For this holiday season, Loretta Abrams, senior vice president of Consumer Affairs, HSBC-North America, has four holiday shopping tips for consumers. If you follow her advice, you will spend wisely, make your holidays happy and your gifts memorable.
1. Be smart - don't spend more than you can afford
2. Be green- think about the environment when giving
3. Be good - give helpful gifts and support charities and non-profits
4. Be safe. - protect your identity and your cash
Shred last year's list. Many consumers will be thinking about ways to save money this holiday season, so it's a good time to start with a clean slate -- shred your gift list from last year. Add people to the list only after careful consideration – and with an aim toward cutting the list in half. Try adopting a "children only" policy or eliminating adult relatives or eliminating work colleagues, etc. For many relatives and friends, it's the thought that counts. They will just be happy to receive a thoughtful card or receive a phone call from you.
Resist temptation. Always prepare a holiday shopping budget – the list is half as long, so the budget should be about half the size. Think twice about opening new credit card accounts to save 10% on purchases; this may have a long term impact on your credit score. Be tough on yourself – don't use your credit cards during the season unless you know how you will pay off the purchases and can do so within two or three months.
Shop online. Comparison shopping is easier on-line; check which retailer offers the best price. Before you click on the checkout button on a purchase, open another browser and search Google for coupons or promotional codes that are associated with the merchant to save money. Bundle up your gift for free shipping deals.
Shop the sales. This year, there are plenty of sales, specials and one-time only bargains! Take advantage of the many special holiday gift sets and two-for-one options to expand your giving options. Also consider gift ideas that will allow you to spread out or defer your giving (e.g., manicures for the next three months).
Shop locally. Buy a gift at a local area shopping center and/or buying products that are made locally will help support the local economy and help reduce transportation costs and reduce your carbon footprint by saving gas.
Purchase natural and organic products as gifts. They are made with pure ingredients and without the use of harsh chemicals and they are bio-degradable and gentle on the environment.
Choose a gift that will encourage a healthy lifestyle -- such as membership at a health club or a simple set of exercise equipment or walking shoes.
Select gifts that satisfy a need in a way that's helpful, convenient and valued. Good examples are gift cards for gas or groceries, prepaid calling cards, dry cleaning services, or a cell phone with prepaid contract
Visit art and craft fairs. You'll find gifts that are one of a kind, often less expensive - and, best of all, you'll be supporting the local economy.
Keep charitable giving on your list. Make direct contributions on behalf of your family and take advantage of opportunities to help charitable and non-profit organizations - look for promotions where a % of your purchase will go to help a charity, e.g., GoodShop.com - up to 37% of your purchase donated to a charity of your choice.
Give a gift that may open doors or create opportunities: supplies for a crafter, computer equipment, software or accessories for people working at home or paying for a professional development class at a local college.
Buy a gift that the family can share: a large flat screen TV or computer games, exercise equipment for the whole family
Protect your identity like cash. High incidences of identify theft occur during holiday season. When shopping, limit the credit cards you carry and don't take extras. Leave your Social Security card or birth certificate home. Keep a list of credit card account numbers, bank accounts numbers, cell phone account numbers handy along with the appropriate customer service numbers in case your purse or wallet is lost or stolen – it'll be important to report the loss as soon as possible.
Be alert. Be aware of people standing near you when you are making purchases at the mall. Don't give out personal information on the phone.
Check your accounts regularly. Keep receipts and billing statements handy so that you can check for unauthorized charges. Shred documents that contain personal information.
Online security. Make sure your security patch and antivirus software is updated regularly. Before giving out your credit card information online, look for a padlock or key icon at the bottom right of your browser window to ensure you are on a secure page.
In other words, spend wisely and make your holidays happy and your gifts memorable. Take advantage of additional free financial independent resources on yourmoneycounts.com, which is available both in Spanish and English.