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Advice & More November 2013

Dollar Sense

Potpourri: Stuff You Should Know about Christmas Shopping Savings – And Safety While You Shop

By Teresa Ambord

Skip the debit, use the credit. It may seem counter-intuitive, but debit cards have much less security than a credit card. If thieves break into your bank account they can clean it out. With a credit card, you have limited liability.

Shopping Online?

Online shopping can be cheaper and safer and less tiring. But the last thing you want is to have your Christmas cheer spoiled by becoming one of the 12 million victims of online theft each year. Here are some simple steps to take:

  • Use strong passwords and don't repeat. Passwords should include many letters, digits, and a punctuation mark or two. Don’t use the same passwords for multiple accounts, because if a thief cracks one, he/she will use that to gain entry to others.
  • Delete your information. After you complete your online purchase, delete your credit card information. It’s a pain in the neck, but the fewer sites that store your information, the better.
  • Skip the debit, use the credit. It may seem counter-intuitive, but debit cards have much less security than a credit card. If thieves break into your bank account they can clean it out. With a credit card, you have limited liability.
  • Use a prepaid or temporary card. It may be worth the few dollars you’d spend to buy a prepaid card at the grocery store. That limits the amount you could lose if you get hacked. Or ask your credit card issuer if they give temporary numbers for online shopping. These act like prepaid cards, but are free.
  • HTTPS. Before you enter a credit card number, check to make sure the site page you are on begins with https. This is how secure pages are designated.
  • Log out. When you purchase online, don’t just leave a site open if you’ve entered credit information. Log out completely, just to be sure.


Store Shopping

The days are getting shorter, and this means much of your shopping may be done after dark.

Even if you arrive by daylight, if you expect to come out of the store after dark, park as close to a light pole as possible. Here are other tips from America’s police departments, to keep you safe this holiday season.

  • Carry your purse like a football, under your arm, with one hand securely around it, rather than holding it by the straps.    
  • If you are shopping using a basket, tether your purse to the cart itself, using the basket’s infant seat belts.    
  • Avoid crowded elevators, passageways, and other areas, which are a haven for pickpockets and purse thieves.
  • Scan the parking area near your car as you approach. If someone is there who makes you uncomfortable, follow your instincts and return to the store. You can always ask at the customer service counter for an escort to your car.
  • If your car has an alarm that is operated by a key fob, be prepared to set the alarm off if you feel threatened. The noise alone may scare off a thief, and buy you some time. These alarms work from a distance if you point them in the right direction.
  • If someone does approach you and demands your purse or wallet, don’t hand it over… throw it away from you. Again, this could buy you time to get away, or get someone’s attention.


Stretch a Dollar
Holiday Food Savings

$$ Turkeys are one of the best bargains there is at the grocery store, and they don’t get cheaper than during the holidays. Why not put as many as you can in the freezer? They’ll keep.

$$ When it comes to entertaining, consider a potluck meal. Many people enjoy a meal more if they can contribute something.

$$ How about an old-fashion progressive dinner, where different homes host different courses of a meal? The first house may host salad or soup. Then the party drives or walks to the next house where another course is served, and so on till the meal is done. This spreads out the cost and gives several people a chance to host.


Savings on Gifts – Shopping and Shipping

Practical. Buy practical gifts, especially for the hard-to-buy-for person on your list. I long ago gave up trying to come up with ideas for my mom, who doesn't need anything and won't tell me what she wants. So I stick with practical: books of interesting postage stamps, containers of her favorite coffee, treats for her dogs. That frees up her own money for what she wants to buy.

Postage/shipping. Online stores are in heavy competition for your business. Watch for the free shipping offers, which may require a minimum purchase, or a code that you have to enter.

  • offers a once-a-year shipping price which I gladly pay because I buy so much from them. For one annual fee (called “prime”) they will ship to any address around the country for orders that are marked “prime.”
  • Some large stores, like Walmart and Penney’s will ship site-to-store for free. Then you’ll need to pick up the items at the store, but there will be no shipping charges.

Online Black Friday. If you’re determined to shop Black Friday, why not do it from home? Walmart encourages Black Friday shoppers to shop online by making all of the same deals available for the same prices on the website, at certain times.

Early wish lists. My sister has her grown kids go to websites like Amazon, Kohls, etc., and fill out wish lists, long before Christmas. Then she makes a regular practice of checking the websites for the best prices on those items. She says by doing that, she squeezes a dime till it’s a dollar. Another sister of mine signed up for where she orders gifts for all her kids online, plus stuff she would buy anyway. Last year she got back $45. She also shops year-round at Macy’s and signed up for their “Thanks for Sharing” program. The program costs $25 to join, but gives rebates and… bonus, the $25 you pay to join is donated to charity and you get the tax deduction.



Stocking Stuffer Ideas You Can Afford

  • Some restaurants offer a small free gift card, like $5, with the purchase of a larger card. I watch for these at restaurants where I like to eat. Then I use the bigger cards to pay for my meals and save the freebies for stocking stuffers. In the past I've seen these deals at IHOP and Taco Bell.
  • If you are a regular blood donor, you probably know many blood banks give away items like movie passes, which also make great stocking stuffers.
  • PetSmart is currently giving $5 grooming gift cards with some purchases of items you probably buy anyway.
  • Many older adults like to order the kid-size meals at fast food joints. The size and the price are perfect for a small appetite. Then you can save the free toy that comes with the meal for another stocking stuffer. Plan in advance and you can have a whole box full by Christmas.


Low and No Cost Holiday Projects with the Grandkids

When the grandkids visit, explain to them that birds and squirrels like to celebrate Christmas too, then have fun making the critters a holiday treat.

Cardboard tube: Save the cardboard rolls inside toilet paper or paper towel rolls. Have the kids smear the cardboard tube with peanut butter, then roll it in birdseed. Add some colorful string, and you’ve got a bird feeder.

Apples: You can also slice up apples and help the kids run a string through them, then tie the ends in a tree branch.

Oranges: Buy an orange several days before the grandkids come, and allow it to harden a bit. Then cut an inch off the top and scoop out the pulp. Poke a couple of holes near the top edge, and insert strings for hanging. Fill it with seeds, and you’ve got a bird feeder.


Teresa Ambord is a former accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, mostly for business, and about family when the inspiration strikes.

Meet Teresa