Cheryl Parson: Be smart while stuffing stockings

CHERYL PARSON Better Business Bureau

December 1, 2013

Thanksgiving is such a great time of the year. It’s a time spent with family, friends and enjoying all the good food. Watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the arrival of Santa Claus turns our thoughts to Christmas shopping and getting ready for Christmas. I don’t know about you, but I like to go Christmas shopping. It just puts me in the Christmas spirit.

And oh, what fun the holiday shopping season can be — the sales, markdowns, bargains and specials! The National Retail Federation says the average consumer will spend $737.95 this holiday season on gifts, cards, decorations and more.

So, how do you maintain control when it’s so much fun to spend?

Whether you shop at a mall or online, here are a few tips we’d like to offer to keep your financial health and your post-holiday happiness intact:

•The budget: First and foremost, you should establish a holiday budget and stick to it! It’ll be tempting to splurge when a perceived bargain comes along, but resist the urge to expand your spending cap, no matter what.

•Understand store policies: Can the items you buy be returned? Refunded? Do you need a receipt? How does their layaway program work? Always ask the retailer so you won’t be disappointed later.

•Compare and be aware: Often the bargains, sales, and specials aren’t what they seem! By spending a little time comparing, you can avoid that buyer’s remorse when you discover you’ve spent too much for the item you thought was a deal.

•TV shopping networks, mail order: Our TVs explode this time of year with all the handy gadgets, gifts and gizmos that will make life better for those receiving them. Will they arrive before Christmas? And if you decide to take advantage and double your order by just paying “additional handling and shipping charges,” how much will that actually cost? How are returns handled? Ask before you finish the order. It can save headaches (and money).

Extra alert: Tomorrow is Cyber Monday!

The Monday after Thanksgiving is the biggest online shopping day of the year. According to Nielsen, the consumer behavior analyst firm, 46 percent of consumers will shop online. This online shopping requires following some special safety practices:

•Counterfeit websites and too-good-to-be-true deals: Be wary of sites that offer bogus coupons or exceptionally low prices if you furnish personal information. Digital identity thieves can play havoc with your computer and your financial well-being.

•Unsecure payment pages and forms: Secured, encrypted payment sites will display “https” in the address bar. Never enter your personal data or pay if the website does not display “https” in the address bar.

•Look for easily verifiable information: Reputable online retailers welcome inquiries by displaying their company’s contact information.

•Check for complaints: Research the company’s reviews on Google or look for unresolved complaints on BBB Business Reviews.

•Privacy: Websites should clearly define how your personal information will be handled. Privacy policies should be easily found on the website’s landing page.

One final protection: Use credit cards!

Whether shopping at a store or online, by using a credit card you can easily challenge misrepresentations, problems and charges. It is much more difficult to resolve a conflict if you pay by cash, check or debit card.

Now, happy shopping!

Cheryl Parson is the president of the Better Business Bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at