Buying Power

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

financially support done for you lately? Check resources such as the Internet and the NAACP’s Consumer Choice Guides (see “Flex Your Financial Muscles,” July 1999) to find out. Adds Slater, “I’m not in agreement with being brand loyal. We’re making companies rich that don’t have any allegiance to the African American community-especially in the area of clothing.”

  • Make sure you read and understand any contract you’re required to sign. According to Youman, your contract should include any verbal promises made by the seller, substitutions and any amendments that were agreed upon. You should also ensure you understand the seller’s refund or return policy and get the specifics in writing. Avoid store payment plans that charge interest or finance charges for purchases on layaway. And “if you have questions that aren’t answered, don’t hesitate to look elsewhere,” advises Sheila Adkins, public affairs manager for the Council of Better Business Bureaus Inc. in Arlington, Virginia.
  • Don’t buy extended warranties. “Most people never use the extended warranty, so it’s money that you’re paying out for nothing,” insists Youman. This is especially true for long-lived, easily maintained appliances like dishwashers and refrigerators. If you’re still thinking about buying an extended warranty as added protection against costly repairs, assess the expense based on the “10 Percent Rule” outlined in Beat the System! edited by Jeff Brendenberg (Rodale Press, $27.95). It stipulates that an extended warranty should never cost more than 10% of the product’s purchase price.
  • Be honest about your credit card use. “A lot of times we use plastic because we’re not sure we have the cash to pay for the item, and that’s not a good strategy. A $300 suit is seen as $15 a month. That’s why running up debt with a credit card is simple to do but difficult to get out of,” Hunt explains. “The closer we can get to cash, the closer we’ll be to becoming savvy consumers.” On the other hand, if you pay your balances on time and in full every month, aren’t paying an annual fee and you’re able stay within the confines of your budget, using your credit card actually gives you access to an interest-free loan and other benefits. “There is a certain protection that comes with shopping with a credit card. If the item turns out to be faulty, broken or inoperable, you can dispute the charge with your credit card company and possibly get if off your account. That’s much more protection than a cash sale.” How have you used your credit card in the past? Your response should dictate how often you use your credit card in the future.
  • Speak up about the price. According to Youman, “Pricing is probably a little more flexible than people realize, and you lose nothing by [trying to negotiate].” According to Beat the System!, most negotiable items fall into one of three categories: major appliances, vehicles and consumer electronics equipment. You can also bargain on the extras-such as delivery and installation charges-to reduce a final price. For the
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