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Holiday shopping: Remember to 'evaluate the merchandise that you’re buying', expert says

Jean Chatzky, the CEO and co-founder of Her Money Media, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss how to shop wisely during the holiday season while dealing with inflation.

Video transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Cyber Monday is in full swing. And Americans are expected to spend upwards of $11 billion online today alone for the holidays. Joining us now with some strategies on how to make the most of your dollars this holiday season is Jean Chatzky, CEO and co-founder of Her Money Media and partner of American Home Shield. Jean, great to see you. I hope it was a wonderful Thanksgiving.

JEAN CHATZKY: I hope the same for you. Mine was really nice. Thanks.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: It was. I have to say, I did a little shopping online over the long holiday. And I don't know about you, but I did not find those super big discounts. Are the retailers holding out? Or is this as good as it's going to get this holiday season?

JEAN CHATZKY: I think this is as good as it's going to get this holiday season. We know the season started early, as you were talking about in your last segment. The deals have been coming for a month. And one of the things that we're realizing is that they are going to be lower in value than they were last year. We've got research from Adobe that says most discounts are going to be about 5% lower than in previous years. So the advice-- and you've been giving it all day-- is, if you find something that you want, it's really important to snag it, because we're still having supply chain issues, and inventories are leaner than we've seen them in the past. You may not be able to pick it up tomorrow.

KARINA MITCHELL: And so, then, how are retailers really positioning themselves? Because they are dealing with these supply chain issues. There are certain items that you're not going to see that much of a discount. So if you want to go out and buy a big appliance, like a washer or a dryer, what should the consumer be aware of to protect those purchases?

JEAN CHATZKY: Well, the first thing I would realize is that inventories, again, like I said, are leaner. And so you're going to want to make sure that you really evaluate the merchandise that you're buying. You don't just want to buy something because it's the item that happens to be available, unless you're in a total pinch. Your dishwasher breaks, and you're having 20 people for a holiday dinner. You may need to just buy the dishwasher that's available.

But we know during this season of rapid fire home buying and home renovations, many people are compromising on things like home appraisals. And this is why having something like a home warranty or a home protection plan can be a smart move, particularly if you're in a new place, and you think that you don't know when the items are going to go. Well, we want to protect your budget against more out of pocket expenditures if things do break and you do need maintenance. A plan like this, like the ones from American Home Shield, can be a really good idea.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Now, I know you also say don't be fooled by some of these deals that appear to be too good to be true, because we have to remember inflation is part of the mix this year for us consumers, but also for the retailers. They're trying to protect their margins. So how can you be smart about the way you perceive a deal this shopping season?

JEAN CHATZKY: So a couple of things to keep in mind. The first is that sometimes there is merchandise produced just for the holiday season that lacks some of the bells and whistles that go along with the products at other times. You sort of see televisions, other electronics that have been skinnied down a little bit in order to allow them to sell them at these door buster prices. If you're buying an appliance, if you're buying a big electronic because you want those bells and whistles, you've got to be really careful that you are reading exactly what you're getting.

The other thing that sometimes happens is that people raise prices just so that they can lower prices. And so I like the idea of using price trackers, like Amazon-- or Amazon, for example, you can use CamelCamelCamel, but there are others that will shop for you and let you know if this actually is a good price on this particular item. Sometimes they slap the word "sale" on things or 25% off. And we're not sure whether we're actually getting a deal or not. But the internet is a really good friend at times like these, because it can give you the history of what things have sold for in the past.

KARINA MITCHELL: And in this sort of inflationary environment, are you finding that people are spending more on the things that they need to get, or are they just buying more things? And obviously, everyone is looking for deals. So what are the sort of rebates and platforms that people can use, maybe cashback apps, that will help them save a little bit this season?

JEAN CHATZKY: Sure. First, make sure you're shopping with the right credit card. If you have a cashback credit card in your wallet, if that's your reward of choice, then you want to make sure that you're getting the most out of it. You want to have a browser plug-in that you are using when you shop that can surf for coupons for you and put them in so that you don't have to google every time you're making a purchase to make sure that you have the latest and greatest coupon. I have Honey on my computer. I use it all the time and collect points along the way.

You also want to make sure that if you know yourself well enough to know that you're not going to fill the paperwork out for that rebate, that you don't count that as savings. We know that consumers leave about $500 million a year in untapped rebates just on the table because we get the item home, we look at the paperwork, we're happy we have the product, and we just don't and say we did. And that's money lost. So if you know that you're not going to jump through the hoops for the rebate, don't buy something just because there's a rebate attached.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: And finally, you say, as we know, we say this with many things in life, patience is a virtue, Jean. So, you know, we like that sort of instant gratification. You go to the store, you get that item, you leave with it. You know, you don't have to worry about there's going to be a supply chain issue. I have my item. But why should we or why might it pay off if we wait a little bit for that thing we want to come in online?

JEAN CHATZKY: Sometimes with particular sorts of merchandise, you know that as the season goes on, the prices will go down. Seasonal items, winter clothes, things like that. If those are the items that you're shopping for, later in the season may be better. There's also-- and I feel you when you said you did a little online shopping this season. I did a little online shopping over the weekend as well. And there are a couple of smaller e-tailers that I like, you know, fashion sites. I know that they will eventually send me a coupon. I'm waiting for that coupon to hit my inbox, and I'm not going to buy before.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: I am with you. I do not want to pay for shipping. And I wait for the coupon to hit my inbox. Jean Chatzky of Her Money Media, always good to see you. Thanks so much.

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