Shopping Column


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Start the year by getting cash back on your shopping

January 4, 2016
When you’ve grown accustomed to hearing and trusting that free lunches don’t exist, you look at any reward system with a suspicious eye.

The Internet, and most specifically online shopping, has changed that for the better.

Websites offer a multitude of ways to earn money, like taking surveys, linking to a site as an affiliate and offering you cash back or coupons for purchases.

I believe nobody should ever pay full price, so I love the companies that focus on bargains.

Cash-back sites help you save money.

What’s the catch, you ask?

There really isn’t one.

You choose a site and register on it, which should be free.

Then start shopping at your favorite retailer, assuming that store is on their list, or looking for a specific item.

These websites receive a commission for getting customers to merchants’ websites, and that’s where they get the money to give back to you.

Let’s see how each of the following cash-back sites work so you can get started shopping.
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Conquer gift clutter with practical presents

Every holiday season means that you get – and often give — lots of pointless stuff.

You treat your aunt to yet another sweater while adding to the mountain of Legos and action figures in your family room. Your spouse buys more jewelry or tech gadgets to add to the collection you hardly ever wear or use.

This year, vow to break the cycle of gift clutter by giving (and asking for) something more practical.

Don’t worry, this isn’t where we start explaining that everyone needs socks and underwear.

The trick to choosing a winning practical gift that doesn’t come across as cold or even insulting (seriously, no one wants a bathroom scale with a bow on it), is to really think about the person’s interests or what might make their life a little easier or more enjoyable.

On the flipside, if you want to be on the receiving end of gifts you can actually use, start dropping hints or create wish lists that provide your loved ones with some ideas.

Yes, it’s the thought that counts and all that, but if you can shape those thoughts just a little, it’s a better gift for you, and an easier shopping experience for your gift giver — win-win!

Here are some practical ideas to help with your holiday shopping.
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How to buy furniture you like without spending too much money

In February 2013, I moved back into my house. Yes, moved back in.

I bought the place in 2007 and turned it into a rental property when I moved in with my then-boyfriend.

The relationship went bust at about the time my tenants were moving out, so I decided to go back home, and used that transition as an opportunity to finally create the home environment I always wanted.

First, I stripped out the carpets, refurbished the hardwood floors and painted the interior walls. That was easy. The harder part was finding furniture to fill the house without going broke.

I like older furniture that’s solid wood instead of pressed board, so used was always my first option.

But I didn’t just take anything that came my way.

Here’s what I did.
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Online coupons and discount codes can save lots of money, at lots of stores, on lots of stuff

Although I’m a frugal person, I’ve never been a couponer.

Cutting out and organizing paper coupons takes a lot of time. I saw my mom do this when I was a kid and it looked like an exhausting way to save a couple bucks.

So beyond checking out the ValPak that comes in the mail (there, I get $1 off at the local bagel shop and $7 off an oil change), I don’t clip.

But I still want to get the best possible price. That’s why I check for online coupons and discount codes before shopping almost anywhere, for almost anything.

Here are three sites that can help you with that, no scissors required.
(click here to continue reading…)

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How to return a terrible gift without letting the giver know how much you hated it

It's not so easy to return a gift without a gift receiptAmericans will spend an average of $737.95 each on the holidays this year, according to research from the National Retail Federation, and a substantial portion of that will no doubt be spent by very nice people — with the best of intentions — on truly terrible gifts.

Yes, many of us will participate in the annual post-holiday ritual of hunting through the boxes that brought us that Big Mouth Billy Bass or unfunny novelty t-shirt, desperately trying to find some kind of clue about where it was purchased so it can be returned as quickly as possible before anyone sees it.
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Discounts at many stores are 1 part real price cutting, 3 parts BS

There’s something deeply satisfying about getting a good deal that goes beyond the actual amount of money you saved.

Walking out of a department store having saved 60 percent thanks to coupons and a big sale may make people happy, but most of it is B.S.
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5 ways we waste money on the holidays

Just say no to these ways you waste money on the holidaysBetween gifts, food, travel and parties, we spend hundreds of dollars on the holidays each year. The most recent Gallup holiday poll estimates the average American consumer plans to spend $704 this year.

While that number is down from last year, it’s still a heck of a lot, and it leaves many Americans much worse off financially after the holidays. Here are some costs that may feel a little Scrooge-esque to cut, but will actually hurt no one and leave you better off on Dec. 26.
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3 ways to avoid becoming a consumer victim during Black Friday shopping

Avoid becoming yet another victim of Black Friday shopping.It seems like such a good idea: spend a few hours on a day you’d otherwise just be sitting around in a turkey-induced stupor to knock out your holiday shopping at a fraction of what you’d normally pay.

Yes, Black Friday is billed as one of the biggest shopping days of the year, and has a reputation as the time to get the best deals on toys, clothes, electronics and everything else on your holiday shopping list.

But is Black Friday really such a good time to score deals? How much are you truly saving when you drop everything to try for a doorbuster?
(click here to continue reading…)

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