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Shopping Tips

Tips for shopping from the FCIC

  • Read sale ads carefully. During the holidays, some merchants may offer items at a sale price for a limited time, for as little as four hours or early in the morning. Others may say "quantities limited," "no rain checks," or "not in combination with other offers." You may want to call ahead to see if the item is on the shelves.

  • Allow time for planning and comparison-shopping. Keep your budget in mind and shop carefully to get the best selection and price. Some merchants may offer a sale price for a limited time on an item you want.

  • Watch the scanner. During the holidays, it seems like retailers are announcing new sales and markdowns every day. With the extra workload, sometimes the staff can't keep up with all the price changes and update the cash register scanners with the new prices. If you think the price isn't right, speak up. If you're going to go buy something you saw advertised, take a copy of the ad with you.

  • Be aware of distractions. It sounds like basic advice but get your receipt when you make a purchase and put it away carefully. Don't let yourself get into "Murphy's Law situation" needing that one receipt you tossed in the trash. Make sure you're OK with the refund and return policies for sale items, especially those on clearance. A misplaced receipt could contain enough information for a crook to misuse your credit card number to make a purchase! Also, be sure to retrieve your credit card after completing a transaction. It's easy to forget it after spending a frustrating half hour in line.

Shopping the Holiday Sale Ads

How do you decide if the deal is real? Here are some tips to help you get the most for your money.

* Shop around. A “sale” price isn’t always the “best” price. Some merchants may offer a sale price on the item you want for a limited time; other merchants may offer items at a discount everyday.
* Read sale ads carefully. Some ads may say “quantities limited,” “no rain checks,” or “not available at all stores.” Before you step out the door, call to make sure the item you want is in stock.
* Consider your time and travel costs. If an item is on sale, but the store is across town, include your time and the costs of transportation and parking in the price.
* Look for price-matching policies. Some merchants will match, or even beat, a competitor’s prices.
* Go online. Check out websites that compare prices. If you decide to buy from an online merchant, keep shipping costs and delivery time in mind.
* Carefully consider bargain offers that are based on purchases of additional merchandise. For example, “Buy One, Get One Free” or “Free Gift with Purchase.” If you don’t really want or need the item, it’s not a deal.
* Clip coupons. Coupons are useful when they save you money on what you’re already planning to buy. Check coupons for any restrictions. For example, do expiration dates apply, or do you have to spend a certain amount before you can use the coupon? Some retailers will accept expired coupons, and even coupons from their competitors. Check with the retailer before you leave home to learn their policy.
* Ask about sale adjustments. If you buy an item at regular price and it goes on sale the next week, can you get a credit or refund for the discounted amount?

FTC offers this advice

Staying on Track

Regardless of how you pay for your purchases, remember to:

* Keep track of your spending. Incidental and impulse purchases add up. Jot down what you spend after every purchase.
* Save your receipts. You need them for returns and exchanges. Check credit and debit card sales and return receipts against your monthly bills and statements, and report any problems to the credit card issuer promptly.
* Ask for gift receipts. Many retailers offer gift receipts that code the price. That way, if the recipient returns the item, they’ll get the same value even if the item has been discounted further.
* Ask about refund and return policies. Many merchants may have different refund and return policies for sale items. For example, clearance merchandise may be on final sale, meaning no refunds or exchanges.
* Keep good records. Whether you’re ordering by mail, phone, or online, it’s important to keep detailed information about the transaction, including your order number, shipping costs and dates, warranties, and refund and return policies. Some online merchants do not process returns at their retail locations.
* Ship early. If you’re sending gifts to out-of-towners, factor in extra time for shipping. If you wait until the last minute, you may pay a hefty price for express or overnight shipping.
* Keep an eye on your wallet. Don’t flash cash. Keep an eye on your credit or debit card during transactions, and get them back as quickly as possible. If your cards are lost or stolen, report the loss or theft immediately to the card issuers.

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