Plan your 2018 purchases now, while you still can. Here’s how.

Behold, the buying calendar.

It’s the ultimate consumer tool. If you’re planning to spend money in 2018, you need to get organized. Why? Because businesses are.

They know when you’re likely to buy and are constantly trying to manipulate you with a barrage of ads and armies of highly trained sales associates who don’t take “no” for an answer. Read more “Plan your 2018 purchases now, while you still can. Here’s how.”

Leave this at home when you go shopping (or you’ll regret it)

What should you leave at home when you go shopping this summer? Jennifer Boaro prefers this strategy: Put your credit cards into a cup of water. Then store it in the freezer. Read more “Leave this at home when you go shopping (or you’ll regret it)”

Take this shopping: Proven strategies for spending less during sale season

Cindy Mesaros has the perfect antidote to compulsive shopping. Read more “Take this shopping: Proven strategies for spending less during sale season”

Rather be shopping? You’ve gotta know the code

Pay attention to the last digit of the price tag. It could tell you if you’re getting a bargain, or paying full price.
Read more “Rather be shopping? You’ve gotta know the code”

The unauthorized guide to fine print, holiday edition

Zoon/Shutterstock
Zoon/Shutterstock

When Ben Blout invoked a big-box store’s “low price promise” after discovering a lower price on his merchandise, he learned something customers rediscover every holiday shopping season: some restrictions apply.

Make that lots of restrictions.

“They told me they won’t match any printed advertisement that is not valid for at least one week,” says Blout. “Specifically, their price match excludes timed events like early bird specials and door busters.”

Fine print is a problem any time of the year, of course. But most consumers get foiled by it around the holidays, in part because more people are shopping, and in part because of the extra offers with the extra restrictions.
Read more “The unauthorized guide to fine print, holiday edition”

5 things customers say during the holidays – and what they really mean

Iona/Shutterstock
Iona/Shutterstock
It’s that time of year when you follow the herd to the mall and gorge on the displays.

That’s right, I’m talking about the irrational holiday shopping season. Think I’m overstating this? The authoritative National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts a 3.9 percent rise in holiday sales this year, meaning that collectively, Americans will buy $602 billion worth of gifts before the end of this year.

The average holiday shopper will drop $737 on gifts, décor and greeting cards, according to the NRF. That’s some serious gorging!

This year, I’m not going to tell you to avoid the frenzy. (What kind of Scrooge would I be?) Instead, as a service to consumers, let me help you understand what the other members of the swarm actually mean when they talk amongst themselves.
Read more “5 things customers say during the holidays – and what they really mean”

Scammed: How to Save Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals

It’s official: I’ve just finished the final edits on my new book, Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals.

I just have to tell you about it.

Last summer, a literary agent I’d known for a few years asked me if I had a book in me. I didn’t want to write anything on travel, because I felt there were already several great guides on being a smart traveler.

But how about something about the relationship between consumers and businesses?
Read more “Scammed: How to Save Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals”

How do I choose the right travel insurance policy?

Editor’s note: This is part two in a series of posts about travel insurance sponsored by Access America. Here’s part one.

Nina Boal needs a travel insurance policy. But with so many choices out there, which one should she buy?

“I want to see if I can buy appropriate policy,” she says. “I checked online, and can’t find any direct answers.”

She’s right. An online search for “travel insurance” is likely to pull up a long and confusing list of possible answers. But there are really just three options.
Read more “How do I choose the right travel insurance policy?”

Wacky package price blamed on “anomaly” in program

When you buy a travel package through an online travel agency, you expect the price to be significantly less than if you booked each item separately, right?

So did Thao Tran when he was shopping for a trip to Chicago on Orbitz. But just for kicks, he asked for a price quote for the hotel and airfare.

Shockingly, the a la carte price was less than the package rate.

What the …?
Read more “Wacky package price blamed on “anomaly” in program”