Be a Savvy Consumer
Take a class in marketing. It’ll teach you to recognize how advertisers try to influence our thinking and make us want things that may not be good for us or that we don’t really need. Being aware of these techniques and recognizing them for what they are can help you resist the temptation to spend for the wrong reasons. Don’t let yourself be easily manipulated.
Avoid big sale days at the mall or department stores. People buy more when there’s a sale, often purchasing things they don’t need. If you don’t really need it, you didn’t really save money on it, no matter how much it was marked down. Even worse, “sale” prices are sometimes more than the regular price because stores first mark up the prices in order to put the items “on sale.”
When making a major purchase, plan ahead, do your homework, and compare price and quality with other brands and between other stores. Research the product’s record in Consumer Reports magazine or read online reviews at reputable sites.
Take a long-term view of each of your regular expenses and decide if they’re worth the opportunity cost. That $100 a month you drop at the gym costs you $1,200 a year. If you invested that amount at a conservative 6 percent return, you’d have $16,326 in ten years. If you invested it in a tax-deferred retirement account, you’d accumulate over $280,000 by the time you retire. That’s opportunity cost.
When shopping at the grocery store, check the per-unit price posted next to the total price on the shelf below the item. This will tell you whether it makes more sense to buy a different size or brand. For example, you can tell immediately whether a package of four rolls of paper towel for $4.59 is a better deal than six rolls for $7.00, without having to do the math.
Whether you’re buying computer equipment, dorm furnishings, or clothing, get in the habit of comparison-shopping. Scout out the prices at several different stores before you buy. Over time, you’ll save a significant amount of money. It’s a good feeling.
Always send in any rebates immediately after you purchase an item. Most people make buying decisions based on rebates but never get around to sending them in.
Recognize the impact of advertising on your urge to spend money. You’re bombarded daily with advertising messages aimed at convincing you that you can’t live without this or that product. Being aware of this can help you resist the urge to splurge.
Don’t indulge in impulse spending. Plan your purchases ahead of time and don’t buy anything you didn’t plan on buying. This practice gives you a cooling-down period to decide if an item is something you can afford and really can’t live without.
Ladies, if you use brand-name department store makeup, switching to drugstore brands while you’re in college can save you a lot of money. Lines like Cover Girl, Almay, and similar brands found in drugstores and Wal-Mart offer quality products without the high price tag. Just because department store makeup is more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better.
Don’t fall for hard sales pitches. Signs of an unscrupulous salesperson include: high pressure, insisting that you make a decision immediately, reluctance to provide information about the company, telling you the product is free but requiring you to pay for something in order to get it, a request for your credit card number before you’ve consented to the sale, or an offer to get your money quickly by picking it up or paying for overnight delivery.
Whenever you have an urge to buy something (anything), ask yourself: do I need this (T-shirt, jeans, DVD, CD, sunglasses, or whatever) or do I just want it? If I just want it, is it worth going into debt, increasing the cost due to interest charges, feeling stressed about paying my credit card bill, and possibly having to give up something more important later?
Limit your name brand shopping. Name brand clothes are often virtually identical to non-name brand clothes, so splurge a little once in awhile if you want to feel cool, but remember that you’re paying for the name, not the quality. A little bit of that goes a long way.
Convenience comes at a price. Anytime a vendor has a captive audience, they tend to charge higher prices. This may be true of your campus store or other campus services, so check out prices in town before you buy on campus.
When shopping, know the regular price of the item you’re looking for so you can tell a bargain from a sales gimmick. Planning your purchases ahead of time instead of buying on impulse gives you the opportunity to research the product, know the regular price, and be able to recognize a bargain.
Don’t rush to buy the latest electronic gadget. Prices are always higher when new products come on the market. Because technology is changing so rapidly, prices fall fairly quickly, so you shouldn’t have to wait long.
One of the goals of advertising is to make you feel dissatisfied with what you have. More is not necessarily better, and materialism won’t make you happy in the long run, so don’t let yourself be manipulated. Resist advertising messages and make your own decisions about buying based on who you are as a person.
Car leases can be complex, so unless you understand all the ins and outs, don’t lease a car. Car salesmen can make a lease sound like a deal you shouldn’t pass up, but they often do so with smoke and mirrors. Bottom line: don’t make a decision based solely on the monthly payment. Before considering a lease, read about how to negotiate one with favorable terms and what lease components determine your total cost.
If you fall victim to a scam, call your local consumer protection agency. You can find the agency in your state by visiting www.consumeraction.gov/state.shtml. They may be able to help you get your money back, or prevent others from becoming a victim of the same scam.
Learn to haggle. Almost anything is negotiable, including credit card interest rates, car prices, long-distance telephone rates, set-up fees, and more. Only one thing is certain: you won’t get a better deal if you don’t ask.
Don’t pay to fix things that would cost nearly as much to replace. Basic televisions are a good example. You can buy new ones so cheaply it’s usually not worth taking it to a repair shop (we’re not talking Plasma TVs here). There’s a basic fee just to have it looked at, and you could end up paying more to fix it than it would cost you to replace it with a new one.
Look at every deal or offer with a healthy dose of skepticism. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There’s no such thing as a $99 airfare to Hawaii, or free shares of Microsoft stock, or a miracle weight loss pill. Check out every offer before pulling out your wallet.
Beware of telemarketing scams, which often come in the form of sweepstakes, prize offers, travel deals, investments, requests for charitable donations, work-at-home schemes, magazine sales, lotteries, and business opportunities. Most of these offers can be trashed without further consideration. If you can’t resist, check the offer out thoroughly and check with your local Better Business Bureau to see if there have been complaints against the business.
Don’t use check-cashing services. Why pay a fee to cash a check when you can do it free with a local bank account?
When getting prescriptions filled, ask your pharmacist if there’s a generic equivalent of the brand-name drug your doctor may have prescribed. In most cases you get the exact same product as the brand-name, minus the bigname pharmaceutical company’s advertising costs.
Legitimate businesses usually don’t send sales pitches via fax, unsolicited email, or phone calls. Ignore those “too good to be true” travel deals that offer your dream vacation at rock bottom prices.
When you’re planning to make a purchase, check with one or two of the online price search engines like www.pricegrabber.com, www.mysimon.com, or www.bizrate.com. If one or more of the stores they represent carry the product, you’ll see a list of the stores and their prices. This is a quick way to find the lowest possible price. If you don’t want to use the store with the lowest price because you’re not familiar with it, use the lower price as a bargaining tool with a different vendor.
Look for outlet or discount stores or those that buy overstocked items or end lots (TJMaxx, Big Lots, Christmas Tree Shops, etc.). You can buy perfectly good stuff at a steep discount. There are also online equivalents of these stores, like www.overstock.com.
Buying from catalogs or over the Internet can be costly because you can’t always tell the quality or fit of the item you’re purchasing until you receive it, and by then your credit card has been charged. Don’t let these items hang around in your closet or under your bed. Package them up and send them back for a refund. The few dollars you’ll spend on shipping will be worth the credit you’ll receive. Make a note to yourself to check to make sure the credit shows up on your next credit card statement.
Don’t use “retail therapy” as a way to make yourself feel better when you’re upset, worried, or depressed. The temporary high you may get from spending money will be long gone when the bills roll in, and there’s nothing to deflate your mood more quickly than a bill you can’t pay and escalating interest costs. Go on a calming hike outdoors instead.
A little advance planning when it comes to gift buying can save you a lot of money. Instead of waiting until just before the holidays or other gift-buying events, shop for gifts throughout the year when you see items on sale and stash them in a safe place until you need them.
Before you spend money on the latest software, find out if there’s a freeware or shareware version that performs the same function. Freeware is software that can be downloaded free. Shareware creators request a voluntary donation if you like the software after trying it out.
Price is not always an indicator of quality. The less expensive cosmetics, store brand canned goods, or less prominent electronics brand may be just as good as the more expensive name brand. Some manufacturers price items higher because it gives them a higher perceived value, but you should make your purchasing decisions based on an intelligent evaluation of products.
When an item you use regularly is on sale, stock up on it if storage space allows. You may feel a temporary pinch in your cash flow, but in the long run you’ll save money. Don’t stock up on things you use only once in a while, though, because the longer it takes you to use up a product, the longer your cash flow will be affected.
The first step toward becoming a financially responsible adult is resisting advertising and marketing pitches, which use psychology to make you want their product. Just say “no” to being manipulated like a lab animal. Make conscious buying decisions based on what you need and what you can afford to pay for now.
Use eBay to find good deals, but be careful not to get addicted to the bidding process and pay for things you don’t really need. When you do find an item you want to buy, make sure the shipping charges won’t add so much to the cost that you’d be better off buying the item at the local mall.
Instead of buying brand-name overthe-counter drugs like cold remedies and pain relievers, buy generic brands that have the same active ingredients at a much lower cost. Equate is one such off-brand line of products, and your grocery store or drugstore probably have their own line as well.
If you take prescription drugs and you don’t have a prescription card from your insurer, call around to several local pharmacies to check prices. There’s often a big difference from one pharmacy to another. Be sure to check small independent pharmacies as well as the chains because larger doesn’t always mean lower prices.
Know the difference between cost and cash flow so you won’t be shortsighted when shopping for staples like cleaning or paper products. Smaller quantities cost more per item, so spending a little more now will save you money later. For example, buying paper towels by the roll is more expensive per roll than buying a package of twelve rolls. You have to make the cash outlay up front, but you’ll pay less per roll by buying more rolls at one time.
Avoid buying extended warranties on your electronics or other equipment. Most items come with an adequate manufacturer’s warranty, and if there’s a manufacturing defect, it’s likely to show up within the warranty period. Extended warranties are moneymakers for the business that sells them to you.
The less you spend, the less you want. Buying indiscriminately is addictive. Once you put controls on your spending, you’ll find the urge to buy stuff weakens and you’ll not only have more money, you’ll be more content with the things you already have.
If you get engaged while you’re in college, don’t fall for the diamond industry’s clever marketing techniques that have convinced millions of Americans that they need to spend a certain amount of their income on a diamond engagement ring. The size of the diamond has nothing to do with the size of your love, and there’s no law that says an engagement ring has to be a diamond. Start simple. You can always upgrade after college, when you can better afford it.
When you borrow money, ask these questions: What’s the interest rate? What are the fees? When the loan is paid off, how much interest will I have paid? If I pay the loan off early, will I pay a penalty? Only when you have the complete picture should you sign on the dotted line.
Remember that no purchase is a bargain if it’s something you don’t really need and wouldn’t have bought if it weren’t on sale. Getting a $250 leather coat for $100 doesn’t save you $150–it costs you $100. Don’t kid yourself.
Don’t give out your bank account information over the telephone to a person you don’t know. All a scam artist needs to withdraw all the money from your account is your name, bank account number, and routing number. Scam artists devise clever schemes for getting you to provide this information over the phone. Be cautious and skeptical.