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5 Things You Must Know About Holiday Spending

Score the best deals with price matching, rebates and free shipping.

1. Find the lowest price.

The Web sites DealNews.com and BensBargains.com will do the work for you. Each site tracks bargains at more than 2,000 retailers. Using a price-tracking tool, such as CamelCamelCamel.com or PriceZombie.com, can help you time your purchases and send an alert when the price of an item drops. And procrastination may pay off. After sluggish sales growth early in the year, some retailers will wait to slash holiday prices in hopes of selling items to eager shoppers before rolling out the biggest promotions.

2. Ask for price matching.

Smartphone apps, such as ShopSavvy and RedLaser, can help you spot ways to save by scanning an item’s bar code and comparing prices online. But getting a store to match a competitor’s price isn’t always as easy. To better your odds, research the store’s policies on its Web site or call ahead. Some stores won’t match an online retailer’s price or may require that you show a competitor’s print ad. Even if you think you know the rules, check again. Target, for example, recently expanded its policy to include 29 retailers, among them Amazon, Costco and Staples, and it now offers price matching for Target.com purchases.

3. Use free shipping.

Even if you don’t have access to free shipping through Amazon Prime or a TargetRED card, you don’t have to pay for it. If you’re on a store’s mailing list or a member of its loyalty program, check your e-mail for recent messages containing free-shipping codes. As the holidays near, look for retailers to sweeten the deal by combining free shipping with other last-minute sales. And if you’re still shopping on December 18, visit FreeShippingDay.com for a list of about 1,000 retailers offering free shipping (and discounts), with guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve. But don’t let the allure of free shipping distract you from the bottom line. The item you’re buying may be available for less, even if you have to pay for shipping. PriceGrabber.com has a tool that factors shipping fees into the price.

4. Read the fine print on rebates.

Rebates for home appliances and tech items are common and may be sizable for major purchases. For example, Samsung recently offered customers who purchased the Galaxy S6 a $100 rebate. You’ll typically pay the full cost up front and then mail a rebate form, with the receipt and proof of purchase, to receive a check or gift card. Don’t count on a rebate if the item is a gift that may need to be returned. You will probably be asked to remove the item’s bar code from the package to accompany the paperwork, which could make returning the item tricky.

5. Get the skinny on warranties.

Many household products, from cookware to luggage to electronics, come with built-in warranties. For example, Craftsman, Jan­Sport and L.L. Bean offer to repair or replace items that become defective through normal use. But not all warranties are as comprehensive. Some may cover only certain parts of the product or expire after a given period of time. It’s rarely worth paying extra for the extended warranties that retailers will try to sell you for major purchases.

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