* Free gifts or bargains that are too good to be true are usuallyjust bait to get your money. Expect a fair and reasonable pricefor goods and services. * Read and understand contracts completely. Know what promisesyou’re making before you sign your agreement. p>Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines. The race is on forholiday gift buying. But you don’t need to throw away goodshopping judgment just to win the hearts of family and friends. * Don’t make a spur-of-the-moment decision to buy an item. Takeyour time, think about your needs and the amount of money youhave. * Be alert to factory seconds and irregulars. These items haveflaws or imperfections. Examine the item carefully. Find the flawand decide if it will make a difference. * Read labels, seals, tags and instruction booklets. Askquestions. Get the facts before you buy. * Return a purchase that’s damaged, didn’t provide reasonablewear or didn’t live up to the guarantee. Gifts aren’t the only expenses during the holidays. You may needto work entertaining, cards and clothes into your spending plan.Don’t get caught short financially just when you want to relaxand enjoy the festivities, Maddux says. * Shop at the start and the close of a big sale. The first dayoffers the best selection, but the last day may bring furtherprice reductions. * Check warranties. Find out what is promised, who stands behindthe promises and what you must do to benefit from a warranty. * Look in the classified ad section of your newspaper for itemsyou need. Buying person-to-person often saves dollars. “Know how much money you can spend,” Maddux says. “Your holidayallowance can include cash earmarked for the holidays, any extramoney available (like a Christmas bonus) and the total amount youcan afford to charge.” “You need a holiday-spending game plan lined up long before youget to the stores,” says Esther Maddux, a financial managementspecialist with the University of Georgia Extension Service. Here are some simple shopping reminders as you prepare for theseason: * Shop and compare to find the best values. Compare features,quality, prices, charges for installation, delivery, credit andservice. Use the phone to gather information rather than runningfrom store to store. Sometimes the amount you save isn’t worththe cost of your time, energy and transportation.
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