Shopping Column


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Watch Out for Holiday Scams

christmas shoppingDuring the holiday season, which pretty much runs from Thanksgiving until New Years Day, there are a number of scams set up. These scams are designed to take advantage of your desire to find good deals, and do it quickly. Whether you are buying something before Christmas, or looking into after-Christmas sales, or just trying to get a jump start on the New Year, it’s a good idea to be on the alert for scams.

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 Shopping 
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Shopping at After-Christmas Sales

After-Christmas SaleOne of the best times to find good deals is during the after-Christmas sales. There are a number of retailers that offer sales after Christmas Day. Indeed, starting on the 26th, there will be plenty of good deals to be had.

It can be an especially good time to stock up on what you need for next year. So, after all the presents are opened, and the wrapping paper is put away, consider how you might save some money on post-Christmas sales.

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 Frugal Living, Shopping 
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Christmas Gifts Ideas: 15 White Elephant Gifts for Less than $15

Angry Birds Part IVEvery year, my family does a white elephant party. It’s fun to see what creative things others come up with when the limit drops ever lower. Whether you want something silly, or something a little more serious, the good news is that it’s possible to stick within the limit without too much trouble.

Web sites like Overstock.com, Amazon.com, Gifts.com, UncommonGoods.com, and a wide array of gag gift web sites (Including FunSlurp.com and Stupid.com) all have the ability for you to search by price. Some of the “safest” gifts include specialty foods, gifts cards, decorative soaps and generic mugs filled with hot chocolate, candy or coffee beans. If you don’t mind something a little more “fun,” though, here are 15 ideas for frugal white elephant gifts under $15:

  1. Angry Birds Plush Toy: Angry bird plush toys are all the rage this year, and you can get one — with sound — for less than $15, making a fun white elephant gift for any party.
  2. Christmas Ornament: Look for a character Christmas ornament, or look for a silly ornament. These make fun gifts that can be useful, too.
  3. Stress Ball: Who isn’t stressed about something? There are any number of stress balls out there with clever sayings, funny pictures, or odd shapes. And many of them cost less than $15.
  4. Desktop Sports Games: From desktop bowling, to a small ping-pong game meant for the top of your desk, there are different sports games designed as novelties for playing with no matter where you are.
  5. Novelty Push-Pins: There are a number of ways to hold items onto a cork board. Novelty push-pins are perfect for the job. These come shaped as sports equipment, vegetables, and even a headless man in a suit. You can even get a package of huge push-pins of comic proportions.
  6. iPhone Stands: There are a number of novelty iPhone stands, designed to look like wrenches, sticky bubblegum and more. Useful gifts for the smart phone owner, and fun to boot.
  7. Koi Toy: This fun fish, found on FunSlurp, lights up when you put it in water. Your co-worker or family member can keep it in a class of water and enjoy all the benefits of a goldfish without the hassle of having to take care of one.
  8. Toilet Mug: Up til now, the gifts have been mostly classy. However, it can be fun to give novelty mug shaped like a toilet. Other funny-shaped mugs are also available, adding a new twist to the idea of the coffee break.
  9. Bacon Soap: Bacon jokes haven’t quite run their course. There is soap scented like bacon, and a number of other bacon-temed products you can choose from.
  10. Bobbleheads: These are great favorites, and they’re loads of fun. I once got my dad a bobblehead moose. There are character bobbleheads, animal bobbleheads, and more to choose from.
  11. Fortune Telling Pen: Ask a question, click the top, and the future appears. This function pen on Stupid.com is a fun and usable white elephant gift.
  12. Marshmallow Shooters: Mini crossbows, marshmallow guns, and other marshmallow shooters can be fun. Just remember to include a packet of marshmallows.
  13. Earmuffs: Faux-fur earmuffs, or earmuffs with cute animal faces on them, can be fun gifts. You can also find more “serious” earmuffs for less than $15.
  14. Instant Excuse Ball: This is a fun gift that works like a “Magic 8-Ball.” Instead of telling your future, though, it provides you with excuses that can be used to get out of almost everything.
  15. Grenade Screwdriver Set: Useful tools presented in a fun way. Comes with different bits that can be used in a pinch. There are other screwdriver sets in shapes other than the grenade.

(Photo: susanti.chandra)

 Shopping 
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Holiday Shopping: Know Return Policies

Customer Service on Day 357In the excitement of the moment, it can be easy to forget that what you buy now can cause problems later. With all of the deals available, and all of the sales going on, you might find yourself paying for something — and then running into trouble if you change your mind and want your money back.

Before you get too caught up in saving money, do yourself a favor and make sure you understand the return policy at the stores you shop at. From department stores, to online retailers, to companies offering travel services, it helps to understand the return and refund policies, and be aware of general customer service practices.
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 Shopping 
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Why I Skip Black Friday

One of the big rituals of the Thanksgiving weekend, one among many, is Black Friday. If you’ve been living in a cave for the last ten years, Black Friday is the Friday after Thanksgiving where retailers deeply discount a few items in the hopes that people come to the stores in the early hours and spend a lot of money. It’s been muted in recent years because of the economic slowdown but every year there’s still a lot of attention on it. It’s called Black Friday because it’s supposedly when retailers turn a profit on the year. The “black” in Black Friday, in this case, is a good thing (unlike every other time Black [Day] is used).

You have several classes of “deals” on Black Friday – regular sales and deeply discounted items. The deeply discounted items have limited availability and you usually need to get there as the store opens, which will be very early in the morning, to get them. The regular sales are your “doorbuster” types that last until 11am or noon.

The last time I did any Black Friday early morning shopping was back in the late 2000′s when I was home on break from college. One of the electronic stores, like an Office Depot or Best Buy, had a Kodak digital camera on sale for $99. I waited in line outside of the store, it was a mad house (it’s insane how crazy people get over things). I got the camera, it was totally not worth it, and I vow never to do it again… and here’s why.

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 Shopping 
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Best Light Bulbs: Incandescent vs CFL vs LED

energy saving lightbulbAs you know, lightbulb technology is the subject of many financial blog posts. With the right lightbulb, you could see a reduction in your power bill, saving you money over time. Indeed, many of us, by now, wouldn’t even think of purchasing incandescent lightbulbs, now that the price of CFLs has come down, and you can buy them in bulk at your local warehouse club store.

But are CFLs really that much better than incandescent bulbs? And what about LED lightbulbs? How do those compare? Your lightbulb choices continue to expand, and it’s worth taking a few minutes to figure out what is your best option.

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 Shopping 
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The Best Time to Buy Stuff

Have you noticed that certain things are just priced better at certain times of the year?  Seasonal sales and end of year inventories have led me to create a quarterly cheat sheet for shopping.  Now I can keep in mind the big purchases we may have to make and can look up the best months to start shopping.  This makes it much easier to tackle large purchases and I don’t feel like I lost out on easy savings. 

Here is my current annual shopping calendar broken down into quarters.

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 Shopping 
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Are “All You Can Ship” Deals Worth It?

Williams Sonoma Gift WrapI was poking around on Williams-Sonoma the other day when I saw that they have a new program called Williams-Sonoma Reserve. For $30 a year, you get free standard shipping on most items and no minimum purchase. It’s a riff off Amazon Prime, which gives you free two-day shipping on most orders with no minimum purchase. The difference here is that Williams-Sonoma usually charges you shipping, whereas Amazon waives it on orders over $25.

As more and more stores move towards this model, is it worth it?

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