The summer is winding down and soon students will be returning to class. Chances are you’ve seen the back-to-school shopping ads on television and splashed across newspaper pages. Before you start your shopping, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has some back-to-school basics.
“Whether shopping for new clothes, pens and pencils, or electronic items it’s important to be prepared and have a plan,” says Lynda Pasacreta, BBB president and CEO. “It will keep you on budget, save you money, and avoid getting stuck with an item you don’t want.”
BBB has these tips to help you be a savvy back-to-school shopper:
Set a realistic budget and stick to it. Make a list of the items you need to purchase to avoid buying on impulse. Be sure to check with your child’s school for a list of required supplies and recommended suppliers to avoid return trips.
Ask about returns and refunds
Shopping for new clothes, accessories, and electronics is one of the highlights of going back to school. Ask the store about their return policy and always keep the receipts. In B.C., stores are not legally required to exchange an item or give a refund.
Ask about restocking fees
Some merchants charge a restocking or “open box” fee — sometimes as high as 20 per cent of the original cost — for returns of electronics products or large-ticket items. Ask if that is the policy so that you know before you buy.
Shop smart online
Find out the physical location and phone number of the merchant. Read the refund and return policy, have in writing any warranty or guarantee details, be familiar with delivery/shipping costs and time schedules, feel comfortable that the merchant is reliable and not the subject of consumer complaints, and be able to trust that any information you submit to complete the sale transaction (credit card number, etc.) will be treated with the proper care.
Know the true cost of what you are purchasing
You might be moving out for the first time and buying new furniture. If you are buying an item on credit, make sure you are aware of not only the interest rate being charged, but any additional fees and costs associated with purchasing on credit. Also read the fine print on your obligations regarding interest payments and any penalties for late payments.
If your child is in the market for a computer, BBB recommends doing your research:
• Decide what your child’s needs will be. What is the computer going to be used for? word processing, graphic/web design, gaming?
• Determine what type of hardware and software that will be required.
• Find out what you have to do if the computer breaks down.
• Check out the warranty on the computer.
• Call your school or university and ask what other students in the class use.
• Compare prices and check out the companies with the BBB at www.bbb.org.
If you are thinking about allowing your college-bound student to sign up for a credit card, do your homework:
• Shop around for the plan that best fits your student’s needs. There are often special offers for students.
• Compare terms and fees before you agree to open a credit card for your student.
• Find out the interest rate on the card: are there introductory rates, and if so, how long do they apply?
• Are there annual fees?
• Check into the transaction fees and any other charges that could be incurred.
• Consider getting a joint account so that you can track transactions, payments, and due dates?after all, it’s never too late for a lesson in finance.