The Power Report

She's set her sights on consumer rights. She's batting exclusively for you.
Posted: January 19th, 2012 | By Megan Power

In less than a month, Christmas and New Year celebrations will be over. And that’s when the headaches – both literal and figurative – usually start.

Even the most cautious of consumers get carried away in festive season partying and year-end spending, turning our post-party January into a long and anxious wait for payday.

But it doesn’t have to be a baked-beans-on-toast month of regret and high debt. A good dollop of common sense should see you through.

None of the tips offered today are rocket science. They are basic pointers most of us know – but ones we usually ignore in our headlong rush to start the holidays.

It’s this festive season recklessness, along with rampant consumerism, that sees reason and restraint so readily abandoned.

So, before you plan yet another pricey trip to the mall or stock up on your third case of Johnnie Walker, take heed of these useful dos and don’ts. They could just turn the dreaded January into your favourite time of year.

DON’T blow your Christmas bonus (those lucky enough to get one) on food and drink. There’ll be nothing to show for it come January.

DO use at least some of it to pay off debt.

DON’T spend your entire salary in December.

DO keep some back for January expenses, particularly school stationery and uniforms.

DON’T take “debt holidays” or be tempted to skip payments; you pay more in the long run.

DO request de-activation of your DStv if you’ll be away for a month – why pay for what you don’t use?

DON’T spend first and work out your budget later.

DO put money in envelopes marked “entertainment”, “food”, “outings” and so on, and stop when the cash runs out.

DON’T rush big-ticket buys such as fridges and plasma TVs, or get suckered into seasonal promotions that don’t really offer value. Just because it’s on sale, doesn’t mean it offers good value. And no, you don’t need the free toaster that comes with the expensive new double-door and nor do you need the pink kettle in the three-for-the-price-of-one bonanza.

DO compare prices (always apples with apples) and do your homework. If unsure of a brand’s reliability and follow-up service, check out comments on hellopeter.com before you commit.

DON’T get pressured into a traditional Christmas feast if it’s not appropriate to your family, your setting or your budget. You don’t need five different meats on your table; most people don’t like turkey anyway.

DO stick to one or two popular meats and go for quality cuts. Buy early and freeze.

DON’T demand that your Christmas table boast costly crackers with useless trinkets inside.

DO use flowers or plants to decorate the table instead. They’ll last longer and are far more eco-friendly.

DON’T let pushy salespeople convince you to buy clones of a branded product if the person you’re buying for has specifically asked for the real deal.

DO buy the genuine item, and club together with others if you can’t afford it. An iPad is an iPad, a Kindle is a Kindle, a Barbie is a Barbie. Ditto for a Swiss Army knife.

DON’T go Christmas gift shopping without a list. Gifts bought in haste or on a whim are usually unwanted.

DO ask family and friends to give you a wish list. If money is tight, rather buy one good-quality present than two or three cheapies.

DON’T get distracted while shopping and end up walking out with unpaid goods and risking a shoplifting charge. Security guards will be on high alert and innocent shoppers could land up in trouble.

DO leave small children at home if possible at this busy time of year. Ask a friend to baby sit and then return the favour.

DON’T go shopping at peak times when malls and parking lots are at their most manic.

DO use the hours when stores first open for the day, or take advantage of quieter late-night shopping.

DON’T run around town, driving from store to store to find what you’re looking for.

DO phone ahead to check stock, and if not available, ensure the retailer does the legwork to source stock. Before visiting the store, check that the item is there. And get names of staff members so somebody is held accountable if it’s not.

DON’T throw away receipts for gifts you buy, or product packaging that comes with things you’re given. You may want to return them.

DO ask about refund policies. Defective goods can be returned for a refund, replacement or repair within six months of purchase. But when it’s an issue of wrong size, colour or buyer’s remorse, each retailer has its own rules. Some only allow an exchange/refund with a receipt while others will exchange without one if tags are still attached, but give a voucher only. Some will allow returns within 60 days, others only 30. If it’s a gift, ask for a gift receipt (no price displayed) and include it with your present.

DON’T miss an insurance payment to save costs; you’ll risk losing cover.

DO update the value of your household goods in the event of a holiday burglary, fire or flood.

DON’T wait for January to insure all those Christmas buys, such as big-screen TV, iPad or scooter.

DO wait for January to re-assess your car insurance and re-adjust your cover based on 2012 book value.

This is the last Power Report for the year. The column will be back on January 8 2012.

Sunday Smile

AT the N3 Toll Concession for refunding reader Martin Knowler his R115 toll fee after a detour last month forced his double-axle bakkie onto a bumpy, pot-holed road for about 80% of the journey. Knowler was wise to demand his money back; he’d been charged for something he couldn’t use.

Sunday Snarl

AT compareandsave.co.za whose call-centre agents make unsolicited calls and then refuse to put you through to a manager to get yourself removed from their database. How much longer must we wait for the consumer commission’s new opt-out registry to launch? We’re all gatvol of spammers.

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