As the Holiday Shopping Season Approaches, Learn to Spend Wisely

We, the anti-consumerists, are losing the battle to curtail the consumerism that drives America, especially during the holiday season.

Again this year, major retailers are leaping over one another in an effort to be the first to open early on Thanksgiving Day — before you even have a chance to cut the apple pie. This trend has been building since 2011.
Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is no longer the traditional kickoff of the Christmas shopping season. We now have Black Thursday.

Will there be a Black Labor Day? A holiday shopping survey by Accenture found that 19 percent of consumers said they had already spent between $100 and $500 on holiday gift purchases by mid-September of this year.

People are becoming less averse to stores opening on Thanksgiving. Last year, 41 percent of shoppers said it interfered with family time. But in this year’s survey, the percentage was down to 32 percent.

But the Friday shopping frenzy is still popular. Two-thirds of respondents said they are likely to shop on Black Friday, compared with 55 percent who planned to do so last year, and 44 percent who said the same in 2007.

There you have it. Americans love their shopping. Mix that with the holiday season, and people lose their minds and budgets. However, since it is the season for giving to everybody and their mama, at least spend well. Here’s some advice on smart spending for the holidays.

1. Use credit. Yes, I said it. If you are going to make an expensive purchase — a new iPhone 6 or iPad, or iWhatever — it’s best to charge it. Credit cards offer a lot of consumer protections that cash does not. If a product is damaged or not delivered, you can dispute the charges and you have an ally — your credit card issuer, which can withhold payment until the situation is investigated and settled.

But if you use credit, don’t charge what you can’t pay off by the next billing cycle. And don’t overload your cards. Keep your spending to less than 30 percent of your available credit card balance, or you might end up lowering your credit scores.

2. Act like a dog. By this, I mean become as loyal as the family pet. Signing up for loyalty card and/or e-mail alerts can net some great holiday deals. I don’t shop a lot. Still, I signed up with a few retailers that I frequent and have gotten some good coupons for discounts.

In the Accenture’s survey, people were asked how likely they would be to share more of their personal information, such as contact details and preferences, in exchange for customized offers during the holidays. One-third of consumers said that they would likely do so.

3. Eat some pie. Turns out your rush to get the best deals might be in vain. So, don’t skip dessert. Maybe even wait a few days. Despite the hype, Black Friday isn’t the only time to find good deals. You’ll still be able to take advantage of price cuts up to Christmas and beyond.

4. Shop in silence. Stores tap into your senses to get you to buy more. Researchers have found that when there’s background music at the mall, impulse buyers spend more. If you tend to buy on impulse, stay home and shop online. And you should still stop and think before you click.

5. Scan and save. Put your smartphone to good use and keep a running tally of your purchases as you shop. Or use mobile apps that help you compare prices. For this holiday season, I’ve downloaded eBay’s RedLaser app (it’s free). It allows you to scan a bar code or search items to find the best price online or at a particular store.

A large majority of shoppers in the Accenture survey said they would love to use a mobile tool that scans products as they’re placed in their shopping cart, so they can keep track of how much they are spending. Consumers also said overwhelmingly that they would use an app that provided them with real-time promotions and offers as they shopped in-store.

6. Wait, watch and save. If you hate shopping but still must go out in search of presents because your relatives requested no handmade gifts this year, try ShopAdvisor, an app that keeps track of products you want to buy and alerts you when the price drops.

Above all, have a plan and a budget so that you can enjoy the new year without a spending hangover.

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Source: Washington Post

Michelle Singletary: Nationally Syndicated Personal Finance Columnist, The Washington Post

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