Three Tips for Smart Catalog / Internet Shopping

Tips for Online Shopping

Planning for Christmas, catalog or online shopping has many advantages over the holiday mall scene.

No long lines. No sore feet. No staggering to the car, weighed down by parcels and shopping bags.

Shopping becomes a pleasure, conducted from a favorite chair. Phone in your selections (or place them from your computer), sit back, and wait for the UPS man. Ahhhhh!

Still, it's possible to have too much of a good thing! The catalog tide sweeps in at the end of August, engulfing mailboxes and tabletops with untidy stacks and piles--and disorganized catalog shopping exacts a high price for convenience.

Unbridled catalog shopping can be a real budget-buster, the very ease of the transaction encouraging free spending. Scattershot orders pay high toll in the form of shipping and handling fees. Returns can be problematic, especially when the receipt has vanished in the flood of greeting cards and torn-out recipes.

How to shop smart and save? Try these three tips to organize catalog shopping.

Corral 'em!

First problem for any catalog shopper is keeping the little beasties in check. Try a records box or similar 1 cubic foot container to corral those catalogs. Toss each day's quota in the box. When the box overflows, it's time to weed out the duplicates.

Second "corral 'em" strategy: save all receipts and shipping invoices in a special envelope in the Christmas planner notebook. Punch holes in a manila envelope, and entrust it to the jaws your three-ring binder, or use a special pocket to track receipts. If returns are necessary, you'll know where to find the necessary paperwork.

Consolidate your orders!

Savvy catalog shoppers know that shipping and handling charges are the bane of catalog shopping. These fees can add as much as 25% to the cost of the merchandise! Piecemeal orders require multiple trips to the post office to collect packages. Best strategy: order as many gifts as possible in a single order from one catalog source.

How to consolidate? The secret: removable adhesive tape flags. As the catalogs arrive, browse through them during television commercials or while waiting in the car. When you see an item that would make a good gift, tag the page with a colorful tape flag.

Ready to order? Look for the catalog or two with the greatest number of flags! The colorful display makes the decision for you--and a consolidated order saves money, time and aggravation.

Control your enthusiasm!

Savvy consumers use a credit card for catalog transactions so they can dispute charges for undelivered or unsatisfactory merchandise.

The downside? Credit card shopping can lead to over-spending--and the catalog people are masters at provoking impulse purchases. Unbridled catalog shopping can easily tip the holiday budget into a financial morass.

Use a free printable Internet order tracker and master gift list to organize Internet/catalog shopping.

Keep your lists before your eyes as you make out orders. If the item isn't on the list, it's an impulse purchase--so don't buy it! When you phone in an order, say "No, thanks!" to all telephone specials, today-only offers, and other temptations that will be led across your path.

Second control issue: once you've placed your orders, stop reading catalogs! You'll want to order early, to make sure items are in stock, and can be delivered on time--but there's a danger to early shopping. Those crafty catalog folks will try to entice you back for more, with sales flyers in the box and a renewed freshet of brochures in the mail. Be firm! Once the master gift list is satisfied, ignore the siren songs, sales, and special offers for your financial well-being.

Ready? Set? Shop those catalogs carefully . . . to get ready for Christmas.