Holiday shopping Dos and Don’ts

The holiday season can be hard on your wallet. Here are some consumer protection tips to help you spend wisely and safely.

  • Avoid impulse buys.
  • Have a plan and a budget and keep track of all purchases.
  • Pay in cash whenever you can. It’s easier to overspend when you use credit than when you pay with cash.
  • If you do use credit, brush up on your card’s fees and charges so you know the real costs.
  • Don’t focus too heavily on discounts.
  • Comparison shop. Just because something is marked as a sale doesn’t mean it’s the best available price.
  • Read online consumer reviews – both for retailers and for products
  • Check your bank and credit card statements frequently.
  • Read the fine print on return and exchange policies.
  • Don’t open packages – especially electronics – if you know you will return the item.
  • Keep receipts
  • Avoid costly extended warranties
  • Beware of bogus “gift cards.” While gift cards now have certain consumer protections, prepaid cards and reloadable debit cards – particularly those aimed at teens – may carry high fees.
  • Check your credit cards to see if they offer any added consumer protections or warranty boosters – if so, you might consider using for a large purchase.
  • Watch shipping fees, which can add up. Many retailers offer free or reduced price shipping
  • When shopping online, only shop at secure sites. At checkout, look for the web page to have https:// (with an “s”) instead of http:// in the address.
  • Don’t conduct business over public wi-fi lines, which are not secure. Avoid using your credit card or doing banking when using public networks.
  • Be careful about e-mail phishing. It’s better to go directly to the vendor or banker’s site directly to check out any offers.
  • Question everything and consider bargaining. Ask if there are any promos or deals.
  • Check for special discounts, such as for senior citizens, AAA members, AARP members
  • Consider making your holiday gifts. Homemade gifts can be more personal and can save money.
  • Ask about free boxes and free wrapping, which can save a bundle.
  • Store any packages or shopping bags in your car trunk to avoid theft.

Naught & nice retailers
Consumer Reports issues its holiday season pick of the top naughty and nice retailers. The list identifies 10 companies with the most consumer-friendly policies and 10 naughty companies that have unfriendly or questionable consumer policies, such as penalties, shortened return times, high shipping costs, or unusual fees. The article invites reader feedback, and several dozen commenters add their picks for best and worst consumer policies.

Additional Resources
12 Holiday Money Mistakes To Avoid
Holiday Shoppers: Beware Bogus Gift Cards
New Gift Card Rules Protect You Better
Consumer Protections from the FTC
Shopping Safely Online – tips from the Better Business Bureau