Stay in budget this season

Published 10:20 pm Wednesday, December 6, 2006

By Staff
Christmas is almost here and many consumers have not finished or even started their holiday shopping. As you grab your purse and head for the mall or shopping plazas, keep a few last minute thoughts in mind.
Keep within your budget. Buy no more than you can pay for. Living expenses for January have to be paid and there may be other expenses such as insurance, taxes on your home, income tax, school books and tuition or other monetary demands.
Careful comparison shopping saves money. Also, many stores have &#8220before Christmas” as well as after Christmas sales.
Carefully check the store return policy if there is any possibility that a purchase may be returned. Will the store accept a return? For how long? Will it refund the purchase price, or will it only exchange the item. If a refund is given, is it a full or reduced amount? Must you have the sales receipts? (Always keep sales receipts until you are sure there will be no returns. If there is a return, you may do it or give the sales receipt to the recipient so he/she can make the return.)
Be careful in selecting items that are holiday specialties. Not many people want a sweater in January with a Santa on it.
If the purchase has a warranty, check it to see when it goes into effect and what documentation is needed to validate the warranty.
Think about how usable a gift will be for the receiver. Electronics that require programming capabilities may be great for a high school student with computer skills but not the older person without that type of knowledge.
Also remember your wife may not appreciate those diamond earrings as a gift if you made the down payment and she will have to make the monthly payments on them. Avoid gifts that bring debt with them.
Don't overlook practical gifts, such as smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and motion lights. These are especially useful for older people living alone and those who &#8220have everything.” The elderly may appreciate stamps, envelopes, stationary and other useful items, especially if they have reduced mobility.
Gift cards are good gifts. Carefully compare the terms and fees associated with the cards before buying. Where can the card be used? Is there a charge for its use? How long do you have to use the card before it expires or there is a monthly or per use fee? Remember most gift cards can't be exchanged for cash or used to pay a bill. They are purchase cards, for buying only.
If possible, shop when you are rested and stores are not overcrowded. If you are tired, hungry, and stressed, it is easy to make poor choices or &#8220buy anything to finish and go home.” Set a maximum to spend and do not exceed it.
Here's hoping these tips will help you have wonderful shopping experiences. Source: Consumer Highlights, 2006 November-December.