College Connect: Holiday shopping not always a ‘deal’

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By Theo Keith

With the holiday shopping season in full swing, millions of Americans will hit the stores and their Internet browsers to find great deals on everything from TVs to clothing.

Unfortunately, to some people, getting a “deal” gives the green light to spend more. It’s like being so proud of yourself for buying the 50 percent fat ice cream that you have two scoops instead of one.

Shoppers bought more this Black Friday, the biggest sales day of the year, and continued the spending on Cyber Monday, the start of the online shopping season, according to several retail organizations. Consumer spending has been increasing all fall, despite the unemployment rate stagnating — it even rose to 9.8 percent in November.

College students’ financial situations are even worse. Some of my friends have had difficulty finding part-time work during school, and parents are cutting back on helping their students because of their own budget constraints.

But the lure to spend is still there this holiday season. Among the tips I use:

• You can save yourself a lot of money by not pouncing on every “deal” because the money really adds up. A lot of sale shopping is done on impulse — you go into a store for one item, see three others on sale, and say to yourself, “Well, I’ll never get this good a deal. I have to have this!” Make a list — or develop a budget — and stick to it.
• Don’t shop for friends or coworkers unless they’re part of a special group. The feeling of obligation to get everyone something leads to a lot of unnecessary $5 gifts exchanging hands at holiday parties. Homemade cards with something meaningful written inside often about how much you value their friendship or hard work is a much better gift.
• There’s always the after-Christmas sales. Don’t forget that many stores actually have the best deals after the holiday season because fewer people are shopping. If you’re on a budget, spend now on gifts for others, but hold off on making some purchases for yourself until later.
I’m a saver, not a spender, but I’ve had my eye on a 32-inch flat screen TV for my apartment since the summer. I found the 32-inch television I wanted on sale for $500 over the Thanksgiving weekend.

But after seeing a report that TV prices would remain low for an extended time, I decided not to shop on Black Friday. Maybe I’ll get some money as a Christmas gift to help purchase it, do a little more comparison shopping or, at the very least, I’ll be able to save up more money, then head back to the store after Christmas.

With fewer people in the store, it’ll be less stressful, too. To me, that’s worth at least a few dollars.

Theo Keith, a senior at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, is a SABEW/National Endowment for Financial Education fellow. He has had internships at Bloomberg News in Detroit and Fox News Channel’s “Your World with Neil Cavuto,” and he plans a career in business journalism.

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