This holiday season, keep calm and save money

This was originally published on Monday, November 18, 2013, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

In just a few weeks, the official start of holiday shopping will kick off and once again, we will be faced with the “must have” deals, the “I can’t live without that” deals, and let’s not forget the “buy one, get one XX% off.”

As you shop for your loved ones, try not to get your emotions involved. When shopping, keep in mind that the stores are not out to help you shower your love ones, but to make money. Try to avoid these traps:

• In-store layaway: Be sure to read the fine print. Some stores will charge you a storage fee or a percentage of your total to hold on to your goods. Know when your payment and pick-up dates are. The worst feeling is having your gifts returned to the store floor because you are late a day or two.

 In-store credit cards: Around this time, stores will offer large discounts if you open up an in-store credit card. Because a new credit line is opened, your credit score will take a dip. Read all the terms. What are the interest rates? Yearly fees? Are there penalties for paying your debt off early? Most in-store credit cards have very high interest rates, higher than normal credit cards. If you decide to open a store card, use the card to get the discount, then pay off the debt with the money you were originally going to purchase the gift with.

• Mail-in rebates: There are some great deals that are offered by mail-in rebates. The only trouble is, around this time of year we get really busy and forget to mail in the rebates. Some rebates have a deadline; try to mail it off within a reasonable time frame.

 Return policies: Beware of store policies when it comes to returns. If you are ahead of the game and have beaten the holiday rush and started your shopping early, ask if the item can be returned a few days after Christmas. Some items cannot be returned.

 In-store wrapping: Although it is convenient, in-store wrapping costs add up. Sometimes, the cost to wrap the gift costs more than buying a roll of wrapping paper. I’ve seen nonprofit organizations offering gift wrapping for a donation. This will accomplish your goal, provide assistance to the nonprofit and you’ll feel great contributing.

• Buy one, get one XX% off: This is a great deal if you really need two of this item. If not, just buy one.

Remember to try to stick to your holiday budget, which should include not just your gifts but travel, entertainment, food and even your additional power usage for those festive holiday lights. Use your talents to make homemade one-of-a-kind gifts, which mean more from the heart than a store-bought gift.

Use cash as much as possible, stay away from using credit cards. The spirit of giving around this time of year is infectious, and you may feel compelled to give everyone you know a gift. Start with those who are closest to you and if you still are within budget, then consider others.

Lastly, never go shopping without your list. This may cause duplicate gifts or impulse buying. Make your list and check it twice.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at


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