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Shop Safe Online: I Wish I Knew These 12 Tips Earlier

Shop Safe Online: I Wish I Knew These 12 Tips Earlier

There is still a segment of the population that refuses to buy anything online because they are afraid of exposing their financial information to thieves. However, if the recent credit and debit card breach at Target stores taught us anything, it’s that going inside a store to swipe your card doesn’t mean your data is necessarily any safer.

Meanwhile, some of the top products purchased by those who do cluelessly take the plunge and then later regret buying online include cars, used items, clothing, jewelry, furniture, makeup, commemorative coins, big-ticket items, TVs and even human hair weaves.

And yes, while some items should never be purchased online – like illegal drugs and such – that doesn’t mean consumers should give up buying online. Just follow these 12 tips to help you shop safely online:

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1. Shop only on trusted and secure websites.

It should come as a given, but chances are you’re better off turning over your credit or debit card number to a well known website like Amazon instead of a shady-looking, fly-by-night e-store that has been recently set up without secure shopping features.

2. Use the sizing chart provided when shopping for clothes.

Instead of assuming you’d probably fit a size “medium” item of clothing, dig deeper into the annals of the website to determine whether their “medium” fits a waist size of 29 inches and a bust size of 36 inches. Measure yourself to see how the site’s sizing compares to your body in order to help prevent returns.

3. Closely examine the refund policy.

Speaking of returning items, you want to stick with websites whose return policy is as liberal as Amazon or Zappo’s, online retailing giants who are known to put the customer first in many ways. Make sure you’ll be able to send back the item you’ve purchased if you’re not satisfied for any reason and immediately get your money credited back to you.

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4. Perform price comparisons first.

Even online stores like Walmart.com allow third-party sellers to sell goods for jacked-up prices through their site, in many instances at higher rates that allow the sellers to clear a profit. A bit more research might allow you to find the same item for much less by cutting out the middleman.

5. Use your credit card instead of your debit card.

Unfortunately, if you do run into a fraudulent retailer and have used a debit card attached directly to your checking account, the thieves might be able to make off with monies taken out of your account prior to you catching the transaction. Using your credit card can act as a buffer zone to give time to find the transaction and have it reversed or the card canceled.

6. Check your bank activity daily.

Speaking of stolen transactions, sometimes what’s done outside of your online shopping can help you more so than any of the other tips. Only by checking the activity of my card did I find a fraudulent transaction charged to Walmart that I didn’t make, and I was able to immediately cancel the card and get a new one.

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7. Think twice about storing your credit and debit card information online.

Yes, it’s very convenient to save our credit and debit card profiles with various retailers on the web to make future shopping trips go faster, but keeping fewer profiles like these lessens the chance of the entire file being hacked and stolen with your info exposed therein.

8. Read customer reviews.

Feedback from other customers can be very valuable in teaching you what other shoppers had to go through when making their own purchases. If there are plenty of complaints about missing products or bait-and-switch type tactics, steer clear.

9. Beware of the links.

There are times when Google will warn you that “this site may harm your computer” or you can spy out clues that a website is trying to redirect you to a nefarious website. Stay aware and keep away from sites that try to take you into unfamiliar territory when buying online.

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10. Consider offline word-of-mouth.

If you’re not accustomed to shopping online, follow the advice of real-world friends to help you determine the positive experiences they’ve had with various websites.

11. Never send cash.

It sounds crazy, yes, but there are plenty of hucksters out there who attempt to get newbies to wire cash in exchange for products, services or schemes that are nothing but frauds.

12. Keep all of your receipts.

Most websites will provide users with confirmation numbers, transaction numbers and e-mailed receipts directly after a purchase is made. Make sure to take a screenshot of your order success page, print out any confirmations and save all e-mailed receipts in case you ever need proof of your online purchases.

When it flows effortlessly and securely, shopping on the net can be a big blessing. After all, there are times when you might seek out embarrassing personal care products that you don’t necessarily want to tromp down to your cute local pharmacist to purchase. Also, if you are busy, it’s easier to just jump online and have things shipped straight to your house. Thank God for the Internet! Shop safe online and take advantage of the trend that’s here to stay.

Featured photo credit: Businesswoman pressing promotion and shipping type of modern buttons / ra2studio via bigstockphoto.com

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Published on September 17, 2018

How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

Achieving financial success is not something that just happens. Maybe if you win the lottery or something, but for the average person like you or me, it comes from a series of small steps you take over a long period of time.

With each step, you form a new smart money habit. And with each smart money habit, you build towards financial independence.

So what sort of habits can you form to get on that path? Let’s take a look at smart money habits you can start today to get you closer to a financially independent future.

1. Avoid being “penny wise but pound foolish”

It’s tempting to try saving a couple cents here and there when buying small items. However, that’s not where the real money is saved. You’re putting in extra effort for something that doesn’t move the needle.

You get the most bang when you’re able to cut down on your bigger bills. For example, finding a lower interest rate for your mortgage could save you $50+ per month. And cutting your transportation bill by purchasing a cheaper car or taking public transportation can provide large gains as well.

So, look at your recurring expenses such as housing, transportation, and insurance, and see where there’s wiggle room. It’s a much better use of your time than trying to pinch pennies here and there on smaller purchases.

2. When you want something big, wait

Impulsivity can get you in trouble in most aspects of life. Finances are no different.

It’s human nature to see something and want it right then and there. It starts as a kid in the checkout line at the grocery store, and it continues on through adulthood.

We get an idea in our head of something we want, and it’s hard not to go out and get it right then.

A good example is wanting a new car. Perhaps you’ve had your car for several years. It’s crossed the 100k mile mark. Maybe maintenance is due, and you’re annoyed that you need to replace the timing belt or purchase new tires.

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So, you get the itch.

You start digging around online, and you realize you could trade in your current car for something newer and more exciting… all for a few hundred bucks a month. Then you get obsessed.

Here’s where you have to take a step back.

Your newfound obsession is clouding your judgement. Rather than giving into the impulse, wait it out.

Set a timeframe for yourself. Maybe you come back to the decision three months down the road. See if the obsession lasts.

It might, but often, a funny thing happens. Often, you forget about it. And often, you find that the new car wasn’t a need at all.

The impulse faded. And you just saved yourself a ton of money.

3. Live smaller than you can afford

You finally get that big raise. And you want to celebrate – and why not?

You’ve been looking forward to this forever. And after all, it was all due to your hard work.

That’s fine, splurge a little. However, make it a one-time deal and be done.

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Don’t get caught in the trap that just because you’re now making more money, you should spend more.

Too often, people get more money and feel like they that gives them the means to buy a bigger house, a bigger car… you know the drill. Resist.

The fact is that living smaller than what you can afford is one of the fastest ways to build savings.

But if you constantly upgrade as you begin to make more, then you’ll never get ahead. You’ll just build up more debt along the way and have just as little wiggle room as before.

4. Practice smart grocery shopping

Food… it’s one of the biggest portions of any budget. And if you’re not careful, it can be one of the biggest drains on your wallet.

But luckily, there are a few things you can do to ensure that you stay smart with your money when buying groceries.

Create a grocery budget

Set a strict weekly grocery budget. When you know how much you can spend on groceries, you can then plan your weekly menu around it.

Once you know what all you need, you can go shopping and keep a running tally as you shop to ensure you’re on track.

I tend to do this in my head, rounding for each item. However, writing it down as you go would probably work best for most people.

Make a list… and never deviate

Never go to the grocery store without a list. If you go to the store with a ballpark idea in mind, you don’t have a true ide of what you need.

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You’re not well-researched. You don’t know what the sales are. As a result, you’re going to make decisions on the fly.

These impulse decisions will lead to overspending, which will derail your grocery budget.

Eat before going grocery shopping

It’s also important to eat prior to going to the grocery store. Hunger is a powerful force.

If you’re shopping on an empty stomach, everything is going to look good. In particular, you may find a lot of ready-made, processed snacks will look enticing.

After all, you’re hungry now and that food is easily available. So subconsciously, you may lean towards those items.

Unfortunately, not only are those items typically less healthy, but they’re likely more expensive. You pay for convenience.

However, when you eat prior to shopping, then you’ll shop with a clear mind. Your hunger won’t cloud your judgement, influencing you to make poor decisions like a cartoon devil resting on your shoulder whispering in your ear.

This makes it much easier to stick to your grocery plan.

5. Cancel your gym membership

Now that you’re all set on your food, it’s time to get smart about managing your budget in terms of physical fitness. And let’s begin by avoiding the gym. The gym bill, that is.

The average gym membership costs around $60 per month. That’s $720 a year.

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Yet, two out of three gym memberships go unused. That means two-thirds of people who have a gym membership are literally giving away almost a thousand bucks a year. It’s crazy!

I recommend seeking an alternative. One good alternative is to look into fitness streaming services.

Streaming services allow you to stream hundreds of workouts like Insanity and p90x, right in your own home for around $10-20 a month. That’s $40-50 less a month than the average gym membership.

Of course, then there’s the free option. The internet is full of free workouts that you can do on your own with minimal or no equipment.

For example, there’s the Couch to 5K program, that I personally used a decade ago to ease myself from couch potato to running my first 5K race. If I could do it, anyone could.

Then there are free resources like reddit that have limitless information on workouts. The Fitness subreddit has done all the research for you, populating workout tips and detailed workout routines for anyone to use in their wiki.

There are several routines that require no equipment. And you can join in on the subreddit to become part of the community, making it easier for those seeking comraderie and encouragement in their fitness goals. All for free.

It’s baby steps… And baby steps can start now!

I’ve never met anyone that can’t stand to be a bit smarter with their money. And on the flip side, anyone can get smarter with their money. But remember, it doesn’t happen all at once.

Begin by fighting your impulses. Prepare for the week and be smart at the store. And cut monthly expenses like gym memberships that are overpriced and you probably aren’t getting your money’s worth out of anyway.

The devil is in the details. And the details can change your lifestyle and prep you for a financially independent future.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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