Buying Power

Plugging into savvy consumer shopping habits can add up to substantial savings over the long run .

cell phones is a perfect example, says Nancy Youman, co-author of The Consumer Bible: 1001 Ways to Shop Smart (Workman Publishing Inc., $15.95). “People automatically buy huge amounts of cell phone time. But if you’re not going to use that time, get a plan that offers fewer free minutes at a cheaper price.”

  • Closely examine your motives for making a purchase. “We [African Americans] often buy things to make us appear popular when we really should select products that are more affordable. Our need to maintain a particular public image has damaged us economically,” states Linda Weatherspoon Haithcox, national manager of economic development at the NAACP’s headquarters in Baltimore. You should never purchase a product to bolster poor self-esteem or because you want to compete with someone else. Your purchases should be based on your own preferences and what makes sense within your particular lifestyle and income.
  • Investigate alternative products and services as well as manufacturers. “Make a list of the things you plan to use the item for and let that guide you in your choice of which model will suit you. Then plan to spend only as much money as you need to get the utility that you’re looking for,” suggests Youman. She recommends consumers refer to resource books, professional organizations, friends, family, consumer magazines and the Internet for price and product comparisons as well as a list of manufacturers. Also see if the stores you plan to do business with have any complaints lodged against them at the Better Business Bureau or a local consumer agency. Cheapskate Monthly (800-550-3502, $18 annually), for example, is a newsletter published by Hunt and a great resource for tips on getting out of debt and improving spending and saving habits. It also has a listing of shopping alternatives.
  • Familiarize yourself with quality products. “I go to very upscale stores to look but I never buy, especially on the first visit,” notes Slater. “I then go to Burlington Coat Factory or some of the other, less-expensive outlets to see if I can save money on the items I want. Most times, I find it cheaper.” It’s important to expose yourself to quality items, even if higher-end products or services aren’t in your budget. If you’re shopping for a suit, for example, peruse top fashion magazines and visit department stores that have a reputation for offering high-quality goods. Then ask the salesperson to help you select a variety of fine suits and try them on. Closely examine the fit, buttons, finish, labels and price tags of the ones you like. That way you’ll be able to identify a good substitute or you’ll know when you’re really getting a good deal on a particular label.
  • Now that you know the type of product you’re looking for and have narrowed down your selection of retailers, here’s some advice for making your purchase:


    • Take your children along. “After a child gets [to be] a certain age, we relinquish our commitment to shop with our children,” cautions Haithcox. That
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