Holiday Shopping

Since this is the holidays shopping season, I thought I’d share some personal tips on shopping as well. Full disclosure: these are what I actually do or have done at some point. I’m not going to tell you what you should buy, or even where you should buy them – that’s completely your decision and out of the scope of this personal finance blog; however, I will share with you the way I shop to get the most returns on my spending.

1. I always pay with a credit card. There are several reasons for this:

+ Extended warranty and purchase replacement. I have covered these credit card benefits in my first blog post.

+ Cash back rewards, also covered in my first blog post.

+ Price protection from select credit cards, especially those issued by American Express.

+ Easier to keep track of my spending. Some credit card issuers even provide a tool to analyze your spending so you can better project future spending.

+ Special deals between your card’s issuer or payment processing network and their partner vendors. If your card is a Visa, follow this link: http://usa.visa.com/personal/discounts/index.jsp

If you have a Chase, you have access to their Ultimate Rewards Mall. If you have a Discover, you have access to their ShopDiscover. I don’t know about Mastercard or American Express yet, but Google may be able to give you an answer.

I might’ve missed several other benefits of shopping with a credit card, but you’ve got the idea.

2. I spend a couple of minutes online to look for a coupon or special deal. First, I look on Fatwallet. If Fatwallet doesn’t have anything, I turn to Google, looking for XXX coupon, or XXX deal. If a 3-minute search on Google results in nothing, I give up. Do yourself a favor and don’t spend a whole hour on Google. If there’s a deal, it will appear on the first 2 pages of search results.

3. I look for the item I need on eBay. If I don’t feel comfortable buying merchandises on eBay, I look for a gift card instead. Most gift cards can be purchased on eBay for roughly 90% of face value. Less if the gift card value is more than $100. But even at 90%, that’s already a 10% discount. On eBay, buyers are king. If you’re considering selling on eBay, I would give you a whole page of advice and warnings. If you’re buying, you’re completely covered by eBay’s buyer protection policy. I have had opportunities to test out this function; never failed. By the way, I have almost 200 reviews on eBay, both as a seller and as a buyer. But if you don’t feel comfortable with eBay at all, don’t force yourself.

4. If I shop online, I always try to find a match on a rebate (aka cash back) site. Cash back sites receive a referral commission from the vendor, and distribute part of the commission to you to encourage you to shop through them. The process is simple. You sign up for a free account at a cash back site, then search for your store on their search box. The website will give you a link to redirect you to your desired store. You make a purchase on the same store visit (i.e, the visit initiated through the cash back site), the cash back site give you cash back credit, in the form of an Amazon gift card, a PayPal transfer, or a physical check. Some people look for the website with the highest cash back for each store; I don’t. To save myself time, I rely on two websites:

Fatwallet: http://www.fatwallet.com/

eBates: http://www.ebates.com/

Currently they are running a sign-up bonus of $5-$25. Again, signup is free. This is free money already. Once you’re registered, you can refer friends and earn referral bonus as well. Sometimes even your friends will receive extra bonus.

Many credit card issuers also have their own rebate stores. Shopdiscover from Discover is top notch. Add-It-Up from BankofAmerica sometimes has fantastic double-cash back deals. Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Mall is also pretty good. To earn cash back from these stores you have to use the credit cards from the corresponding issuers.

Cash back adds up very quickly for big purchases. I’ve earned about $60 so far this year from a couple of purchases. If I need to buy high-valued items such as a laptop, I will definitely utilize these rebate websites.

If I can think of anything else, I will update this post. If you have any questions, or other ideas on saving money on holiday shopping, please let me know.

After writing all this though, I believe the best formula for a successful holiday shopping strategy is a lot of love and care for the people you’ll be giving the items to. And of course, a true holiday spirit.

So, to close my holiday-themed blog post,

Happy holidays!!!

-Richard

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