Let’s be careful out there

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailIt’s going to be a zoo at the stores the next couple of days, the last full weekend before Christmas (next Sunday) and Hanukkah (which starts the night before). Plus, today is the last day for ground delivery from UPS and FedEx deliveries if you want your packages to arrive by Christmas.

If you feel like the shopping season is shorter this year, you’re not alone. The Wall Street Journal says the election kept people distracted and more retailers put off promotions until closer to Thanksgiving.

The crush of stressed, rushing people can lead to all kinds of financial fallout, from overspending inside the stores to fender-benders outside them. Some things to keep in mind if you’re venturing out:

Make that list before you go. So basic and so easy to forget. Specify who you’re buying for, and the budget. Put it on your phone, tattoo it on your forehead, whatever it takes.

Use a credit card (or two). Many credit cards offer protection if your purchases are stolen or damaged. Some double manufacturers’ warranties, and all can serve as a middleman if you have a dispute with a merchant. Just don’t use cards as an excuse to go wild–credit card balances should be paid in full. (One reader treats his credit cards as prepaid cards by sending an extra payment in advance to cover his holiday shopping.)

Maximize your rewards. Using the right card at the right venue can boost your rewards. If you have a card with changing bonus categories, know what those are before you leave home. Chase Freedom, for example, is offering 5 percent cash back on wholesale clubs (including Costco and Sam’s), department stores and drugstores. Discover It has a 5 percent cash bonus on department stores and Amazon. Many cards have ongoing bonuses for certain purchases, such as gas or dining out. NerdWallet has other tips on maximizing your rewards.

Go early. Getting there when the doors open may give you a few moments of less-crowded shopping.

Keep your phone handy. Check prices on the fly. Resist the urge to snap up extra “bargains” that might not be. But:

Watch out for fake shopping apps. Yup, they’re a thing, even in the supposedly-safer Apple App store. These apps can steal your credit card and personal information. Go to the retailer’s site and use the links there to download its mobile app.

Hide it, lock it, keep it. Don’t leave your purchases in plain sight in your car and try to avoid parking in dimly-lit or poorly trafficked areas.

Beware in-store pickup. It sounds great: shop online, pick it up in the store. Except when it doesn’t work, which can be often, since many stores’ inventory tracking isn’t all it could be and they may not have enough staff to get your stuff off the shelf. (Target stores in my area can’t seem to consistently fulfill in-store pickup orders even with normal traffic.) Have a plan B in case your order gets canceled or never fulfilled.

And speaking of Plan Bs:

There’s always Amazon. The online chain is offering one- and two-hour delivery all the way through midnight on Christmas Eve with its Prime Now service.

 

 

 

Grab your Small Business Saturday credits now

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailAmerican Express’ “Small Business Saturday” credits are back, and they’re more lucrative this year: a $10 statement credit for purchases of $10 or more at qualifying small businesses on Nov. 29. You can get up to $30 in credits on each registered card.

I signed up three of our Amex cards yesterday when registration opened, which means we’re now eligible for $90 in statement credits. I then checked the list of small businesses in our neighborhood where we can use the credits, and sketched out what I plan to buy where. I’ll get a chunk of my Christmas shopping done, while also picking up supplies I was planning to buy anyway.

Free money is always good, and free money to support the businesses that support our community is even better.

Amex says registration for the cards is limited, so hop to it. You can use the “Amex offers for you” tab in your online Amex account or the ShopSmall.com site. Using “offers for you” tab seems to preclude you from registering more than one card, but it appears you can register additional cards at the ShopSmall site. Make sure to read the offer terms so you understand how the credits work and what type of transactions don’t qualify (such as transactions made with an electronic wallet, through a third party or if the merchant uses a mobile or wireless card reader to process the transaction).

Holiday triage: How to get ready when you’re not

Christmas shopping woman holding giftsThanksgiving is so late this year that I’ve been drifting along in a lovely bubble of denial. Even my Jewish friends’ preparations for Hanukkah haven’t been enough to alert me that Christmas isn’t far off.

Today a TV crew from a local Chinese-language stopped by to record some tips for enjoying the holidays without creating debt. The key, I said, is planning. So now’s the time to take my own advice.

Holiday season is a busy and expensive time, one that for us includes entertaining, travel, several family birthdays and a bucketload of presents. So here’s what I’ll be doing this weekend to prepare:

Finishing the spreadsheet. I use an Excel spreadsheet to list who will be getting presents and a target spending amount for each person. The spreadsheet also includes an estimate of what we’ll spend on travel (airfare, hotel, gas, food), entertaining (drinks, food, centerpieces), decorations (tree and lights) and holiday tips for the people who make our lives easier (cleaning lady, gardeners, hair stylist and so on). I total everything up, gasp, and start making adjustments so that our spending won’t leave us with huge bills in January.

Going on a treasure hunt. I buy gifts throughout the year and stash them in convenient hidey-holes throughout the house. I’ll dig them out and add them in the appropriate cells on the spreadsheet so I don’t wind up buying duplicate gifts.

Cashing in. I’m not a huge fan of gift cards as gifts, but I love using them to buy real gifts. I also have a rewards credit card program that allows me to use points to get Visa gift cards that, again, can be used to buy gifts or given in lieu of cash as a holiday tip. My daughter and I will also take our coin jar down to the nearest Coinstar to get a fee-free Amazon.com gift card. (Coinstar also offers gift certificates to iTunes, Starbucks and a bunch of other retailers.)

Stocking up. I like to take advantage of holiday sales to buy an extra turkey (to freeze and use later), stock up on baking supplies and lay in a fresh supply of crackers, dips and other nibblies for drop-in guests. This is also a great time of year to double dinner recipes and freeze half for those days that are just too frantic to cook.

I plan to finish this weekend in much better shape for the holidays. How about you? What needs to get done now for you to be ready?