(MONEY Magazine) – TIP 1 Shop but don't drop
The average consumer plans to spend $738 this holiday season. To help soften the blow, we made a list of some alleged smart shopping tips--and checked it twice.
[THUMBS UP] • SHOP ONLINE This one's right. Convenience and selection are better than ever, and despite high fuel costs, most online retailers are offering free shipping.
[THUMBS DOWN] • TRACK PURCHASES BY USING CREDIT CARDS Nope. (Exception: online shopping.) Why not? People who use credit spend up to 30% more on gifts.
[THUMBS UP AND DOWN] • OPEN STORE CREDIT CARDS Hmm. A 10% first-buy discount is sweet, but too many new cards can sour your credit. Plus, store cards often have higher rates.
[THUMBS UP AND DOWN] • GIVE GIFT CARDS Depends. They're a popular gift, but some depreciate in value over time--or expire.
[THUMBS DOWN] • WAIT FOR LAST-MINUTE BARGAINS Not this year. Fearing a tough season, retailers began sales early, so big markdowns are already here. --Amanda Gengler
TIP 2 Move from cell to cell It's a universal problem: Get a new cell phone and you have to re-enter all your old phone numbers, one by one. If you've got a $300 Treo or BlackBerry, you can use software to sync up, but what about the rest of us?
• STAY IN SYNC When you buy a new phone, ask the store to transfer your numbers--many will, often for free. To protect against losing the phone, see if your carrier offers backup. Verizon's service lets you store data online for $1.99 a month; Nextel's is $5 a month. If your carrier doesn't offer it (hello, Sprint) or you'd rather not buy backup every month, software like SnapSync ($30) lets you synchronize with Outlook or Outlook Express. You need a $30 cable, but it should work with all phones by the same maker, so brand loyalty pays in the long run. --KATE ASHFORD
TIP 3 Write off investment losses Planning to sell your stock losers by the end of the year to write off the loss? Good decision. But unless you want to pull out of the market altogether, you need to find a replacement stock or fund. (The IRS says you can't buy back those stocks for 30 days.) What do you do?
• DO IT RIGHT Instead of buying shares in a similar company, move into an exchange-traded fund in the same sector. This ensures you don't miss an upturn, plus you get diversification that a stock can't offer. For fund swaps, check out Morningstar's "similar fund" tool through a free trial at morningstar.com. --JANET PASKIN