The day after Christmas rivals the day after Thanksgiving as one of the biggest shopping days of the year. That's because the slashed prices (off next year's trimmings and trappings) can make even the grouchiest of Grinches smile when saving a buck or two. And while shopping the sales can certainly help next year's bottom line, experts caution over-indulging in after-Christmas sales can lead to you blowing your debt diet.From hidden retail traps to cashiers trying to cash in on your credit score, dieters are going to have to stay on their toes this weekend. That's why 2009's last installment of the Debt Diet will focus on what to do before you set that super-saver shopping alarm for 4:00 a.m.
Find first base
Andrew K. Johnson, communications manager at GreenPath Debt Solutions, suggests determining a baseline for your checking account. "This should be your zero point, but shouldn't be zero." He recommends setting a number you can afford to always have in your checking account, and treat that number as thought it were $0. For instance, $100. "That way, you've always got your own overdraft account," he says.
Check your credit
Those Black Friday splurges might have caught up with you -- or your credit -- by the time the after Christmas sales roll around. Which means those retail credit offers you accepted in the name of saving 10% could have impacted your credit score. Monika Nagy, a certified credit analyst, says checking your credit is a must before you hit one more sale. However, she cautions where you check your credit can be just as important as what's on your report. "If you use sites that let you check your credit for free, you'll receive your "educational" FICO scores.That's not necessarily the "real" score and instead is only a "guestimation" of your score at best. The only website where you'll get your "real" FICO score without a hard inquiry is myFICO.com."
"Consumers can sometimes end up paying more than the actual product value because they get caught up in fluctuating interest rates or additional fees associated with deferring a payment," says Jenny Realo, executive vice president of CareOne Services (one of the nation's largest debt relief services provider). If you can't pay cash for your post-holiday splurge, use a credit card you've already got that has the lowest interest rate. And remember, it's not a deal if you can't pay off the item before you incur any interest or fees.
Forgo free trials
It's easy to be lured into a free trial of some product or service while basking in the afterglow of post-holiday sales. But Realo says rushing into a free trial just to get a special discount can come back to haunt you in 2010. "These can revisit you after the big sale in the form of subscription or long term charges."
And if returning items is on your to-do list this weekend, experts say expect tougher guidelines than in years past. More retailers will be charging restocking fees to accept returns of things like furniture and navigation systems, and not allowing shoppers to return anything that's been opened or isn't accompanied by a receipt.
Gina Roberts-Grey is a freelance writer specializing in health, celebrity and consumer issues.
Debt Diet Part 7: Keep your cool the day after Christmas