10 Things Not to Buy During the Holidays

10 Things Not to Buy During the Holidays

Is there a new television, tool or bicycle on your holiday shopping list? Hold on there. While you can find many great deals during November and December, you’re better off making some purchases at other times of the year. Here are 10 items that are even cheaper before or after the holidays.

Televisions

Prices have plummeted over the past seven years for some amazing flat-screens and big-screens. But if you really want to give that special someone the gift of HDTV, you might want to wait until February. Retailers will start lowering prices on last year’s models before new models start hitting the stores in March. The best deals follow the Super Bowl in early February. You could save a few hundred dollars.

Linens

Wait for “white sales” in January before buying sheets, blankets, towels and more. The tradition of department stores discounting linens in January started back in the 19th century. Now, even some catalog retailers follow suit, offering deals in their issues that come out at the beginning of the year. Look for discounts ranging from 10% to 60%.

Tools

Dad always has a list of fix-it projects to tackle around the house, but the holidays aren’t the best time to score deals on new tools. Consider giving tools as a gift for Father’s Day in June — when prices will fall by 25% — instead of Christmas. Frugal Dad will be happy you saved the cash.

Snow Blowers

The Winter Solstice is the worst time to buy a snow blower. In cold, wet climates, March is the month for purchasing this big-ticket item, says Mark Di Vincenzo, author of Buy Ketchup in May and Fly at Noon: A Guide to the Best Time to Buy This, Do That and Go There. You might really appreciate a back-saving snow blower before winter’s heaviest storms arrive, but you’ll appreciate even more the 30% to 40% savings you’ll find as winter ends.

Cameras

Sure, it would be nice to give your spouse a new camera to take pictures of the kids throughout the holiday season. But you might want to wait until February for a better deal. The biggest electronic trade shows of the year happen in January and February, when new models are revealed. By late February, older models are being sold at discounts of 30% or more. Look for Presidents’ Day to be an especially good day to shop for sales.

10 Things Not to Buy During the Holidays

Outerwear

February and March are the ideal months to pick up winter outerwear, such as coats, hats and gloves. Retailers realize that most people have already bought their winter clothing by then, so you can take advantage of discounting to fill your closet for winters ahead.

Furniture

Maybe you want to impress visiting relatives over the holidays by sprucing up your living room. But hold off on buying that new sofa. New furniture inventory hits showrooms in February, so look to save 10% to 50% if you buy in January, as retailers push to clear the showroom. Old models tend to be just as good, using the exact same frames as the new.

Cars

Forget the notion of a car in the driveway on Christmas morning. Instead, think New Year’s Eve (during business hours, of course) to get the best deal. Car dealers want to clear their inventory before the end of the year. TrueCar, which collects automobile data, estimates prices on all vehicles nationwide will average 9.3% below sticker price on December 31 — the steepest discount of the month.

Looking for a used car? Hold off until April for the best deals because it’s the month that dealers tend to buy the most at auction, giving you the best selection.

Cruises

The cold weather creeping up may spark thoughts of escaping to far-off, warm destinations. For those who want to hit the seas, though, booking a cruise is best after the holidays. Wait until “wave season,” which is January to March, to book a summer cruise, says Jaime Freedman, of TravelZoo. You’ll be met with an onslaught of deals as cruise lines compete with one another for customers. Rising airfare prices have made cruises increasingly enticing with their all-inclusive pricing, says Freedman.

Bicycles

As the riding season winds down for most people, you may think that bicycles are ripe for discounts. And you’re right, if you just wait a little longer, until after the holiday season. After the holiday rush, discounts are steep on older models. Shops are also more likely to throw in a few extra free accessories because they are looking for business during the slow winter months. Better yet, fewer customers means you’ll get more personal service.

The 10 best shopping cities in the U.S.

The 10 best shopping cities in the U.S.

New York, long thought to be the top spot in the nation, doesn’t even make the list.

Move over New York. When it comes to shopping, everything’s bigger in Texas. Forbes’ first-ever ranking of the best U.S. cities for shopping takes a look at the real numbers behind what makes retail sparkle in the biggest cities in America.

One look at the top 10 shows that NYC, long thought to be the best city for style, sophistication and putting your pocketbook to work, is nowhere to be found. What? Why? How? The truth is, in deciding what makes a city “best,” it all depends on what you’re looking for.

America’s Top 10 Cities for Shopping

1. Houston, TX
2. Phoenix, AZ
3. Dallas, TX
4. Baltimore, MD
5. Columbus, OH
6. Indianapolis, IN
7. Philadelphia, PA
8. San Antonio, TX
9. Jacksonville, FL
10. San Diego, CA

When it comes to shopping, everyone has their own style. Some of us are in-and-out. We know what we want, we know where to find it and we’d like to be on our way, thank-you-very-much. Others are in heaven strolling through well-lit retail centers, window shopping to our heart’s delight, even if there’s nothing we “need.” And some of us are on the hunt for a bargain—if it isn’t on sale, it’s not on our list.

In compiling our list of America’s best cities for shopping, we took the interests of all types to heart to find the urban centers with the best combination of options, ease and affordability.

Of the 525 major shopping centers in the country’s biggest cities, there are nearly 257 million square feet of gross leasable retail area, according to data provided by Esri, a geographic information systems firm that tracks the leasable area of major U.S. shopping centers of more than 225,000 square feet. Of that, nearly a quarter of the retail space (87,879,057 square feet) is in the Lone Star state, more than explaining how three Texan cities landed in our top ten cities for shopping. Like their football and BBQ, Texans take their shopping seriously.

Houston comes in at No. 1 one the list. “Houston might be a big city, and sure you can spend days buying up the shopping malls, but for me the best thing has always been the boutiques that are somehow both 100% Southern and completely chic,” says stylist Kate Barash, a Houston native now living in Los Angeles.

Barash, who describes her own fashion sense as “date night feisty,” shares her two favorite Houston stops for shopping: 310 Rosemont (1965 W. Gray Ave.), where she stocks up jeans from trendy 1921 and Seven For All Mankind. She also scores pieces from Milly and James Perse; and Lot 8 (6127 Kirby Drive), where she finds “the best L.A. designers without the Los Angeles inflated prices.”

Read more “The 10 best shopping cities in the U.S.”

The Secret of Online Holiday Spending

The Secret of Online Holiday Spending

Now that the holidays have decided to move into the express lane of time and travel towards us at the speed of light, we had better ready ourselves for the 5 S’s of Christmas: 1) selecting; 2) shopping; 3) savings; 4) spending; and 5) Santa. For the next 5 weeks we will be looking at one of these S’s. This week we will begin with Spending.

There are many different methods of spending for those “must have” gifts that your loved ones have been drooling over for so long. Many years ago there were only two methods of having the money to buy the desired present. First, the method of choice for most “over 70” crowd, is called “savings”. Second, a method that is used many times with “savings” is the “buying only what you can afford”. These two methods are somewhat of a lost art and I personally have only heard about them in books and the reading of ancient artifacts.

One of these historical writings mentions a ritual known as Christmas Club. This amazing tool was used by banks to aid members to set aside a certain amount, on a weekly or bi-monthly basis, to help them have money for Christmas. It was like a reversed credit card, with the payments being made before the purchases and instead of the patron spending 29% interest each month to make up for the credit card monthly fees, they would receive the interest (yes, the interest would come to them). This in turn would give them more money than they put into their account. As late as 1966, this was determined to be the American way of Christmas spending. That was before credit cards spending for Christmas became as customary as the artificial Christmas trees.

Today, the method of choice by most Americans is just the complete opposite as the first two methods mentioned: put every Christmas item on credit card and “never refuse a child of whatever they want”. (“New $500 game machine? – sure, let me apply for this new credit card!”) If I sound slight fuchsias, it’s because I am still paying off my Christmas shopping debt from 1972.

To get the most out of using this plastic god for holiday cheer there are certain rules and secrets that you need to learn to have a safer, cheaper, happy holiday.

Rule #1- Make sure that you shop only on secure, trusted Internet sites. Ask yourself these questions:

1) Are they a known reliable online company? Are you shopping at Amazon.com or Grannysdiscountbooksandadultsite.com?

2) Do they have a physical address?

3) Is there a method of contacting the business?

4) Is their shopping cart secure? Do not enter your credit card on a site that is not secure. A secure site online is just as secure as using your card at your local Wal-Mart or grocery store.

Secret #1- When Shopping online use your credit card and not your debit card. According to the Federal Trade Commission, Federal law says that you are only liable for $50 if your card is misused.

Rule #2- Pay you bill off each month. Any credit counselor will tell you that this is the best way to manage your money and keep yourself out of financial ruin. If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it.

Secret #2- When using a credit card make your purchases the same day you receive your credit card statement in the mail. This will give you a few extra weeks of non-interest time to save up to pay off your debt.

Rule #3- Don’t save your credit card information on the web site or for that matter on your computer. Even though the web site may be secure there were a few reports last year of hackers getting into different system of online stores. It really doesn’t take that long to re-enter the information.

Secret #3- Pay your credit card online and make your payment at least 2 business days before it is due. This may seem like a contradiction to not saving the credit card information on line but it is not. The credit card information for the lender maintains your credit card information in their secure data base. Once again, it is a similar retrieving system as if you made a purchase at a department store.

Rule #4- Protect your password. Don’t save your password on your computer and don’t use the same password over and over. Keep a written log in a safe convenient place. There have been hackers who have been able to access information from personal computers. Protect yourself.

Secret#4- Use a formula for your password: have a prescribed combination of letters and numbers you use for a common word that you are sure to remember, then a number you use for the site you are at. For example ReginAmaz might be a formula for a password password at Amazon if I used the first 5 letters of my name along with the first 4 letters of the sites name. ReginBarn might be a password for Barnes and Noble.

Secret#5- More secrets on passwords: use numbers in place of letters at times. Use 1 for an i or l, 0 for o and maybe even 9 for g. For example, with the above password for Amazon might be Re91nAmaz.

Secret#6- If the systems are down, don’t ever call your order in. Wait until the systems come back up. If the Internet site is down, it is possible that their computers are down as well. Therefore when calling an order in, depending on the call center, your credit card information may be written down on paper instead of being entered into a secure location.

Secret#7- If you’re in need of extra money and decide to sign up for a new credit card, read the fine print. One of my credit cards recently sent me a letter saying that I qualify for their platinum card. The fine print says that there is a $72 annual fee! Watch out for low interest rates, the companies have to make their money somewhere. These introductory rates may lead to an astronomical rate or exorbitant annual fees.

With these rules and secrets now firmly placed before you, your holiday spending should be safer and wiser. Next week we will look at “Saving”.

The sales pitches you need to resist

The sales pitches you need to resist

These seven clever come-ons often push holiday shoppers to overspend.

The road to the mall may be paved with good intentions, but retailers know just how to get inside that part of your brain that yells, “Buy me!” And this holiday season, they’re rolling out more tricky marketing strategies to encourage recession-scarred shoppers to spend. “Shoppers are dealing with a whole new arsenal of tricks,” says Kit Yarrow, a professor of psychology and marketing and Golden Gate University in San Francisco.

Merchants have always used marketing tricks and rotating sales to encourage consumers to open their wallets, but this year, they’re pushing every psychological button they can, retail experts say. Competition for shoppers, plus a tepid holiday shopping outlook, means retailers are doing whatever they can to attract deal-hunting consumers’ attention — all in an effort to entice them into spending more than they’d planned. That means adding worry-inducing purchase limits to indicate scarcity, promising free gifts to shoppers who spend just a little more, and offering rewards today to redeem later just so people will come back to the store.

These strategies work in part because they tap into hard-wired behaviors that go back to our days in caves. Long before we were confronted with half-off Merino turtlenecks or buy-one-get-one-free smartphones, we learned to stockpile in the event of shortage and to compete for scarce resources, psychologists and neuroscientists say. The stakes are considerably lower when you shop, but studies have shown our brains react similarly nonetheless. The effectiveness — and proliferation — of these mind games are a big part of the reason you’re apt to look back and wonder why you thought that buying three itchy sweaters for $50 or a $200 no-name television was such a good idea.

Tips for navigating Holiday Shopping

Tips for navigating Holiday Shopping

Its official name is Cyber Monday. But the first day on the job ­after Thanksgiving — when shoppers hit the Web for steals on holiday gifts — may as well be called the most unproductive workday of the year. Last year, Americans spent $733 million in one day, making hundreds of online purchases when their bosses turned their backs.

1. Be loyal.

Create an online shopping-only e-mail address and sign up in advance for newsletters and e-mails from your favorite retailers. Then you’ll snag surprising deals — Eddie Bauer, for example, lowers the free shipping barrier for loyalty program members from $100 to $50, though you have to enter a code. Gifts.com’s Gillian Joseph agrees it’s essential to sign up for the spam. “You can usually shop starting at midnight and don’t have to worry about waiting on line,” she confides. “And they often have a little promotion code at the bottom of the e-mail to see how far into the e-mail you’re going to read.” In other words, don’t just scan the subject line.

2. Make a list and check it twice.

The hype and deals of Cyber Monday can be overwhelming — and wallet-threatening. Avoid impulse buying by building a detailed list of must-haves. Sticking to a smaller number of stores is not only more manageable, but you will save on shipping (and single shipments aren’t just cheaper, they’re more eco-friendly, burning less jet fuel for delivery).

3. Get your browsing done.

Window-shop online or at your local mall — preparation is key to maximize time on Cyber Monday. “Do your looking online over the weekend, put your items in your cart and save them, then wait for an off hour to place your order,” suggests Christine Frietchen from consumersearch.com.

4.Use aggregators.

Instead of ploughing through Google’s vast, unsifted results, let someone else do the editing for you. For inspiration, check Luckymag.com’s 200 choicest boutiques or the recommendations on storeadore.com and shopstyle.com.

5. Think Cyber Saturday and Cyber Sunday.

Charlie Graham says smart shoppers (and those loyalty program members) can sometimes get online deals all weekend. “All the retailers are clamoring for the same dollars this year, so look a little early to get the scoop.”

Pre-Halloween sales at Black Friday prices

Pre-Halloween sales at Black Friday prices

Thanksgiving is weeks away, but some retailers are dropping prices to entice shoppers.

We’re five weeks away from Black Friday and already major retailers are dropping prices to entice early shoppers into the stores and onto their websites. Amazon has been discounting prices for months and, as a result, its third-quarter sales surged 39 percent. We combed the websites and sale circulars of some major appliance and equipment retailers and found prices cut on some top performers. Some stores are throwing in free delivery and haulaway deals to sweeten the deal.

If you’re a subscriber to ConsumerReports.org, remember that you can access our Ratings and other shopping advice free through your mobile phone. Consumer Reports also just introduced its Mobile Shopper. With this application, available on iTunes for $9.99, shoppers can scan a barcode and access product and pricing information as well as Ratings for CR’s most popular products.

Related Link: Poster shopping at Art Canyon

Holiday Stress: How to Avoid It

Holiday Stress: How to Avoid It

Holidays are supposed to bring rest and relaxation, but some families find them horribly stressful. With less time to enjoy, many people try to compensate by planning jam-packed itineraries, which can end up with exhaustion, arguments and disappointment. Here are some parent tips to consider…

Ease the ‘annual holiday’ pressure, if possible, by planning a few short breaks during the year. That way, the annual holiday won’t have the entire weight of your expectations upon it. It is also is a min-rehearsal for family travel, which does need a different kind of organisation than at home.

If possible, take longer annual holidays, rather than shorter. You have a better chance of feeling relaxed after three weeks away rather than just one. Action-packed itineraries could be intermingled with decent spells of ‘just bludging around’, so you don’t need a holiday from your holiday.

Preventing potential problems

Holiday stress can be brought on by bad luck, but you can avoid many potential upsets with forethought, planning and commonsense.

Research your intended location and accomodation very well.

Make sure you have adequate travel insurance. Check that it covers the needs of everyone in the family.

Pre-think your location and make sure you have enough sunscreen, insect repellant etc (all the specifics for that location).

If you’re keen to try out adventure sports with a family in tow, use the correct equipment and go with a reputable, well trained professional.

When travelling overseas, make 2 copies of all important documents (such as passports, travellers cheques and credit cards) in case of theft, keep one at home and pack one separately to the real thing.

Take extra pre-cautions when eating out to avoid common holiday gastro disturbances. Take a basic first aid kit. (be prepared to deal with basics.)

Travelling with young children

Ask your travel agent for family-friendly possibilities. Eg, you may prefer two-bedroom accommodation, or a facility with child-minding services, kids club etc.

Try to balance everyone’s needs when planning. The whole family should understand that everyone is there for a holiday so divide your day into adult choices and those more for kids. This definitely helps to avoid holiday stress. Keep it simple.

Just spending additional time together can be stressful. It is common to expect to have a good time on your holidays. However, in reality, during the year, most families only spend a few hours per day together because of work, school and other activities. Little habits could turn into holiday stress, even nightmares.