MONEY deals

Free Shipping Day Deals: Better Than Black Friday and Cyber Monday?

shipping box with confetti and styrofoam peanuts coming out of it
Sverre Haugland—Getty Images

Thursday, December 18, is Free Shipping Day, when more than 1,000 retailers are offering free shipping on all orders—and sometimes an extra 50% off on top of that.

Let’s be honest: Free shipping isn’t all that hard to come by. E-retailers are well aware of how exorbitant (or, for that matter, any) shipping costs are likely to cause online shoppers to abandon their virtual shopping carts before completing transactions, so nearly all merchants offer some form of free shipping—typically, when a minimum purchase threshold of $50 or $75 is met.

On Free Shipping Day, however, participating retailers agree to offer free shipping with no minimum purchase required, and the event is held one week before Christmas so that orders can be delivered by December 24. Still, let’s have another reality check: Many Free Shipping Day participants have offered free, no-minimum-purchase shipping on plenty of other days in the holiday season. Target has been doing this for two months, and stores such as REI are offering free, no-minimum shipping guaranteed to arrive by Christmas Eve on orders placed as late as 10 a.m. on December 23.

The point is that free shipping, while nice and all, is hardly the most unique and dazzling deal in today’s promotion-heavy marketplace. And free shipping alone shouldn’t make you pull the trigger on any old purchase.

The best deals for online shoppers combine free shipping with substantial discounts. Many retailers are pairing up across-the-board markdowns with Free Shipping Day promotions, and they’re presenting them as amazing, can’t-pass-up bargains. But are they? Below, we’re listing some seemingly impressive Free Shipping Day deals, and we’re comparing them with what these same retailers were offering on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and other times during the holidays. Indeed, many are truly good deals—on par or better with what we’ve seen on other big sales days—but others just aren’t that special.

Here’s just a sample of today’s offers. As you’ll see, before biting on any Free Shipping Day deal, it’s wise to do some clicking around to investigate whether the promotions you see today are the same, better, or worse than what these retailers were offering days or weeks ago—and may offer again tomorrow.

Abercrombie & Fitch: Use code 15588 for 50% off everything plus free shipping—the same exact deal the retailer offered on Cyber Monday. Abercrombie offered across-the-board sales of “only” 40% off on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

American Eagle: Use code HOLIDAZE for 40% off everything and free shipping on all orders—the same exact offer promoted on Black Friday weekend and Cyber Monday.

Children’s Place: Use code 25OFFER3 for free shipping on all orders, plus an extra 25% off sitewide—on top of sales marking down all merchandise by 40% to 60%; on Black Friday, by contrast, Children’s Place offered free shipping and a flat 50% off all merchandise.

Hollister: 50% off everything in store and online (use code: 35588), plus free shipping on all orders; Hollister also knocked 50% off everything on Black Friday, but shipping cost extra for customers who didn’t meet a minimum purchase threshold.

Lane Bryant: Free shipping and 50% off select merchandise such as pants, jeans, skirts, shoes, and boots (use code: SNOWMANLB), compared with free shipping and 50% off absolutely everything on Cyber Monday.

Levi’s: 30% off everything (through December 21) and free shipping (on December 18 only); occasionally, the Levi’s site is known for discounting all purchases by 40% off, but only on orders of $250 or more.

Sports Authority: Customers get 15% off nearly all merchandise and free two-day shipping for orders placed on Free Shipping Day; from time to time earlier in the season, this sports retailer has offered 25% off and free (standard) shipping on all orders.

Tommy Hilfiger: Use code TOMMY100 for free shipping on all orders and $30 off if you spend $100 or more; it’s not nearly as good a deal as the Cyber Monday deal of 50% off your entire purchase.

MONEY online shopping

How to Get Fast, Free Last-Minute Shipping on Holiday Purchases

An Amazon employee packages an order to be shipped from its Coffeyville, Kan., warehouse.
An Amazon employee packages an order to be shipped from its Coffeyville, Kan., warehouse. Brian Corn—The Wichita Eagle/AP

Hey, holiday shopping procrastinators, now's the time to get your act together and take advantage of offers guaranteeing free and speedy delivery of online purchases.

Here’s everything you need to know about last-minute online holiday shopping, including how to ensure your orders will arrive in time to tuck under the Christmas tree—and how to not pay top dollar (or any money whatsoever!) for it.

The sooner you order, the better. While many retailers are guaranteeing that orders placed very late in the game—perhaps even by December 23—will arrive by Christmas Eve, it’s unwise to bank on these guarantees holding up. After last year’s debacle, in which orders from Kohl’s, Amazon, and others failed to arrive in time for Christmas, retailers have tried to push shoppers to place orders earlier to help avoid the mad rush in the few days before December 25. It shouldn’t surprise anyone, however, that many consumers are procrastinating, and that retailers are yet again guaranteeing last-minute delivery to entice desperate shoppers into placing late orders.

But there are two simple reasons why you should make online holiday purchases asap: 1) Doing so will save money, because (with the exception of Free Shipping Day—see below) the likelihood of free shipping disappears the longer you wait, and you’ll pay through the nose for expedited delivery at the very last minute; and 2) even though retailers and shipping services have taken steps to avoid a repeat of last year’s troubles, Mother Nature or sales overload could still cause shipping delays. After shoppers were burned last year, why take the risk?

More retailers are offering delivery guarantees. Heading into the 2014 holiday season, retailers seemed a little hesitant to make the sort of last-minute shipping guarantees that were commonplace in 2013. According to a survey conducted in the fall, 21% of retailers said they would set their deadlines for guaranteed December 24 delivery at December 19 or later, compared with 26% a year ago. Yet more recently, there’s been an increase in such guarantees. The consulting firm Kurt Salmon told USA Today that 25% of retailers are guaranteeing free delivery by Christmas on orders placed one to three days beforehand.

Retailers typically have a series of deadlines and varying costs for shoppers who want delivery by December 24. Target says that customers who order by December 20 are guaranteed delivery by Christmas, but only “on select items.” Target is also offering free standard shipping on all orders placed by December 20, but the policy stipulates that standard shipping is “3-5 business days.” There are only four business days between December 20 and December 24 (including both of those days), so it wouldn’t be surprising if some December 20 orders aren’t delivered by December 24.

Many news outlets have reported Amazon’s first deadline as Tuesday, December 16—that’s the last day shoppers can get free delivery via Super Saver Shipping for non-Prime members who meet the minimum purchase threshold ($35). Yet Amazon itself is now listing Friday, December 19, as the final day for free (non-Prime) shipping. Prime members, meanwhile, get two-day shipping on all orders fulfilled by Amazon, so they can order as late as December 22 for delivery by Christmas Eve.

Free Shipping Day is Thursday, December 18. As of Monday, roughly 1,000 retailers said they’d be participating in Free Shipping Day, an annual event held about a week before Christmas, in which stores offer free shipping on all orders, with no minimum purchase. While that sounds terrific, it must be noted that the many retailers offer essentially this same exact deal before and sometimes after Free Shipping Day. Target has given customers free shipping on all orders for weeks, while retailers like REI are offering free shipping guaranteed to arrive by December 24, with no minimum purchase, for orders placed as late as 10 a.m. on December 23. In select areas, Banana Republic is even offering free same-day shipping thanks to a partnership with a speedy delivery specialist, Deliv.

There are other ways to get fast—and free!—shipping. As mentioned above, Amazon Prime members get free two-day shipping on their Amazon purchases, and if you’ve never had a subscription before ($99 annually), it especially makes sense to get a free trial membership during the holiday period. Students get six months free, while everyone else can enjoy Prime benefits for 30 days. Also, the December 2014 issue of MONEY offers all sorts of tricks for saving money on online purchases, including the tip that ShopRunner, another two-day shipping service, is free for American Express customers who register a card with the site. By subscribing to either of these services, every day is Free Shipping Day.

MONEY Shopping

What Small Businesses Are Doing to Woo You from Walmart and Amazon at Holiday Time

141128_EM_SmallBusiness
Matt Gray—Getty Images

Local mom-and-pop stores are trying to make a strong sales pitch to holiday shoppers, while getting squeezed by big box Goliaths on one side and cut-throat online discounters on the other.

Virtually all of the hoopla about Black Friday weekend focused on which retail giant has the best door buster deals and discounts. Amid the flurry of eye-popping markdowns, crazy marketing schemes, and general cut-throat competitiveness, it’s easy to overlook the little guys struggling to compete with Walmart, Best Buy, Target, Amazon, and all the other big retail players making noise in the marketplace. Indeed, as the results of a recent Bank of America survey show, the vast majority of small business owners feel left out of Black Friday: 74% said the day “has little to no impact on their bottom line, compared to 69% last year.”

To help small businesses avoid being thought of as mere afterthoughts during the epic shopping weekend, American Express created the day-after-Black-Friday tradition known as Small Business Saturday a few years back. It’s a fairly self-explanatory idea, in which consumers are encouraged—through deals, promotions, and special events—to shop at downtown mom-and-pop stores rather than hit the same old national retailers clogging malls and highway stops around the country.

Yet as Businessweek noted recently, compared with the frenzy of attention showered on huge national retailers on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, the trickle of special offers from small, independent shops is sorta “like bringing a (handmade) knife to a gunfight.”

Local shop owners say they having a particularly hard time competing with their oversized retail counterparts during the holiday season because online discounters push prices lower and lower, and national chains keep expanding store hours further and further into Thanksgiving. That doesn’t mean that small businesses and downtown shopping districts in general are willing to simply concede holiday sales to the mall. Rather than taking one careful, strategic strike against a larger opponent like David does in his Biblical fight against Goliath, small businesses are banding together in communities around the U.S., with the hope that there is strength in numbers.

Here are a few of the ways that these Davids are collectively battling for attention and shopper dollars during the holidays:

Local Shopping Guides
Local-focused magazines in cities like Memphis and Chicago make a tradition out of publishing shopping guides highlighting gifts that are made and sold in their respective metro areas. Some local business associations also publish a special version of The Scout Guide, a concept born in Charlottesville, Va., in 2010 focused on the best independent and locally owned small businesses, which has expanded to dozens of U.S. cities. “Small businesses need to speak louder to be heard over the Internet and the recession,” one business owner in the Minneapolis area said to the StarTribune recently, explaining why she supported a Scout Guide for the region. “With limited promotional budgets, we have to do more to announce ourselves than take out an ad spot in the back of a magazine.”

Still other cities, notably Detroit, are issuing “passports,” which shoppers can get stamped at participating local stores in order to receive discounts and the occasional freebie.

Free Parking
To woo shoppers downtown—where so many local-owned restaurants and small businesses still set up shop—Philadelphia waives the usual requirement to feed parking meters on Saturdays, now and throughout the month of December.

Plaid Friday
Buy-local groups created Plaid Friday in 2010 in Oakland, Calif., as a relaxed, small-and-independent shopping alternative to Black Friday, dominated as it is by national retailers and their mass-produced doorbuster deals. Why plaid? The concept, which has since spread to Las Vegas, Fayetteville, Arkansas, Portland, Maine, and beyond, is all about “weaving the individual threads of small businesses together to create a strong fabric that celebrates the diversity and creativity of independent businesses.”

Small Business Saturday Deals
American Express launched Small Business Saturday—the day after Black (and now, Plaid) Friday—in an attempt to remind shoppers of the importance of supporting local businesses, while also reminding them that independent shops sell all manner of quirky, unique, and memorable gift items that never wind up on the shelves of the big box chains. In addition to the sales and deals available at mom-and-pop shops, AmEx gives registered cardholders up to three $10 statement credits each time they spend $10 or more at participating small businesses on Saturday. Sacramento and other cities participating in shopper passport programs around the country typically have special promotions centered on Small Business Saturday. Billings, Mont., meanwhile, has a printable game board featuring dozens of local shops: Get 10 of them checked off by visiting now through Sunday and you can enter to win gift cards valid at participating local businesses.

Parades & Special Events
Beyond the sales on Small Business Saturday, cities such as Wilmington, Del., are hosting parades to draw shoppers to downtown business districts, while the Stay Local group in New Orleans is coordinating all sorts of events to take place on Saturday, including celebrated authors serving as special volunteer booksellers.

MONEY identity theft

Here’s How to Make Sure You Don’t Get Cyber-Scammed on Cyber Monday

141128_EM_CyberTheft
Patrick Strattner—fStop Images/Getty Images

'Tis the season for identity theft. Online shoppers, protect yourselves.

As consumers start their holiday shopping, virtually everyone has the same Christmas wish: Please, don’t let anyone steal my identity.

A recent survey from TransUnion found that 96% of Americans say they’re worried about identity theft this holiday season, and almost two-thirds are more worried this year than they were last year.

And they’re not wrong—identity thieves like to strike during periods of high activity, like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. “Criminals fish where the fish are,” says Ken Chaplin, senior vice president for TransUnion. “This time of year, a lot of people are fairly busy and flustered and just trying to get things done, and they might not be as careful or diligent.”

When you shop at a brick-and-mortar store this season, it’s mostly up to retailers to keep your information secure. But when you shop online, you can fall into traps. Here are the do’s and don’ts for staying safe:

DON’T click on links in retailer emails.

Hackers like to prey on deal-hunters by sending “phishing” emails that look like they’re from brands you know and trust, says Joe Siegrist, CEO of LastPass, a password management and information security company. Then when you click on the email link, the hackers redirect you to a fraudulent site and steal your information.

If you see a great deal, double-check. “Go directly to those sites instead of clicking on links in the email,” Siegrist says. And legitimate businesses should never contact you to ask for your account information or password—if you get an email that does, go directly to the business’ website and enter your information there, or call the business to make sure the request isn’t fraudulent, Chaplin adds.

DO check to make sure you’re shopping at a secure website.

The tell: the URL. The address line should begin with https. That “s” is key—it means the information is being sent over a “secure” line, Chaplin says.

“You might do a web search for an item, and then you’ll click on some sort of a link, and that link might take you somewhere that’s not where you want to go,” Chaplin says. “Be sure that you do business only with websites that have the proper security measures in place.”

DON’T shop on public WiFi networks.

Thinking of sneaking out to a coffee shop to do a little online shopping on your lunch break? Be careful, Chaplin says. Only enter sensitive financial information like credit card and bank account numbers on secured WiFi networks with passwords. On networks without passwords, “whatever you’re typing and viewing online could be seen by someone else,” Chaplin says. “An open WiFi network is not secure.”

Phishers love open WiFi networks, too. “It’s a lot easier to fool you into thinking you’re on a legitimate site when you’re not,” Siegrist says. “They can replace the contents of the page with something they want to be shown.”

DO keep your software up-to-date.

To protect yourself from identity theft, keep your computer safe from malicious adware, Siegrist says. There are a number of adware removal tools out there, but here’s the free and easy way to protect your device: Say yes to software updates. That means installing Windows and Mac updates as they become available instead of always clicking “later.”

And pay extra attention to your internet browser of choice. “Your browser is a very important one—make sure you keep that up-to-date,” Siegrist says. “You have to actually restart your browser to get [the updates]. Don’t run your browser for days on end without a restart, especially if it’s indicating to you that it needs to.”

DON’T use a debit card for online shopping.

Credit cards have better liability protection than debit cards. And when you use a debit card, funds come straight out of your account, so it can take longer to recover your money if someone racks up fraudulent charges.

DO use a different credit card for online purchases.

If you can, use one credit card offline and a different credit card online, Siegrist says. That way, it will be easier to detect fraud. Need a new credit card? Check out MONEY’s Best Credit Cards for holiday shopping and for all year round.

DON’T save your credit card information on websites.

When you shop online, retailers will often prompt you to save your credit card information so that you can buy more items quickly and easily at a later date. Don’t do this.

“You definitely increase your risk when you store your credit cards at these sites,” Siegrist says. “The site itself is then keeping that credit card stored—that makes it a target for hackers.”

DO change your account passwords.

If you do have accounts at different online retailers, change your passwords at least once after Cyber Monday. That way, if any of the sites are hacked during the holiday season, your accounts will be more secure. “It’s good internet hygiene,” Chaplin says.

When you change your passwords, don’t reuse passwords across multiple sites—or else you’ll be giving hackers the master key to multiple accounts. Use this trick to create really secure passwords that you’ll actually remember.

And whenever possible, set up two-factor verification. That way, no one can get into your accounts without both 1) your password and 2) another separate piece of information sent to just you—like a text message or a code retrieved from an iPhone app. Here’s how to enable two-factor verification.

DON’T stress about credit card fraud.

Look, it’s no fun when a hacker steals your credit card number. But credit card number theft won’t wreck havoc on your financial life like other kinds of identity theft. Your liability for fraudulent charges is extremely limited, especially when a hacker just steals your card number and not your physical card. In that case, you owe nothing. And after a big data breach, your financial institution might mail you a new card no matter what, just to be safe.

(If someone steals your actual card and uses it, you could be out up to $50 on credit cards or $500 on debit cards—but that’s not relevant in cyberworld.)

Be worried if a hacker gets your social security number. In that case, a fraudster could open new accounts in your name and ruin your credit. If that’s what you’re afraid of, here’s what to do. But you shouldn’t be sharing your social security number when you shop online, anyway.

DO check your statements.

That said, you should still keep a close eye on your credit card and bank statements for suspicious activity, especially at this time of year. That aforementioned liability protection is only helpful if someone detects the fraud. With credit cards, you’ll want to identify fraudulent charges before you pay your bill. With debit cards, you need to report any fraudulent charges within 60 days of receiving your statement to get your money back.

And read the statements closely. “Criminals are a lot smarter than they used to be,” Chaplin says. “It used to be a huge charge would show up on your card and your bank would call you. Oftentimes now a charge will be $20, $30 a month, and you might not be aware of it.”

But never fear—though identity thieves may have gotten smarter, you can still outsmart them.

Related

MONEY deals

6 Black Friday Deals So Crazy You Won’t Believe They’re Real

dogs with "adopt me" signs
Jim McKinley—Alamy

Black Friday deals on TVs, tablets, toys, clothing, and jewelry come as no surprise. But how about Black Friday promotions featuring guns, giveaways of cats and dogs, and the requirement to strip down to your underwear?

Here are a half-dozen downright bizarre Black Friday deals:

Free Cats & Dogs
At least one Humane Society (in Oregon) is waiving the usual $50 adoption fee on cats now through December 1. In addition to free cat adoptions, the shelter is knocking $50 off normal dog adoption fees, which generally run $100 to $350. Other humane societies around the country are hosting Black Friday pet deals such as free dogs if they’re black and at least six months old (Kansas) and a promotion of $5 to adopt a cat 5+ years old and 50% off the adoption of rabbits, guinea pigs, and other small animals (in Massachusetts).

Buy a Car, Get It Free If It Snows on Christmas
A car dealership in Chicago has a sales pitch that’s tempting for those who like to gamble—and that could wind up being extremely costly for its promoters. The deal is that all customers who buy a new Buick or GMC automobile at the dealership on Friday or Saturday will get full refunds on their purchases if it snows six or more inches on Christmas. The dealership is calling the promo its “White Friday” sale.

Guns & Ammo
It may not be what your family expects to find under the tree or stuffed in stockings on Christmas morning, but guns have come to be hot sellers on Black Friday and throughout the holiday shopping season. Last year, the number of FBI background checks conducted for each firearm purchase on Black Friday was nearly triple that of a typical sales day. Why are guns hot sellers during this period? Largely for the same reasons that so many other items are hot sellers right about now—because stores have big promotions to attract customers. Walmart is discounting all firearms by 20% for its Black Friday sale, while gun enthusiast websites are filled with firearm and accessory deals—weapons, targets, ammunition, and more—from a wide range of retailers around the country.

Wait Outside in Your Underwear, Get Free Clothes
Among the many early Black Friday sales that have popped up this week, probably the strangest took place on Tuesday at Desigual in San Francisco: As the Consumerist pointed out, the first 100 shoppers waiting outside the store wearing nothing but their underwear received free tops and bottoms from the Barcelona-based fashion retailer.

Buy a Car, Get a TV
The first ten customers to buy new cars at a Toyota dealership in Missouri received free flat-screen TVs thrown into the deal on Black Friday. What’s more, the first ten people in the door at the dealership on Friday were handed $25 gift cards for ham—no car purchase required.

Loans and Online Bank Accounts
Everyone else feels comfortable glomming onto Black Friday for sales and marketing purposes, so why not financial institutions as well? The Utah Community Credit Union, for instance, is advertising “BLACK FRIDAY DOORBUSTERS!” in the form of auto, home equity, and personal loans with supposedly great terms. Capital One 360, meanwhile, is hosting a Black Friday Sale, with bonuses like $100 for new savings and checking accounts and, depending on how much you invest, $150 to $1,250 bonuses for those opening a new online trading account or IRA.

Bear in the mind that even if these offers are truly good deals, taking out a loan or opening a new bank account is certainly not something you decide impulsively because of some flashy promotion. For that matter, no one should go adopting a pet or buying a gun on an impulse either.

MONEY consumer psychology

12 Ways to Stop Wasting Money and Take Control of Your Stuff

Digging in overflowing closet
Steve Cole Images—Getty Images/Vetta

If you're swimming in stuff, not to mention debt, check out this list of a dozen tips to stop the madness and streamline your lifestyle.

In my work as a consumer psychologist and author, I’ve read countless studies about consumer behavior, and I’ve conducted plenty of research on my own, interviewing hundreds of shoppers about how, when, and why they shop. Here’s what I’ve learned about how to avoid piling up too much stuff and how to stop making unnecessary, excessive, and ultimately unsatisfying purchases.

Do an inventory check. Jenna Suhl, who has worked as a wardrobe stylist in San Francisco for more than a decade, told me, “It’s not uncommon for people to buy new things because they have so much they can’t see what they already have.” Suhl recommends weeding out what’s worn, ill-fitting, unmatchable, or a style that no longer suits. That’s not only true for clothing and accessories, but also tools, household products, and knickknacks. Another woman once mentioned to me that she actually bought the exact same serving platter twice, forgetting that she already owned it. “At least I have consistent taste,” she laughed, “but clearly I have too much stuff.”

Buy good quality—and use it. Perhaps counterintuitively, I’ve found that it’s common for people to almost never use the things they love the most—a favorite pair or jeans, a vintage Mustang—and that give them the most pleasure. Why? Often, it’s because they want to protect the item in question, because they like it so much and don’t want it to be ruined. Instead of using their favorites regularly, they buy cheaper things—sometimes knockoff imitations—for “everyday” use. The unfortunate result is less satisfaction, and that lack of satisfaction often leads to more buying in the misguided hope that some new item will make us happier. In a similar vein, many people spend more money on an outfit they wear once for a special occasion than they spend the entire year on clothing they use every week, such as workout wear, jeans, or sneakers. The smarter approach is to put your money where you’ll see it in action and enjoy it the most, thereby reducing purchasing cravings.

Count your blessings. First and foremost, being grateful—not just for possessions, but also for the people, places and simple pleasures in life—is good for the soul. But an attitude of gratitude is also a proven antidote to impulse purchasing because it creates a sense of abundance within the individual. When you’re feeling full of gratitude, you’re less likely to subconsciously try to fill emotional holes by treating yourself with gifts and accumulating more stuff.

Turn off the temptation. Imagine having a friend who was constantly telling you about seemingly terrific deals (half-off watches!), or that you simply had to try the new pizzeria in town (free dessert!). Hearing about these offers puts you in the position of considering purchases you might not otherwise have noticed. Worse, you’re likely to get worn down over time, so that you end up jumping at some offer partly to reward yourself for all of the times in the past you behaved virtuously and passed on the latest bargain. These are the effects of signing up for email subscriptions from retailers and deal sites. If you’re trying to rein in your spending, simply cancel those subscriptions. Forget the idea that they somehow save you money. You’ll save a lot more by remaining ignorant of all those seemingly amazing bargains.

Play the waiting game. When you’re tempted to buy something on a whim, wait at least 20 minutes. Then, after clearing your head, reconsider how and when you’ll actually use the product. Instead of simply choosing to have it or not have it, think for a moment about what else you might prefer instead—such as the freedom of having less debt or a bigger purchase that requires saving, such as college tuition, a house or retirement. When considering larger purchases of, say, anything more than $100, make the wait period 24 hours. The typical impulse purchase seems a lot less like a “must-have” after sleeping on it.

Learn to share. I’m not talking about the explosion of “sharing economy” businesses that facilitate things like car-sharing and bike-sharing. I’m talking about the old-fashioned DIY method of buying something with a friend or neighbor and owning it jointly. I recently watched two young women negotiate sharing rights for a relatively expensive gold necklace they both wanted and ultimately bought together at Nordstrom. And I interviewed a family that purchased backyard play equipment with their neighbors. That family is also ingenious about repurposing. For example, they decorated homemade birthday cards with buttons taken from worn-out shirts (which were cut up and used as dust rags). I’ll admit these practices can seem time consuming and not commonplace—but they’re inspiring, and perhaps there’s an opportunity to share or repurpose that will eliminate a new purchase in your life.

Buy only what you need, right now. Part of what makes shopping so alluring is the mental vacation that comes with imagining how a product can be used, such as, “I’ll turn heads in this outfit,” or “We’ll have the wildest parties with this cocktail shaker.” But most homes are cluttered with unused merchandise (often with the tags still attached) purchased for, say, an African safari that never materialized or a slimmer figure that has yet to be acquired. Don’t let your imagination divert attention from the cost and practicality of an object, nor from reality. Before making a purchase, ask yourself if you’ll be using the item in the very near future. If the answer is no or not likely, pass.

Focus on the bottom line, not freebies. “Free” is the four-letter word that always seems to work in marketing. But the free gift with purchase, the free bottle of water while you’re shopping, and the free samples can all cost you. For one thing, getting something for free creates a sense of obligation that makes it harder to say “no” to a persuasive salesperson. Shoppers also often use the free gifts included with purchase to rationalize buying something that’s way beyond their budget. I’ve seen otherwise highly intelligent, logical people spend a fortune to get something for free. And the irony is completely lost on them.

Remember that it’s okay to buy nothing. Shopping takes time, and it can feel like time wasted if a purchase isn’t made. Outlet malls, which typically require a significant drive, are particularly dangerous places for people trying to reduce their consumption. It’s not uncommon for people to purchase something they don’t really need rather than to leave empty-handed, with the feeling like the trip was a total waste. The same phenomenon occurs in upscale “destination” boutiques and at e-retail sites that have drawn shoppers in for significant amounts of time. But don’t fall for the notion that you’ve wasted time if you shop and don’t buy. The truth is that buying something you don’t need only makes for more waste.

Do some quick math as a reality check. If you earn an hourly wage, do a little simple division to see how much of your time, effort, and work is eaten up by a potential purchase. The thought that three hours of your work barely covers the cost of some restaurant meal is likely to inspire you to cook more. The same concept works for salaried workers, just first do the math to break down your roughly per-hour take. Alternately, you could compare the cost of a new purchase to the amount in a savings account, or how long it took to save that amount. Calculating that the cost of a new TV would swallow 50% of the savings that took you two years to compile should be enough to give you pause. Likewise, if you’re really trying to get a better sense of how much you’re spending, don’t use credit cards. Spending with cash feels more tangible, more like you’re spending real money that required your real time, sweat, and effort to earn—and that’s the whole point.

Buy for the right reasons. Research shows that we can think we’re hungry when we’re actually thirsty, think we’re tired when in reality we’re bored, and so forth. In other words, we’re pretty good at identifying when we need something, just not so good at identifying precisely what it is we need. The concept translates directly into the world of shopping and buying: People often buy stuff not because they truly need the stuff, but to fill a variety of other psychological needs, including the craving for human contact, relief from boredom, the opportunity to feel totally competent and in control, and the mental stimulation of something unique or beautiful. To buy less, don’t confuse the real reasons you’re shopping; the tips above about practicing gratitude and waiting for a specified time period before making a purchase should help boost awareness of what it is you truly need.

Shop for stuff you need, not sales. Another of the psychological reasons that many people over-shop and buy is to get a burst of feel-good dopamine that accompanies sale shopping. Snagging a coveted item at 30% off can feel like winning a prize. But sales are nothing special: Virtually everything is discounted at some point in today’s retail world, and at least three-quarters of the purchases shoppers tell me they regret making were bought on sale. They often say they the item isn’t quite the right size, color, shape, or style—but what got them hooked was that the price was right. This is silly, of course. If you don’t like the item, there’s no price that makes it a smart buy. I’ve also found that sale-focused shoppers, ironically, tend to spend more total money than others. Remind yourself when shopping that the point is to seek good-quality items you need, not random stuff that is appealing solely because of a seemingly good price.

MORE: How Do I Set a Budget I Can Stick To?

Hey Impulse Spenders, Here’s a Solution to Your Bad Habit

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Kit Yarrow, Ph.D., is a consumer psychologist who is obsessed with all things related to how, when and why we shop and buy. She conducts research through her professorship at Golden Gate University and shares her findings in speeches, consulting work, and her books, Decoding the New Consumer Mind and Gen BuY.

MONEY groceries

Rumors Are Flying of a Thanksgiving Turkey Shortage

Turkeys in a grocery store
Richard Levine—Alamy

You may have heard that there's a turkey shortage, and that prices are rising just in time for Thanksgiving. Hogwash.

Supermarkets have plenty of turkeys, and prices are incredibly cheap right now. How cheap? How about 79¢ per pound? That’s what the Kroger chain of supermarkets is offering in a special deal valid through Thanksgiving, so long as the customer buys an additional $35 or more in groceries.

If that’s too pricey, check out the offer from Meijer: When a customer spends at least $20 in the store, the chain’s own brand of turkeys are 50% off, which translates to 54¢ per pound for frozen birds and 98¢ per pound for fresh ones. In competitive markets such as western Michigan, meanwhile, some local grocery stores are selling turkeys for as little as 49¢ a pound. The latest Stop & Shop circular is advertising frozen turkeys for 59¢ per pound with a $25 purchase, and the chain says it will match the turkey prices of any grocery competitor. Yet another large player in the grocery field, Hy-Vee, has a coupon valid for a free 10- to 14-lb. Honeysuckle White Turkey for customers who purchase a Hormel whole ham. And ShopRite is giving reward club members a free turkey once the customer meets certain spending requirements (usually $400) over a period of a few weeks.

So why are so many headlines are making the rounds lately indicating that turkey is getting expensive?

It’s true that production is down, and that wholesale prices are up for turkey. But the important takeaway for shoppers is that neither of these factors is necessarily translating to rising prices in stores.

Due to long periods of drought and rising prices for feed, production of all manner of livestock has been on the decline in recent years. Beef prices, for instance, have increased to the point that consumers needed smart strategies to keep barbecue costs down over the summer. The Associated Press recently reported that American farmers will produce a total of 235 million turkeys this year, “the lowest since 1986, when U.S. farmers produced roughly 207 million birds.”

It sounds pretty dire. And yet, there’s nothing remotely true about the idea of there being a turkey “shortage,” as some have called it. A shortage means there’s not enough to go around—that the supply can’t keep up with demand. But as no less an authority than the National Turkey Federation noted that Americans collectively consumed 46 million turkeys at Thanksgiving 2012, and 210 million turkeys during the year as a whole. That, combined with the fact that there are ample supplies of turkeys at supermarkets all over the country, should dispel any claims of a “shortage.”

As far as prices go, wholesale prices may be rising—reportedly up 12% in October compared with last year—but, as USDA agriculture economist David Harvey explained to the AP, “There’s really no correlation between what grocery store chains are paying and what they’re selling them at.”

This year—and every year around this time—supermarkets use turkeys as “loss leaders.” The stores advertise exceptionally low prices on turkeys, knowing that doing so will be a draw for customers. The grocers don’t care if they make little or no money, or even if they lose money, on turkey sales; shoppers who come for turkeys almost always buy plenty more groceries when they’re in the stores, especially when they’re required to do so, as the best deals stipulate, and it’s in these purchases where the supermarkets make their money.

What’s more, the idea that there is a turkey shortage and/or that turkey prices are soaring is a myth that pops up regularly around this time of year. Last year’s “shortage” turned out to be hype because, once anyone read past the headlines, it was clear that even as the supply of one particular kind of turkey had declined, the vast majority of turkeys (and consumers) were completely unaffected.

In a story published today by the New Jersey Star Ledger, Ashley Myers, co-owner of Ashley Farms, is quoted laughing off the idea of there being a shortage of turkeys. “They say that every year,” she said.

And every year, everyone who wants to buy a turkey for Thanksgiving is able to buy a turkey very easily, generally at very low prices—or even free. This year is no exception.

MONEY Food & Drink

These Coffees Want To Be the Christmas Version of the Pumpkin Spice Latte

Seasonal drinks from Dunkin Donuts
Jim Scherer

Can the pumpkin spice latte phenomenon be repeated, only in winter? Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, and others hope so—and they're heaping on sugar, ginger, cinnamon, and chestnut flavors into new drinks to make it happen.

It’s no wonder coffee chains are trying to replicate the retail magic that appears annually in the form of autumn’s onslaught of pumpkin spice beverages. A hot seasonal beverage is proven to juice sales big time. To milk the PSL (Pumpkin Spice Latte) frenzy even more, Starbucks rolled out the beverage earlier than usual this past summer in many parts of the country, and it boosted sales to the surprise of no one.

Peppermint, which is known to increase physiological arousal and heightens alertness, has been a popular flavor in holiday season beverages, and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, McDonald’s, and 7-Eleven, among many others, are bringing peppermint-laced hot drinks back to their winter menus. But the new holiday beverages go far beyond a mere minty twist, with chestnut, cinnamon, gingerbread, sugar cookie, and other sickly sweet flavors providing the rush. (Perhaps that puzzlingly catchy Def Leppard song was really about holiday season coffees?)

When done right, a hot seasonal beverage succeeds for the seller two-fold by 1) drawing in customers early and often, at least partially because any limited-time offer won’t be around forever and people don’t want to miss out; and 2) getting customers to pay more than usual for their caffeine fix. As NPD Group analyst Bonnie Riggs explained of all unique coffee beverages, customers “expect to pay a premium because the specialty drinks … are not something they can replicate at home or easily get at retail.”

All of which helps explain why Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and others have introduced these new contenders for the 2014 winter season:

Starbucks Chestnut Praline Latte
In the same way that pumpkin spice has come to be the dominant, most eagerly anticipated flavor of fall, Starbucks is hoping its brand-new Chestnut Praline Latte becomes inextricably tied to the winter holiday season. “The rich, earthy, sweet, roastiness of chestnut is a perfect foil to espresso. Then we balanced the nutty chestnut flavor with brown sugar and spice,” Starbucks research and development manager Amy Dilger said of the new latte, which is the company’s first new holiday beverage in five years. “It’s a quintessential flavor of the holiday season.”

To get customers to sample the goods early in the season, Starbucks is having a buy-one, get-one-free special on holiday drinks, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. through November 16.

Dunkin’ Donuts Sugar Cookie Latte
Less than a week after Halloween, Dunkin’ Donuts introduced its lineup of sugary winter beverages, including two cookie-flavored lattes: the Sugar Cookie Latte and the Snickerdoodle Latte. They’re both available in hot or cold varieties, as is Dunkin’s Peppermint Mocha, which is back again this holiday season.

Caribou Coffee Gingersnap Cookie Mocha
With “hints of ginger, allspice and clove,” the Gingersnap Cookie Mocha from Caribou Coffee is trying to make its case as the hot caffeinated beverage of the season. Previous seasonal brews also are returning to Caribou’s menu, including the Ho Ho Mint Mocha and special Reindeer Blend coffee—and thank goodness the latter is false advertising. (The coffee contains no real reindeer ingredients, but does have “a hint of caramel and a dash of spice.”)

Peet’s Cinnamon Hazelnut Latte
Peet’s is bringing back holiday beverages such as the Sea Salt Caramel Mocha, Eggnog Latte, and Winter Solstice Tea, while also introducing a new seasonal beverage, the Cinnamon Hazelnut Latte. Follow the link for a coupon granting a free small seasonal beverage with the purchase of any food item, now through November 26.

MONEY deals

Free Donuts, $3 Burritos, and 6 More Scary Good Halloween Food Deals

Krispy Kreme Halloween donuts
courtesy of Krispy Kreme

Krispy Kreme, Chipotle, and other restaurant chains are giving customers freebies--or discounts so good they'll give you an excuse not to cook on Halloween.

This year’s Halloween food deals include free bacon and free donuts, as well as several options allowing kids to eat for free. In many cases, getting into the Halloween spirit—by way of wearing a costume—is required, so check the rules and dress accordingly.

Arby’s: No costume is required to take advantage of Arby’s Halloween freebie—instead, all customers need to do is say “Trick or meat” when ordering to get bacon added at no extra charge. Free bacon can be added to burgers and other sandwiches, or even mixed into milkshakes.

Baja Fresh: Click on the link for free kids meals for children in costume, when combined with the purchase of an adult entrée.

Boston Market: Use the linked coupon for a free kids meal with the purchase of any individual meal.

Chipotle: The annual Halloween “Boo-rito” promotion allows each patron in costume to order a burrito, tacos, salad, or bowl for $3, from 5 p.m. until closing only.

IHOP: All children ages 12 and under get a free Scary Face Pancake decorated with Oreos and candy corn (scary indeed!) from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Krispy Kreme: All customers in costume can select one donut free of charge today at participating Krispy Kreme locations in the U.S. and Canada.

Olive Garden: Follow the link to get a coupon for a free kid’s meal with the purchase of an adult entrée.

Outback Steakhouse: Kids in costumes eat free on Halloween—presumably also with the purchase of an adult meal, but the offer doesn’t specify.

MONEY halloween

Here’s How to Turn Trick-or-Treat Candy Into Cold Hard Cash

dentures on top of candy
Aleksandar Mijatovic—Alamy

Hey kids, you know your parents aren't going to let you eat all of the candy hauled in on Halloween trick-or-treating rounds. So why not swap some of it for cash money?

The cash payoff isn’t the only reason kids might want to trade in candy soon after Halloween is over. Doing so also supports the troops overseas.

To participate in the annual program, called the Halloween Candy Buy Back, families should start by finding a participating nearby dentist’s office, via a search tool at the link or at the program’s Facebook page. There are thousands of participants around the country–in New Jersey, Ohio, California, and beyond. Chances are, there’s a poster up at your dentist’s office asking locals to join in its Candy Buy Back campaign.

While the particulars of each participating office may differ slightly, they generally all welcome unopened candy donations in the days right after Halloween, and they pay $1 per pound of candy dropped off, with a $5 maximum payout. Some also give treats or goodie bags for kids—toys, stickers, toothbrushes, sometimes pizza or local baked goods—as well as the chance to win iPods, gift cards, and other prizes. It softens the blow inherent in handing over the sweet and chocolatey fruits of one’s labor spent trick-or-treating.

The program was originally envisioned as a means to get massive quantities of Halloween candy “off the streets” and out of the bellies of America’s children, and the campaign truly caught fire when it partnered with Operation Gratitude, an organization that sends care packages to military veterans, new recruits, and most especially troops who are deployed overseas. Some 130+ million tons of candy has been collected over the years, and with the help of Halloween Candy Buy Back participants, Operation Gratitude was able to ship its one millionth care package last December.

As for the more mercenary kids out there—those who are trading candy in for cash at least as much as they are motivated to support the troops—they’re probably trying to figure out what candies weigh the most to maximize their payout.

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