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Holiday tips with a grain of salt

As holiday shopping seasswings inhigh gear take some advice you might receive with grasalt.

As the holiday shopping season swings into high gear, take some of the advice you might receive with a grain of salt.

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Updated: May 3, 2013 12:14PM



As the holiday shopping season swings into high gear, everyone's giving advice. As if you needed it. If you haven't learned the lesson of self-discipline by this point in the Great Recession, no newspaper column will help.

Instead, here's a bunch of tips sent to me in press releases that range from the obvious to the unique to the outrageous. Many revolve around "surveys" that -- no surprise -- wind up favoring their own product or service.

I pass them on in hopes that at least one of them will make a difference in your shopping style -- or at least make you smile.

Surveys

HEADLINE: Citibank's National Consumer Holiday Spending Forecast

PITCH: 45% of Americans expect to spend less than last year for the holidays while 47% plan to spend about the same. Nearly half of Americans (48%) believe they will cut back on the cost of gifts they give this year.

COMMENT: Duh! I hope they didn't pay their PR department much for this one. It came with a note that the "news" was embargoed until the following day.

HEADLINE: 2010 Gift Giving Survey

PITCH: Sixty-five percent of respondents said they'd rather receive a Visa Gift card over a "non-essential" holiday gift, such as a holiday scarf, bottle of cologne or gift basket.

COMMENT: Did I forget to mention that this "survey" was sponsored by Visa! It included another tidbit to remind you that people don't really want the gifts you're running around to pick out for them: 28% admitted to regifting at least one of their holiday gifts from last year.

Online shopping advice

HEADLINE: All-Out Free Shipping War

PITCH: FreeShipping.org notes that "Wal-Mart pulled out the big guns by providing free shipping on more than 60,000 online items during the holidays, with no minimum order or subscription registration required. . . . Then Amazon said it would meet or beat any free shipping deal out there." Go to this site to download the coupon codes for free shipping from nearly 4,000 merchants.

COMMENT: Every retailer from Best Buy to Toys R Us is trying to send you stuff for free. But they still have to pay FedEx and UPS, so tip: Buy stock in those delivery companies.

HEADLINE: American Express offers Online Shopping Tool to Cardmembers

PITCH: AmericanExpress.com offers a free, downloadable tool that offers discounts and other special benefits to cardholders shopping online. "When cursor is placed over the icon, the offer is revealed and can be easily redeemed when you pay using your American Express card."

COMMENT: The ultimate in technology. Isn't it nice that "don't' leave home without it" now has been updated to "don't shop online without it?"

Coupons

HEADLINE: What's In and What's Out for Online Couponing

PITCH: "What's really 'out' is wasting time searching for online coupons, jumping between retail pages and couponing sites, and deciphering valid coupons from bogus ones. DropDownDeals coupon browser app will save 'time, money, hassle, and headache' by automatically delivering vetted discounts and deals."

COMMENT: Even though the press release link to DropDown Deals.com didn't work, I did check it out. Downloading the app meant it would follow me around to all my shopping sites with a popup box to offer discounts. What are they doing with all my shopping info anyway?

Online shopping and charity

HEADLINE: Save Money AND Give Back to Charity With Every Purchase!

PITCH: "What if every purchase you made at 1,600 retailers from Amazon to Zales earned a free donation for your favorite charity? Well it can! GoodShop.com is an online shopping mall that donates a percentage of each purchase to the charity or school of your choice."

COMMENT: This is a fascinating concept -- a link that redirects you to thousands of retail websites. But because you arrived from Good Shop.com, the charity you name will receive a contribution -- typically from 1 to 3 percent of your spending, and pennies just from your browsing. To start, input the name of your charity, and they verify that it is legitimate based on a huge database of nonprofits. Pitch says charities such as St. Jude Children's Hospital have earned more than $13,000 and the ASPCA has raised more than $35,000 to help animals in need. There's no cost to users, but my browser warned me about the "cookie" that would be following me around.

(Un)Common sense

HEADLINE: Majority of Consumers Opt for Debt-Free Holiday Season

PITCH: The National Foundation for Credit Counseling headlines its online poll, noting that of 4,800 respondents, more than 70 percent plan to pay for holiday expenses with cash or debit card -- so they won't have bills in January.

COMMENT: Don't wait until after the holiday shopping season to visit this helpful website, www.nfcc .org, where you can get tips on budgeting debt and links to the nearest local member credit counseling agency. This poll, taken from people visiting the site, represents the "smart money" -- people who have already learned that debt will bury you. Too bad more people won't get the message until it is too late!

Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser.



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