If you’ve been waiting for a chance to buy that big-ticket item that you never got over the holidays, or just take the opportunity to get out of the cold and do some shopping, President’s Day is a good time do it. But that doesn’t mean consumers can afford to leave their budgets behind.
The state’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation put together 12 smart consumer tips to remember while doing your shopping.
1. Establish a budget and stick to it
This can be one of the hardest things to do as you get caught up in buying that one last fantastic gift, but it’s essential to keep a financial plan in mind.
So make a plan, and try to stay to it as close as possible. Impulse purchases or getting caught up in the season with last-minute gifts can blow the budget apart and leave you wondering what happened when the credit card bills come in.
2. Comparison shop
Whether it’s a sale at a particular retailer or a store that offers lower prices in general make sure you take a little time to know you’re getting the best price on an item. If you find a lower price, don’t be afraid to ask another merchant to match that price. Some stores have price matching policies. Also, be sure to always ask if the store has any coupon promotions you can take advantage of.
Pictured: Danny Fontaine, Leslie Fontaine, and their son Justin, 15, shop for a large flat screen television at a Best Buy.
3. Bring sales circulars out with you
You might find the perfect television or DVD player in an ad, but they all look similar on the shelf. Bring the circular so you remember the exact item you want to buy, and also that the price is accurate. Also, if the store is out of an advertised item, ask for a raincheck to buy the item at the sale price when the next shipment comes in.
Pictured: Criss Robinson shows off coupons
4. Save all your receipts
Put them all in an envelope and in a safe place where you can find them later. You never know when you’ll need to return something, and a receipt makes the process so much easier.
5. Use credit cards wisely
You don’t want to over-expand your holiday budget through excessive credit use, but sometimes using a credit card is the smart move. Particularly when you are buying a big-ticket item, when you will want the added protections offered by your credit-card issuer if there are problems later.
6. Know the exchange and restocking policies
A store can have any return policy it wants, as long as it’s disclosed clearly and conspicuously before the sale is made. Just make sure it’s one you’re comfortable with if you think the item might be returned, and make sure to make a special note of the time restrictions for returning items. Also, check on restocking fees. Some items, particularly electronics, can have fees of 15 percent of the purchase price or more for returns.
7. Know the gift card rules
A gift certificate from the local Main Street gift shop will have different rules than the gift card from the mega-mall. The Federal CARD Act has put new rules in place regarding expiration dates and dormancy fees, but you should still check on the rules from the issuer before buying a gift card.
8. Know the shipping rules
How fast will that delivery get to you? Is there free shipping and handling through a coupon code or online offer? What, exactly, are the shipping rules? If you buy two of the same item in one purchase, some retailers will charge you shipping and handling on both items, even if they are in the same box. Be on the lookout for quirks in the shipping rules.
9. Consider layaway plans
Layaway plans are being more heavily advertised this year, and may be a good option if you don’t want to use a credit card on an item but can’t afford the entire cost up front. Make sure to check on fees for the plan, and whether there are fees imposed if you decide to not purchase the item and ask for a refund. Also, make sure the deposit amount and payment schedule meet your needs.
10. Consider time and travel costs
If you find an item is on sale but across town or a town or two away, consider whether a small savings is worth the extra time and gas it will take to pick it up.
11. Protect your personal information
When at a retailer, make sure the receipt doesn’t include your entire credit card number. When shopping online, delete your cookies and browser history, and do not let websites store your credit card information.
12. Check your receipt
Before leaving a store counter or clicking “accept’’ on a webpage, make sure the receipt is accurate. Particularly on websites with “shopping carts’’ where you might forget to delete an item you end up not wanting to purchase.
Pictured: Maria Martinez checks her sales receipt after checking out at Wal-Mart.