Seven Commandments of Holiday Shopping

the update

Follow these spending rules to avoid breaking the bank this holiday season.


THOU SHALT MANAGE RECEIPTS
You might need them for proof of purchase for warranties or to make a return. Have a designated place where you unload paper receipts after a day of shopping, such as an envelope in a kitchen drawer. For online purchases, save receipts and confirmation e-mails in a computer folder. If you give gift receipts, tell your recipients the value, so they get a fair exchange. If you give a gift card (see Commandment 7), provide the receipt. It will be needed to replace a lost or stolen card.
THOU SHALT USE CREDIT CARDS
Credit cards provide top fraud protection, and if your credit card is a reward card, you can get rebates and other goodies. Be strategic. Some cards offer extra points or cash back on different categories of products at different times. For instance, from October through December the Chase Freedom card offers 5 percent back on up to $1,500 in purchases from Amazon.com, Zappos.com, and select department stores. Tip: Write the categories on a piece of paper and tape it to your card.
THOU SHALT KEEP TRACK OF REBATES
Plan carefully if you’re counting on rebates on anything you’re giving as a gift. You’ll probably need to submit the UPC symbol, which could be a problem if your gift recipient takes or destroys the packaging. If you apply for the rebate before you give the gift, you risk losing your right to return the item. Figure out what you need to do ahead of time. Make a list of rebate-eligible gifts and filing deadlines. For example, to obtain a $30 visa prepaid card after purchasing a Kitchen Aid Diamond blender, you must buy the product by Dec. 31 and send in the completed rebate form, the UPC code from the package, and a copy of the receipt by Jan. 31, 2015.
THOU SHALT NOT TAKE ON DEBT
Make a budget before shopping, and stick to it. Don’t be enticed by retailer special offers that provide no-interest financing for a year or more. There’s no guarantee you’ll be able to repay everything you owe by the deadline. If you can’t, you’ll have to pay back the interest that has been silently accruing during the “interest free” period.
THOU SHALT NOT FALL VICTIM TO THE HYPE
Just because it’s Black Friday or an item is 50 percent off doesn’t mean it’s a top deal. In a 2011 study, a price prediction website found that more than a quarter of the TVs and cameras recommended by Consumer Reports were at least 5 percent cheaper after Black Friday weekend. Don’t assume that you can get the best deals only by buying at a particular time or sales event.
THOU SHALT NOT BECOME A TARGET
Avoid theft by withdrawing cash only from ATMs in public places or inside your bank. Also avoid giving your e-mail address or phone number to walk-in stores unless you welcome their incessant marketing. Check out as a guest when shopping online. If the online retailer asks you to check a box indicating that you want them to retain your credit-card info, don’t do it. Investigate retailers you’re unfamiliar with by searching the Web and by looking for a Better Business Bureau report (bbb.org). Read sites’ privacy policies and terms of service.
THOU SHALT NOT GIVE GIFT CARDS
Though federal gift-card protections have improved, gift cards remain a hassle. Store cards can be used only at the issuing retailer and might be nonrefundable if they’re lost or stolen, as with Red Lobster and Olive Garden gift cards. Bank cards usually have fees. Simon Mall visa gift cards cost $5.95 to purchase and charge $2.95 monthly if a balance remains after 13 months. What’s wrong with cash?