Remember the good old days? The day after Thanksgiving, you would get up very early and go out to grab the best Black Friday deals (and possibly along the way, get shoved around, be involved in a near fistfight or maybe trampled).
Then online shopping came along, and e-retailers created Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, to entice shoppers who had wearied of Black Friday hassles. Retailers hoped to leave no consumer dollars unclaimed.
Today, with the ever-growing impact of the Internet, getting the jump on Christmas shopping deals starts even earlier. Both Black Friday and Cyber Monday have lost some luster, with retailers starting to offer incredible deals, both in-store and on their websites, as early as the first of November. This extends their holiday sales cycle by a couple of weeks. This extended shopping season not only can tremendously increase retail sales but, if you’re not careful, can also increase your holiday spending substantially.
So, what do you do to keep the Grinch at bay while still saying “humbug” to budget-busting Christmas expenses? We’ve come up with a few tips on spending responsibly — whether it be before Thanksgiving, on Black Friday or Cyber Monday:
• Santa was pretty wise by making a list and checking it twice! So should you. Critically consider who should be on your list. Don’t be afraid to trim it. Obviously, you start with your immediate family and closest friends. Be selective about additions after that.
• It’s easier to deal with the amount of money you spend on Christmas if you actually sit down and decide on a budget and stick to it. Write down the amount of money you want to spend on each person on your list. Doing so helps you avoid emotional spending. Another interesting tip is to pay with cash only. It makes you more aware. It’s easy to lose track of how much you’re spending if you use a credit card. An extra $10 or $15 here and there adds up quickly.
• Resist the urge to buy something for yourself. After all, this is the season for giving, not receiving. If you don’t get what you want, buy it after Christmas.
• Before buying that cute toy for the kids, consider how many toys they already have and how much they actually play with them. One expert suggests that you buy the kids four gifts: a want, a need, a wear and a read.
• Do your homework by researching where the deals are.
If you’re shopping online:
• Recognize that scammers are lurking on authentic looking shopping sites, offering the season’s hottest deals, so always shop a trusted, reliable source.
• Don’t shop online with a debit card. Credit cards offer greater protection when shopping online.
• Don’t use public Wi-Fi to shop. Having a nice cup of coffee at your favorite shop while shopping may seem like a soothing thing to do, but it could open you up to hackers. Make sure the shop’s Wi-Fi network you are joining is legitimate, requiring a password sign-in furnished by the shop. Never connect to unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Hackers love those!
• Make sure you are using a secure, encrypted website when shopping online. Look for the padlock and “HTTPS” in the upper left-hand corner of your browser address bar. Seeing both ensures the information passed between your computer and the host server will remain private.
With the improving economy, this holiday shopping season promises to be one of the largest ever. If you follow the tips above, hopefully you can avoid the stresses of the season and after-Christmas sticker shock when you open your credit card statement.
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.