Budget WiselyBe realistic. There are many discounts during the holiday season, especially on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving), but many items are only offered as limited quantities, perhaps on certain days, or even during certain hours of a specific shopping day. These items will run out quickly before you may have a chance to get one. Also, budget for additional expenses such as sales tax, delivery charges, and needed accessories (see more on this below). A good rule of thumb is to look at the purchase price of the product and add an additional 20-25%. This will more accurately reflect your final register total.
Do Your Own Product ResearchIf you are interested in buying any type of home theater component, check out information both on the internet and in print on the type of products you are considering. On the Web, sites such as this one can offer resources such as links to manufacturer sites, comparative reviews, online price guides, and more that can help you narrow down your choices. (One place to start is my article on what's hot and what's not for the holidays.) Even if you are not a "techie" it is easy to gather some basic knowledge before shopping. Don't ever tell a salesman you know nothing about the item you are trying to purchase, especially if he/she is on commission.
We are always looking for right product at the right price, but before you actually go out and buy that home theater system, blu-ray disc player, HDTV, or other gadget, you need to know how to buy. One important way to prepare for the home theater or consumer electronics shopping experience is to learn how to interpret the different types of ads that clutter the Sunday newspaper. Product ads come in four basic types: the door buster ad, the step-up ad, the rebate ad, and the financial promotion ad. For details, check out my article on how to understand each type of ad.
Know Store Return Policies
When buying gifts, make sure you know right up front what the return policy is. Don't buy a product just to give something to somebody knowing that they are going to return it. Some retailers have restocking fees on some or all items (once opened), including camcorders, digital cameras, and laptop computers. They are strict on this policy.
If the product is not defective, but is still within the return policy, you may be sacked with a 15% restocking fee. If you are out of the return policy guidelines by even one day, the product is yours, even if the product is unopened.
A store's return policy should be posted at the cash register stations, and may also be imprinted on the back of your receipt. If you don't see it - ask.
When buying gifts we want to do the bare minimum. Resistance to buying a service plan or extended warranty is common, and, many times your suspicion is justified. However, if you are buying anything mechanically based, such as a CD/DVD player or camcorder, or you are buying a large-screen LCD, plasma, or projection HDTV, consider buying extended service. Of course, the cost of the plan, the type of coverage offered, and the price of the plan are also important considerations.
For more details, check out some great tips from Matt Torres, About.com Guide for TV/Video, about what to consider when buying an extended service plan or extended warranty.
Buy EVERYTHING a product needs to make it work. Don't take the "I'm buying the unit, they can come back for everything else" attitude.
Make sure you buy any needed cables, batteries, tapes, memory cards, bags, or other accessories so the item can be used the day it is given. If you are buying a DVD or Blu-ray Disc player, buy a couple of DVD or Blu-ray Disc movies. If you are giving someone a DVD Recorder as a gift, make sure you buy a package of blank DVDs in the correct format.
With low stock levels after the holidays, some accessories may be in short supply. If you can't afford the whole package, partner with someone to assist, or give something that is in your budget. For more details, check out my article on what I like to call the "necessories".
Prepare Yourself Physically and Mentally
Before setting out for a day of holiday shopping, remember to eat a good breakfast (and also take some snacks and water with you). Wear good walking shoes, collect all of your notes and lists, and dispense with any unhappy thoughts. It will be a long day.
Whether you are an early or last minute shopper, also remember to have fun. The stores will be crowded, you will have to wait your turn to be served, and it's possible that the item you may really want may be out-of-stock. Just go with the flow and have a happy holiday shopping season.