Expert Online Shopping Tips for Budgeting and Shopping Safety

At Hoopla Doopla, we strive to give our members the best online shopping experience on the web. Take advantage of the tips below to save money, time and protect yourself!

Shop Smart

Everyone loves a bargain. But is what we see always the best deal? Follow the necessary steps below before you buy to come out a winner!

Beware of "The Great Deal"
Many sites offer what appears to be "The Great Deal", such as offering a substantial amount of cash back, additional free items with the purchase, and more. Sometimes, without realizing it, this may end up costing. For example, a substantial amount of cash back offered can mean you are paying the difference someplace else. The high cash back number may seem attractive at first, but you are most likely paying it into an increase in the price of the product. With free items being thrown into the deal that you don't even need, you may also find yourself paying more for the purchase than you need to.

Know Your Product
Regardless of where you buy your product, or how much a coupon code or cash back offering will discount you, always check the prices of what you are buying at different merchants and compare. The 10% off coupon at one store is meaningless if the product is 15% cheaper at another without a coupon.

Used Merchandise
Why pay full price when used is just as good? Media products like books, video games, music CD's and movie DVD's can be purchased at deep discounts, and have the same replay value as if purchased new. There are a number of sites out there that sell used goods at great discounts.

Protect Yourself

Online shopping is a great convenience. But like everything else, it has its security risks such as stolen credit card numbers, identity theft and more. Take the necessary precautions below to protect yourself!

Use a Credit Card
Paying with a credit card at the merchant's checkout is the safest way to pay when shopping online. With a credit card, if your number gets stolen, you are usually liable for no more than $50 for fraud purchases. Using your debit card, although often bridged through Visa and MasterCard, will give a potential hacker access to your checking account. Once funds are removed from your checking account, it can be much of a hassle to replace it.

Single Use Account Numbers
Some banks offer "One Time" account numbers. These numbers become invalid after one use, or after a certain date allowing you not to worry about your credit card number being stolen. These accounts are a great way to leave your credit card and bank accounts totally protected.

Third Party Checkout Services
Using third party checkout services, such as PayPal and Google Checkout is another great way to pay safely online. Using these services will prevent your credit card number and identity from being stolen because they are the middle man in the transaction.

Protect Your Computer
On the local end of the purchase, your computer should always be protected when shopping online. Security software that contains virus and firewall protection can prevent and block programs and other harmful content from entering your computer, putting personal and financial information at risk.

Secure Checkout
Always make your purchase at the merchant's checkout is in a secure environment. To ensure you are within the secure checkout environment, look at the top in your browsers address bar. The page address should start with https://, not http://. Your browser may also display a graphical indicator somewhere, such as a closed lock, showing that the page is secure. If the lock is shown in an open state, you are in an insecure environment.

Never Purchase Using Email
Never send your credit card number in an email to make the purchase. As mentioned above with Secure Checkout, you must be at a secure page that starts with https://, not http://.

Shopping on a Budget?

Following the advice below will help you get the most out of your dollar.

Used Merchandise
As mentioned above in "Shop Smart" why pay full price when used is just as good? Media products like books, video games, music CD's and movie DVD's can be purchased at deep discounts, and have the same replay value as if purchased new. There are a number of sites out there that sell used goods at great discounts.

Price Matching
There are a number of retailers that will match, or even beat, a competitor's prices. Compare prices before making your final purchase. You save money by researching ahead of time.

Spread Out Your Purchases
Spreading out your holiday purchases can make it really easy on your budget. Make a few purchases here and there over a period of time, or even throughout the year. See something in August mom would like for Christmas? Buy it then! This will put less financial pressure on you around the holidays because you will have less to spend all at once. Shopping last minute often results in making additional purchases you don't need because you are feeling rushed and crazed.

Sale Adjustments
Some retailers will offer what is called Sale Adjustments. If you buy an item at regular price and it goes on sale the next week, they will give you a credit or refund for the discounted amount!

Layaway
These purchase plans are designed for people who want to buy merchandise without using credit or paying the full price immediately. You make a deposit, usually a percentage of the purchase price, and pay over time until you have paid for the item in full. This will make it easier on your budget. In exchange, the retailer holds the merchandise for you. For full details on the plan, get the store's layaway policy.

Last Minute Shopping

Find yourself short on time to shop? Below are some great last minute gift ideas!

Electronic Gift Cards and Gift Certificates
Many retailers offer these, and their convenience is fantastic. Online gift cards and certificates can be sent out via e-mail, allowing you to order them as late as noon on Dec. 24 to guarantee their arrival. Some of the best gifts received are made possible through gift cards and certificates, such as spa treatments, shows and attractions and more. Just make sure that what you purchase doesn't have an expiration date or fees for non-use.

Magazine Subscriptions
Know someone who enjoys traveling? Loves to Cook? Enjoys the great outdoors? Reads up on Sports? Purchase a magazine subscription for someone. The list of interests is endless. For the actual gift presentation, buy a current issue of that magazine, wrap it up, and let the gift receiver know there are 12 more on the way!

Food and Wine Clubs
Know someone who enjoys a glass of wine with dinner? Sign that person of for a wine club. Or perhaps a nice wine basket will do.

Fast Mailing
Priority Mail service offered by the U.S. Postal Service delivers packages in the United States within two to three days for less money than major postal delivery companies. The flat rates for packages weighing up to 70 pounds are about $4.05 for an envelope and $8.10 for a box. Head to the post office as soon as possible to ensure your package will arrive by Dec. 23.

Ship Directly to Recipient
A great last minute idea to ensure your gift gets there on time is to have it shipped directly to the gift recipient. Most online retailers can ship items to a different location than your billing address. During the holiday season, especially when traveling, it's good to take advantage of this feature by sending gifts ahead of your arrival time. Some retailers even ship pieces from a single order to multiple locations so you don't have to lug holiday gifts if traveling far distances.

Buy Online, Pick up at Store
Many retailers offer this option. Check with your favorite retailers, skip the crowds, and head straight to the customer service counter where your items will be waiting. Shop at online stores and take advantage of their gift wrapping and shipping options to save time.

Holiday Season Shopping

Follow these expert tips to capitalize on everyone’s favorite shopping time of the year.

Build Rewards All Year
Would you like to do most or all of your holiday shopping for FREE? Start planning early in the year. If you don’t already have one, apply for a reward points credit card that pays cash back on everyday purchases such as groceries, gas, etc. Use this card for your everyday expenses throughout the month that you would normally pay cash for or use your debit card. When the bill comes at the end of the month, pay it in full to avoid interest. You are now building cash back points all year long on your daily everyday spending. Depending on your spending, you can earn anywhere from 50, 100 or more points a month in cash rewards. By the end of the year, the card could have $500-$1000 or more of cash rewards spending money ready for holiday shopping, just for using the card to pay for your normal everyday expenses.

Avoid Impulse Shopping
During the holidays, it’s easy to get caught up in an onslaught of advertisements and promotional offers. To save money, stick to your list, no matter how nice an item looks while you are standing in the store. Shop online to avoid impulse buying.

Shop Online
The internet is the best way to find the gifts you want to buy at the lowest prices. Online shopping is has huge benefits because it allows you to look at multiple stores, instantly compare prices and never have to leave the comforts of your home to face the madding crowd.

Group Gift
Talk to your siblings, coworkers or family members about doing a group gift for someone. An iPad may be outside your price range, but divided amongst a group of people, it becomes reasonable — and the recipient will be thrilled!

Watch for Credit Card Reward Specials
Bank credit cards, such as Citibank, Discover and more, usually off some great benefits this time of year, such as cash rewards when reaching spending thresholds. Spend $250, get$50 in cash rewards. Spend $500, get $100 in cash rewards. These, combined with coupon codes and reward points can save you huge dollars. Just don’t carry the balance for more than two billing cycles, the interest can pile up.

Previous Generation Models
If you are buying for someone in the market for electronics (computers, tablets, cameras, etc), consider buying last years or the previous generation of the device. There usually isn’t much that would make a difference depending on the recipient of the gift, and it will save you big money!

Sign up for Store Credit Cards
Store credit cards can be a good way to help you save money while holiday shopping. Many stores provide incentives to sign up for their card, such as a percentage off the sale, free shipping, and more. Just avoid carrying the balance for more than one to two billing cycles. The interest on the card can take the savings right back.

Use Discounted Gift Cards
Get $100 worth of gifts for $80? Absolutely. Discounted gift cards can be purchased for hundreds of online/offline retailers including the Apple Store, Sears, Home Depot, and many more. Discounts can range from 5%-30% off the face value of the card.

Use Coupon Codes
Never buy anything online without looking for a discount code first. Over time, you can literally save hundreds of dollars and it takes very little time. Discount code are applied during the checkout process. You can get free shipping, percentage off your order and more.

Black Friday
Traditionally, Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the season for brick-and-mortar stores—less. But big general-interest sites host special Black Friday events throughout the weekend. Watch for things like “lightning deals”. These are price reductions that are offered for a short time period.

Cyber Monday
This day is hyped, and with good reason. It is the day to shop online! Get big deals on any type of product from the brands you like. Most merchants—from low-end to upscale—want in on this action, and the deals tend to be broad, as opposed to discounts on specific items. Sitewide specials can range from 30 or even 40 percent off!

Free Shipping Day
Free Shipping Day is usually around one week before Christmas. Hundreds of retailers participate in this, and it is your last best chance to ship your gifts in time for Christmas and shipped for free.

December 21 to 24
This is a great time to get big-time items, such as furniture, televisions, and fine jewelry. With Christmas just days away, merchants usually discount premium items that haven’t sold. Prices continue to drop as the Christmas gets closer, but so does the selection.

Shop Smart and Shop Safe!

- The Hoopla Doopla Staff

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