shelf with what’s in the ad. When you get to the checkout line, make sure the price charged at the register is what you’re expecting to pay (mistakes have been known to have been made).
3. Best way to pay?
Once the clerk presents you with the total due, you have three primary options to pay for your purchase.
Debit cards are the best choice for convenience, and avoiding future interest costs incurred by spending money that you don’t have right now. But the protections provided to your savings and your purchase satisfaction leave a little to be desired.
Cash keeps your purchase anonymous and avoids exposing your payment information to ever-present hackers. And again, you’re spending is limited to the money in your pocket. But you are then forced to carry a wad of bills that could be lost in the holiday hustle and bustle, and your recourse to resolving a post-purchase problem is reduced.
Therefore, if you have the discipline to control your spending and the money to eventually pay off what you charge, a credit card might be your safest payment option for big ticket items.
First, you won’t be drawing down savings that might be needed for an emergency in the near term. If the purchase turns out to be less than what you hoped for, the credit card issuer can suspend payment to the merchant until the issue is resolved.
Finally, credit cards can be a better defense against those aforementioned hackers than debit cards, as your liability for unauthorized charges on your credit card may be little or nothing. But with debit cards, you could be on the hook for whatever the crooks can draw from your account.
The proverbial security sword can cut both ways, though. Before you intend to use your credit card (especially for a large purchase), contact the provider to ensure that the card won’t be denied as a suspicious transaction at the checkout counter, and verify that you have enough credit available to make the purchase.
And with any time you make a purchase with plastic, check your account online and on the mailed statements to verify that the charge was for no more than you agreed to pay, and that there aren’t any charges made by some other party.