Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Park Carefully: 10 Frugal Tips for Post-Holiday Shopping

If you plan to hit the malls tomorrow, here are 10 tips that have saved me time and money:

1. Find original packaging. You'll have a better chance of returning merchandise if you present the original box.

2. Collect your paperwork: Come armed with credit-card receipts, store receipts and tags. With the right paperwork, I've received dollar-for-dollar value for returned items in the form of cash or a credit on my account. Without receipts, you could lose money. Here's the scenario: You paid $35 for the dish set. But in the post-holiday markdown, the set has been reduced to $18. With a receipt, you'll get $35 back for the return. But without the receipt, you'll receive an $18 store credit.
3. Don't give up if you lack documentation. Many stores offer flexible return policies, even if you don't have a receipt or the original packaging. However, without a receipt you'll only get store credit, at best.

4. Collect names: If you have problems returning an item, start a new paper trail at the store. Collect names and speak to a manager if necessary. Remain polite.

5. Stay home: I save the most when I skip the post-holiday sales.

6. Get a head start: December 2008 is only 12 months away. Holiday merchandise will be marked down. Pick up gifts for steep discounts. Shop with a list.

7. Wait 'til January: If you think prices are low now, just wait until January. From thrift stores to upscale chains, January is a great time to pick up bargains.

8. Eat before you shop: Don't shop on an empty stomach. If you're hungry, even the little box of Godiva chocolates will look like a good deal. Trust me: Once at Macy's, I was so hungry that I purchased super-rich chocolate for an amount that could have been applied to a college fund.

9. Park near the stores you will visit: Limit your walks through the mall. I know one bank analyst who parks near the exterior doors of each door he plans to visit. This discipline makes him less vulnerable to impulse purchases because he spends less time walking through malls.

10. Start a gift closet. Instead of returning unwanted presents, why not just stash them away in a re-gifting closet? Build an inventory for the future. This step will accomplish two things: 1) you'll save money on future presents and 2) you won't be tempted to spend more money during your latest shopping trip.
Sharon Harvey Rosenberg is the author of The Frugal Duchess of South Beach: How to Live Well and Save Money... Anywhere!, which will be published in May of 2008 by DPL Press.
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