Last-Minute Holiday Shopping Tips to Save Money, Help Your Credit

holiday-giftsIf you’re planning to do some last-minute holiday shopping – or even pick up a few bargains after Christmas – make sure you know a real “deal” from a fake one. Clothing stores, electronics companies, toy makers and other manufacturers are very savvy at getting people to spend, and overspend, during the holiday season. So follow these five “do’s and don’ts” to make your holiday shopping experience easier on the wallet, not to mention your credit rating:

  • 1. Don’t Be Fooled by Clever Marketing Ploys
    • How are retailers very skilled at enticing consumers to overspend? Some tricks:
      • Using big shopping carts (people tend to load up on goodies with bigger carts versus smaller carts or hand-held baskets/bags)
      • Grouping cheap merchandise with expensive stuff to give the appearance that the cheap stuff is more valuable (so research prices online before shopping to know if you’re really getting a bargain)
      • Marking prices up dramatically then “slashing” them 50% or more
      • Using labels like “premium” “new” and “deluxe” to describe various goods (they’re hoping you’ll pay more for the expensive products that may not be much better – or necessary – than plain-vanilla goods)
  • 2. Do Skip the Insurance/Extended Warranty Come-Ons
    • Buying electronics or big ticket household items like computers or TVs?
      • Just say no to the sales pitches for “insurance” or extended warranties
    • This coverage is too pricey
    • Many manufacturers already offer basic coverage (your credit cards frequently do too)
    • If something breaks in the future, chances are you’ll want a new one anyway – and prices will be cheaper
  • 3. Do Maintain Healthy Credit Habits
    • Check your credit card balances, terms and interest rates before shopping
      • Many card issuers have increased rates, closed accounts or lowered limits and haven’t yet bothered to tell customers! (you don’t want to get embarrassed at the register because your card has been declined)
    • Don’t fall for the “Do you want 10% off?” gimmick
      • opening a new retail credit card account can lower your credit score up to 35 points
      • retail/store credit cards have higher interest rates than do national cards, like Visa or MasterCard
    • Especially when using credit cards, you should set a budget/limit and stick to it
      • Only charge what you can pay off in 3 months tops. Even better: don’t buy stuff if you can’t pay for it in full when the statement arrives
  • 4. Do Know the Pitfalls of Using Your ATM card or Checks
    • Nearly half of all shoppers plan to use debit cards or checks, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF)
    • Watch out for overdraft fees (they average about $27)
    • Realize that some merchants charge fees for certain purchases made with an ATM card
    • Get cash using your own bank’s ATM to avoid the $1 to $3 surcharge at other ATM networks
  • 5. Don’t Get Just Any Old Gift Cards
    • Consumers will spend $50 billion on gift cards in 2009, with the average shopper spending $140 on gift cards this holiday season (source: NRF)
    • Certain gift cards have expiration dates, maintenance fees, transaction charges or even so-called “inactivity” fees
  • The biggest culprits: gift cards issued by credit card companies, banks and shopping malls (source: NRF)
  • Know the drawbacks of any gift cards you buy, give away or receive
  • Good news: the Fed has proposed consumer-friendly gift card rules that would take effect in August 2010 – ahead of next year’s holiday season (among the changes; gift cards can’t expire before 5 years; and fees would be banned within the first year that they’re issued)
  • In the meantime, if you get a gift card, use it ASAP!