Holiday Shopping Tips and Strategies

Stacy Livingstone-Hoyte, AFC®, is an experienced Financial Counselor who has worked extensively with U.S. Armed Forces members and families. She is a long-time volunteer blogger for Navynavstress.com and previously served at the Fleet and Family Support Center, Millington, Tenn. as a financial counselor. As a military spouse, Ms. Livingstone-Hoyte knows firsthand of the financial challenges and opportunities that face military families across the globe. To that end, she embraces a steadfast belief that financial success can be simple, just not easy, and offers budget-friendly tips to help us “Keep an Even Keel” this holiday season. –NavyNavStress.com note

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are an exciting – and equally tempting – time of year to indulge in our purchasing desires. The retail world promotes extravagant discounts in big, bright, bold print, and for some, it really can be the best opportunity to secure favorable prices on sought-after items. But, buyer beware! Whether your buying experience is exclusively online or you’re a store-to-store shopper, here are some words of advice that can help minimize regret from your year-end shopping spree.

Start with the Truth
Groundwork is the basis for any major event. When it comes to earning, saving and especially Black Friday spending, a realistic budget will always be the place to start, even before you dream of your desired items! Determine precisely how much money is available to spend after you have accounted for savings, investing, and debt payments. Next, if you decide to use credit for any of your purchases, identify upfront where the repayment funds will come from. A good rule of thumb is to have it already set aside so that you are using credit as a convenience or to accumulate certain user rewards without incurring interest fees or other penalties.

Research before Buying
Now that you have committed to a budget, research your intended purchases. Glitzy packaging, celebrity endorsements, and clever advertisements can often present a false image of product capability. Check customer reviews, read any meaningful complaints, check out the manufacturer’s warranty and use research-based organizations, like Consumer Reports, to help support your decision.

The Hunt for Deals
Retailers are proud to display their deals and respective disclaimers in store and online, but the real deal is in the fine print. Don’t skip over the ultra-low price display only to be later surprised that a deal is only available to a select group of shoppers, locations, hours, or even online only. Be sure to ask upfront whether or not you can combine other coupons to complete the sale, too, as many products being offered at Black Friday prices disallow additional discounts. You can also make a list of the deals you find, naming stores where your product is available, prices, location, store hours, etc. Some websites and mobile apps, such as RetailMeNot.com and BlackFriday.com, can be useful in narrowing down your options by setting price alerts, thus giving you a sense of control during the holiday mayhem.

Pricing
Let’s face it, “We will match any competitor price” or “Lowest Price Guarantee” are music to most shopper’s ears! To take advantage of these offers, you will need to be sure that the advertised products are identical (be aware of stripped down versions), and know if there is a price matching limit (e.g. up to $100 per item). Holiday advertisements are key in knowing what’s available where, for how much and if there is an opportunity to pay a well-deserving price. Again, read the fine print.

Layaway
Using a layaway plan (online or traditional) can be an ideal option if you decide against using credit and paying upfront in full for your purchases. In this arrangement, you simply find your items and request that the store hold them until your payment is rendered in full. Be mindful that to do this, most assess a non-refundable fee and each retailer will have a written policy governing this practice (which you should read in full to avoid any surprises). Minimum purchases, cost to initiate a layaway plan, cancellation fees, pick up dates, and return and refund policies are some key items to know beforehand.

Couponing
Couponing is now a national craze and a favorite pastime for many, but rule number one is to read the fine print! In that small text, you can determine any brand exclusions; whether the coupon can be used over an entire day, multiple days or is void after one transaction; or if you are limited in quantity purchased. Also, be aware of the expiration of the coupon, as some retailers will have coupons specific to early bird sales and others dedicated to an entire day or series of days. Next, and equally important, know the store’s coupon policy. Coupon doubling, combining, price matching, register rewards programs and overages are some ways to save more money using coupons. Print out (or bookmark on your electronic devices) the coupon policies for the stores in which you plan to shop. This will come to your aid if you are challenged by your use of coupons to secure deeper discounts. It is not uncommon for store employees, especially those retained only for the holiday season, to be unaware of some details in their company policies. Legitimate manufacturer coupons can be found through mail delivery (e.g. SmartSource, Redplum), or on sites like www.coupons.com. Store-specific coupons can usually be found on the store website or in its sale circular.

All the best on your Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping adventures!

Navy Exchange Coupon Policy: http://www.mynavyexchange.com/nex/customer-service/store-policies Commissary Coupon Policies: https://www.commissaries.com/documents/contact_deca/faqs/coupon_use.cfm Fraudulent Coupon Search: http://www.couponinformationcenter.com/psa-list.php

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