How to Be a Wise Consumer

Shopping can be a maddening experience if your funds are limited and you need a big-ticket item you don't buy very often, like a car, appliance or even a mattress. Finding the best product from the right store at the lowest price can seem as hard as naming a new Ben and Jerry's ice cream flavor. It's time to push aside that feeling of being overwhelmed and take your time with your decision. Summon your inner owl and be a wise consumer so you won't regret your purchases later.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

Being a wise consumer involves asking others for referrals along with doing your own research when making purchases. You should also investigate stores' return policies and stick to your budget to avoid financial problems from your shopping habits.

Ask Others for Referrals

Having hundreds of friends on your social network sites can be real plus when you're shopping for something. Post a description of what you're looking for and ask if anyone can refer you to a good website or store that sells the product.

If you aren't sure about the exact manufacturer or model you want, get recommendations from people who've already bought the item. You'll pick up some good info about features you need and what to avoid. If your friends offer more advice than you can remember, take notes and keep a list of important points.

Do Your Own Research

Researching before you purchase is more than just hunting down the lowest price. Read online comments and ratings about a certain brand or style so you'll see what not to buy. Don't rush out and buy something you had your heart set on if it has mostly negative comments. Crossing it off your list and moving on can save you time and money.

Also, use the Internet to check for a second-hand version of your item. You might luck out and find one in good shape for a much lower price than a new version. If that doesn't work, compare prices at all types of places, such as big box membership stores, large retailers and department stores. Department stores can have a rep for being expensive, but some sales events whack a large discount off the price.

Investigate Return Policies

Even after you've done serious due diligence before buying an item, you still might be disappointed in the way it performs. That's why you should investigate the return policy before making a purchase. Read the return guidelines from the store you choose and ask questions if they aren't clear.

It can be worth your while to pay a little more for an item if a particular retailer has a liberal return policy. It's better to shell out dollars upfront than to be stuck with a flop and have to replace it.

Stick to Your Budget

You might find items that cost a little more than what you have allotted yourself, so you're tempted to bump up the price on your search criteria. Without setting a strong limit for yourself, you can easily get in over your head.

When it's time to finally take the plunge and make the purchase, use a credit card only if you can pay off the next bill in full. This will help you establish a good credit history without putting yourself deep in debt. The right credit card can also help you track purchases and fight fraud. If you can't pay off the credit card bill promptly, however, it's usually better to pay cash for the item.

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