Holiday shopping is a great time to remember that Jesus said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16). My daughter was just the almost-victim of fraud as she found a “great” apartment online. It was, in fact, too good to be true. Because of God’s grace, and her typographically-trained designer eye, she detected that a verification document sent by the “renter” was photoshopped. Yes, people are out there to steal our money sometimes.
We can be aware of potentially morally-compromised people around us without spoiling the fun of giving, however! If we seek to streamline our giving, paying close attention to the purchasing process can reduce our expenses and purchasing mishaps. Here are some important things to be aware of as you shop this holiday season.
8 Must-Know Tips for Holiday Shopping
1. If using cash, say the bill and change amount as you pay the cashier. For example, if you use a $20 bill and the amount is under $10, then say, “Here’s a 20.” This is because cashiers may dispute your payment amount, taking advantage, or sincerely being confused, in the rush of the lines. If they know that you took note of handing them a $20, they will be much less likely to say “Sorry, you gave me a $10, not a $20.” They may even lift a $10 out of the drawer and say it’s from you. Of course, few cashiers are out to swindle you, but a few are. This is not an uncommon ploy. It’s easily prevented if you make verbal note that you are paying attention. If you do this, they won’t even try this on you.
People can steel your credit card information in a crowd without you ever realizing it.
3. Stay with your credit cards. If a cashier leaves with your card for a reason, request that they don’t. Just say “I have a policy of not letting my credit cards out of my sight. I’m sure you understand.” This is because it just takes a moment to take a phone picture of both sides of your credit card and use the information quickly online. Most online purchases weed out illegitimate use of the card when the Card Security Code isn’t supplied. However, a photo of one side of your card and quick memorization of that 3 digit code on back can put your credit at high risk.
4. Make sure your credit card is returned. This seems simple, but people leave credit cards with cashiers all of the time. My father-in-law made a hardware purchase and in the bustle of trying to carry out the purchase, he failed to be sure his card was returned. He realized the next morning, after over $1,000 had been put on it. He knew the culprit was the cashier and reported the theft. After a shopping trip it’s a good practice to check that all credit and store cards are safely in your wallet.
Did you know that millions of dollars of gift cards aren’t used every year?
–Expiration dates. A year passed quickly, and I didn’t realize that the manicure certificate that my daughter bought me had an expiration date. Many do. Take note and point that out to the gift recipient.
–Stores go out of business. Is the store a small, one-of-a-kind, merchandiser? Encourage the recipient to use it in good time. Even larger merchants, especially trendy stores, for example, Delia’s, disappear quickly. And the now-defunct Circuit City made millions when it closed its doors before the public used up purchased gift cards.
–Nation-wide chains may sell gift cards that can only be used in the state in which they are purchased. Last year I sent coffee gift card to a friend who lived 200 miles away. The store refused the card and I got the card back in the mail from my friend.
–Take note of specifications. Some gift cards are sold at a discount as a ploy to require further purchases. For example, one gift card said on the front “$50 Gift Card.” On the back, in tiny writing, it said “$50 off purchase of $100.” This is not an appropriate gift.
–Many stores will not let gift cards be cashed in for money. If you give a gift card to someone and they don’t like the store, or can’t find anything nice within the card amount, they can’t use the card. Other stores allow refunds. It’s up to you if you want to be that thorough. Also, some stores don’t give change if the amount it under the card amount.
–Careful when buying credit card gift cards. The fee can be hefty. I added a $20 VISA gift card to my grocery purchase last year, needing a quick gift. When I got home, I realized there was a $5 fee added to the card purchase. This isn’t always the case, especially with store gift cards, but check to be sure.
Some smaller stores and restaurants may not monitor large security breaches.
7. Always check returns deadlines. Did you know that this year Black Friday falls more than the 30 days before Christmas? This simply means that when you buy gifts with this return limit, if people don’t like, fit in or want your gift, they are stuck with it, anyway. And Cyber Monday falls on the 27th, which gives people exactly 2 days to return items bought on that day. Many stores have recently cut back on the length of return deadlines. These return or exchange limits are oftentimes printed on the receipt, saying “Return by _______” making the date clear. Other times, the policy isn’t printed at all. Ask when you purchase.
8. On Cyber Monday, most on-line merchants offer, at the very least, free shipping. This is good to know if you don’t like paying those potentially hefty shipping fees, even if you are purchasing personal items. If you have favorite online stores, simply sign up for emails on their store websites before Cyber Monday. You usually will receive notification of what their cyber shipping will be, and some sites start the sales early so you can be ahead of the game. Then you may choose to remove yourself from the mailing list after you make your seasonal purchase. Beware that merchants count on emailing you tempting online offers throughout the year, so they’ll accept lower prices for one day to get you on their mailing list.
Scripture tells us, “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” (Proverbs 11:25) Giving wisely can help spread that generosity and refreshment around. Shopping has become a very complicated process in our society, and some merchants and individuals will try to take advantage of this fact. Shop savvy and everyone will be blessed!