By Dan Rahn
University of Georgia
But wait. Don't race out to the mall without a sound spending plan, says Michael Rupured, a family financial management specialist with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.
"Know how much money you can spend," Rupured said. Limit your buying to the cash you've set aside for the season, holiday bonuses and charges you can pay off right away.
Remember to allow for parties, cards, clothes and other things important to your holiday season. And when you get to the stores, don't be too quick to buy.
WhoaDon't decide on an item on the spur of the moment, he said. Take your time, think about your needs and the amount of money you have.
Shop and compare to find the best values, he said. Compare features, quality, prices, charges for installation, delivery, credit and service.
Use the phone or Internet to find information rather than running from store to store. Sometimes the amount you save isn't worth the cost of your time, energy and transportation.
Make the most of your shopping dollars, too, by shopping at the start and the close of a big sale. The first day offers the best selection, but the prices may be lower on the last day.
Cost cuttersExamine factory seconds and irregulars carefully. These items have flaws or imperfections. Find the flaw and decide if it will make a difference.
Look in your newspaper classified ads for items, too. Buying person-to-person often saves money.
Shopping online can be an easy way to get special gifts, and Rupured expects it to be a huge part of this year's holiday buying. But do it carefully, he said.
Use a secure browser, shop with companies you know and keep your passwords creative and private. Pay attention to shipping charges. Print out and keep records of your purchases.
Be careful, he said, not to let any of your purchases come back to haunt you:
- If you buy gift cards, make sure you understand the terms. Some companies begin charging fees after a relatively short time. These fees can eat up the value of the card.
- Bargains that are too good to be true are usually just that. Expect a fair and reasonable price for goods and services.
- Read labels, seals, tags and instruction booklets. Ask questions. Get the facts before you buy.
- Check warranties. Find out what is promised, who stands behind the promises and what you must do to benefit from a warranty.
- Read and understand contracts completely. Know what promises you're making before you sign your agreement.
- Return a purchase that's damaged, didn't provide reasonable wear or didn't live up to the guarantee.
(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)