woman carrying shopping bags

Shopping tips for savings - and safety

Regardless of the season, and whether you're on a quick run to the grocery store or on a shopping spree at the mall, it's always smart to protect your money - literally and figuratively.

Let these tips from experts in finance and law enforcement help you keep security and savings at the top of your list.

Spend wisely

Keep your budget intact with these ideas:

  • Determine your budget. Figure out how much you can really spend (and that includes paying it off this winter, not a year from now).
  • Make a list and use it. Impulse buys account for as much as 70% of all purchases. Prevent impulse purchases by having a list, getting what you need from the store and getting out.
  • Plan ahead and buy items when they are out of season, such as toys after the holidays or clothing near the end of a season.

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  • Be aware of how merchants subtly "massage" you to spend more. Factors like store and product colors, attractive posters, packaging and "sale" tags, music, carpeting (to lead you down a path) and product positioning (less expensive options and discounted products pushed to the back of the store and things that appeal to children positioned lower on shelves) can influence you to spend more time in a store and spend more.
  • Don't just compare package prices -- take note of unit prices (cost per ounce, for example). This is often listed, along with the product price, on the shelf sticker.
  • Think "spirit," not "spending." Maybe what a friend or family member really wants is babysitting service on a Saturday night, or a donation in their name to their favorite charity.
  • Use coupons. Scan your newspaper, your email and coupon web sites for deals and dollars off.
  • Don't feel obligated to buy just because the sales clerk is helpful, friendly or seems like an expert or authority. You are not obligated to reciprocate generosity. Likewise, don't let your guard down after accepting a free sample. (This can be especially challenging in the case of sampling parties at a friend's home or when a salesperson comes to your house.)
  • Got a smart phone? Just scan the bar code of an item you're looking at in the store. Amazon Price Check, ShopSavvy or a number of other cool price comparison apps will show if that same item is available elsewhere, for less.

Staying safe

At any time of year, it isn't crowds, but rather isolation, that tends to increase crime. Since there is safety in numbers, these tips can tilt the odds in your favor:

  • Walk to and from your vehicle with another person. If you're shopping alone, walk near other shoppers in the parking lot.
  • If you're shopping alone at night and leaving the mall with several packages, locate a security officer and ask to be escorted to your car.
  • Avoid darkened hallways and backroom areas.
  • Avoid restrooms tucked in remote corners; use facilities near the mall's food court.
  • Always accompany your child to the restroom.
  • Don't use a video arcade or toy store as a babysitter; predators prowl these sites.

Pickpockets and purse-snatchers are looking for their holiday "bonus" - from you. Be a hard target:

  • A man should carry his wallet in his front pants pocket.
  • A woman should hold her handbag close to her body, with the opening facing toward her. When walking with another person, the handbag should be between the two.
  • Avoid using revolving doors. A thief with good timing can snatch your purse or package and make a getaway in the time it takes you to emerge.
  • Group your purchases into one or two large shopping bags. The fewer small things you have to keep track of, the better; and don't leave the bags unattended.
  • Don't deposit packages into your car and walk away. If you must put purchases in your car and continue shopping, use your trunk (not the visible back seat), and move your car to another part of the parking lot.

Sources include: Woman's Day magazine, August 2010, oh those clever retailers

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