How to Safely Shop for the Holidays this Year

It’s been a stressful year, plus now add the usual hustle and bustle of the upcoming holiday season and you might start to feel a bit of pressure – especially on your budget that might have taken a big hit over the past few months. Fortunately, there are some simple steps that can help make the holiday season a little less stressful. Below are some tips on how to take advantage of holiday shopping trends to make the most of the holidays without getting overwhelmed.

Take advantage of online ordering.

With the colder weather coming, experts are predicting a resurgence in coronavirus cases. Many stores are prepared. They’re encouraging people to shop online while also increasing their capacity for curbside pick-up. There are reasons to take advantage of this service that go beyond health and safety. Often provided as a free service, curbside pick-up is great way to save yourself shopping time. Rather than gathering the items yourself, you can simply drive up and have everything placed in your car for you. Plus, you’ll resist the temptation to buy extra items you see in the store that you don’t really “need.”

Start shopping now.

According to Business Insider, increased online ordering has shipping providers predicting a backlog this season (which most people have probably experienced this year due to the ongoing pandemic). This may cause issues for last minute shoppers who are looking to get their orders in time for holiday celebrations. Another problem we’ve seen this year, is the fact that store inventory is lower and stock may run out faster than usual.  Shopping as early as possible also gives you more opportunities to take advantage of sales, and continue to save for any potential items you might still need as it gets further into December.

Keep gift giving simple.

A still unstable economy means tighter budgets for most people and concerns about spending a large amount of money on gifts. Gift cards are always a simple, practical option – which are easy to buy and send. Gift card recipients will also get the choice to be able to purchase what they truly want or need. All First Financial locations offer Visa Gift Cards available in denominations of $20 to $500, and are just $3.95 per card.* Stop by your local branch drive thru today to get yours!

Combine holiday activities.

Just like summer vacation from school, winter break can add pressure to find safe entertainment options for the family this year. Look for fun and easy ways to get the whole family involved in holiday preparations.  Make decorating into a mini holiday party with festive music. Assign everyone a decorating task and hand out prizes for different categories like “most creative” or “fastest decorator.” Instead of shopping, homemade holiday gifts can be a nice family activity. Another idea is to look for apps that blend entertainment such as reading or games with charitable causes to help kids learn to give to others, especially this time of year.

While the pandemic has changed the way we do things or may celebrate this year, there is still room for holiday joy and family memories. Wishing you and yours a happy upcoming holiday season!

*If the gift card is inactive for 360 days, an inactivity fee of $2.50 per month will be charged to the card – starting from the date of activation. If the card is lost or stolen, the replacement fee is $15.00.

Article Source: Naomi Anderson,


Shopping Online? Best Practices to Keep Your Identity Safe

Shopping online is easy and convenient. But don’t forget the possibility of fraud often lurks in Internet nooks and crannies. However, here are a few safety precautions you can implement to be as safe as possible and protect your identity and financial information while shopping online.

Only shop on trustworthy websites.

Shopping online can be addictive.  Who wouldn’t want to shop from home cozy in their pajamas while also saving money?  There are many trustworthy retailer websites out there that are safe to shop on.  However, be weary of clicking on email links or website sidebar ads.  Before checking out your online shopping cart and entering your card information, be sure you are visiting the actual website of the business to ensure it is safe.  If something seems too good to be true, it is probably not a legitimate website.

Don’t shop on public WiFi networks.

Hotels, restaurants, and coffee shops often offer free WiFi.  Trouble can arise though, when sensitive personal or financial information is shared over these public networks.  The open nature of public networks can compromise your financial security.  Public WiFi should always be used with caution – never access your bank accounts, personal data, or shop through a public network.

Protect your computer with anti-virus software and secure your internet access with a password.

Often we assume our home WiFi network is safe.  However, vulnerabilities within our home network can also do a lot of damage.  Safe home networks have a personalized SSID, strong passwords, encryption enabled, and updated anti-virus software.  Computers should also be protected with spyware software.

Shop online only with a credit card or use digital wallet.

The Federal Trade Commission recommends that consumers shop online using a credit card over a debit card, to be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act.  This law allows consumers to dispute charges and withhold payment while under investigation. To read more about which card is safer to use, click here to access our educational guidebook.

For added security, take these preventative measures:

  • Monitor all your accounts through online banking, mobile apps, or monthly statements.
  • Make sure your address, email, and cell phone numbers are updated with your financial institution.
  • Enroll in your smartphone’s digital wallet like Apple Pay or Google Pay, which can be used to pay online. Merchants store a token number and not the actual card to authenticate transactions using you fingerprint, phone’s passcode, or face recognition during checkout.
  • If PayPal is a payment option when checking out online, this is another protective solution that doesn’t have your card entered into a retailer’s website. Plus you also have protective disputing power here too.

Ensure the card entry webpage is secure. 

Entering card information online is definitely something you want to be cautious about.  If the retailer’s website is compromised and you paid with a debit card, you may eventually find $0 in your checking account.  When paying online, try to check to make sure you are on a secure website that will protect your personal information.  There are two ways to check to enure you are on a secure site. First, verify the site’s URL begins with https:// and that there is a small lock in the URL bar.  The “s” in the URL indicates you are on a secure website.  You can also hover over the small lock to the right of the web address to read further details about the site’s security.  An unsecured website will often display a small letter “i” that will also offer information about the site’s security when you hover over it.  Never enter card information on an unsecured site.

Print or save receipts as PDFs. 

As an added security measure, it’s good practice to print or save any online purchase receipts as PDF documents.  Compare the saved receipt with your credit card billing statement to confirm accuracy.

Always be careful when shopping online.  If you follow the above security measures, you’ll have a great chance at keeping your sensitive financial information safe.

Article Source: MaryAnne Colucci for

How to be a Savvy Online Shopper

Mobile phone in hand

We all know that online shopping is extraordinarily convenient, and with the holiday season coming up – you might be thinking about it more and more. Whether you’re purchasing a gift for a family member, friend or just treating yourself – you can buy virtually anything from your computer or mobile device. The question is though, are you a savvy online shopper? Below are a few helpful tips for getting the most out of your money while making those mobile purchases.

Subscribe to email alerts – When you visit an online shop, you will often be asked to sign up for their recurring emails. Although no one likes a clogged inbox, take advantage of the discount offered for subscribing (which usually ranges from 10-20%). Email blasts are required to include an unsubscribe option, therefore after you use the promo code provided you can remove yourself from the list if you want to.

Check out online consignment stores and private shopping clubs – Groups like Zulily and Gilt Groupe are free to join and are great resources for finding high-end items at discounted prices. Local consignment stores often have an online shopping option, download the Poshmark app on your mobile phone to buy and sell items, and Facebook also supports many private shopping groups selling high-end items in your local area.

Download retailers’ mobile apps – Companies like 1-800 Contacts will offer customers a percentage off for downloading and ordering through their mobile app. Even a small amount off your purchase can help, and like the email blasts – after you take advantage of the offer provided you can always delete the app from your device if you decide to.

Discover a cheaper way to wander – Don’t automatically assume you can’t travel just because you are on a tight budget. Sign up for alerts from Airfarewatchdog. When you input your ideal travel destination, they will notify you of the best deals available. VRBO and Airbnb have a large selection of affordable accommodations for your next trip, and Living Social offers daily cost-effective updates on unique events, excursions, and experiences in your local area.

Article Source: Wendy Bignon for,  

7 Tips for Saving Time & Money When Shopping Online

Ever wonder what the real experts know that you don’t when it comes to online shopping?

Little tricks of the trade that make the buys better, the discounts deeper and the whole experience of online shopping even smoother?

It comes down to a few smart strategies, a little organization — and the willingness to walk away from sites that skimp on consumer must-haves, like convenience and security. These days, when it comes to retail goods, shoppers are making more than one out of every six purchases online, according to statistics from the National Retail Federation. And that number is growing. Want to make your surfing, clicking and buying quicker, cheaper and easier? Here are seven insider strategies:

1. Get the coupons, skip the spam.

What’s the difference between getting a big discount and missing out entirely?

With online shopping it can be a matter of timing. Most online shops “release coupons on the second of the month or on the 27th or 28th,” says Hillary Mendelsohn, author of “the purplebook” online shopping series.

“So that’s good to know, timing-wise,” she says. While coupon codes are great, stores don’t always release them to coupon code aggregating sites, Mendelsohn says.

Her strategy: She registered for a free email account and uses that address to sign up for coupons at the stores she regularly shops. When she’s ready to buy, Mendelsohn logs into the email account and does a quick search for that store. What she has instantly: All its coupons.

“This is a great way of not having your [regular] email box filled with spam and being able to access the deals you want all the time,” Mendelsohn says.

2. Consider automating regular buys.

Have something bulky or heavy that you buy regularly?

Instead of lugging it home yourself, consider setting up an automated order, says Mendelsohn, who uses Amazon’s “subscribe” feature to get her kids’ favorite tea by the case every other month.

“I don’t have to place the order, and I get a discount,” she says. “And it’s free shipping. It makes a huge difference, and I don’t have the schlep it.” What it’s good for: “Big things you need constantly” from diapers to dog food, she says. “You save money, you save time and you save schlep energy.”

Free shipping can also sub in for “free delivery” for large one-time purchases, such as patio furniture and ping-pong tables, she says. With all the options for shopping and delivery, it pays to think strategically and “be smart about what you order online and what you go to the store for,” Mendelsohn says.

3. Coupons + discount gift cards = more savings.

What’s better than a coupon for something you need? Being able to combine that coupon with a discounted gift card to amp up your savings.

And while you often can’t use two different coupons on one item, you can use a coupon with a gift card purchased for less than face value, says Michelle Madhok, founder of, an online shopping site.

Madhok’s tip: Use a gift card search site (her favorite: to find a reputable seller for whatever card you need. And stick with well-known, legit companies, rather than individuals, she advises.

You can often buy them for 6% to 15% off face value and many are ecards, so you don’t have to wait for delivery, Madhok says. Then “stack the deal” with a coupon or promo code, Madhok says. Recently, “I used a digital gift card and coupon code on a $300 purchase and ended up saving about $50,” she says. Want to ratchet that up even more? Use a credit card that gives you rewards or cash back, says Madhok. Some cards will even boost those rewards if you buy from certain merchants or use the card’s app or online site as a jumping off point for your shopping.

4. Use alerts to save, not spend.

Be careful about subscribing to those “daily deals,” says Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist and author of “Generation BuY: How Tweens, Teens, and Twenty-Somethings Are Revolutionizing Retail.”

Here’s why: They present a sudden deadline, plus an element of competition, she says. “People make hasty decisions when they feel like they’re competing with other shoppers.”

“I’ve found that shoppers tend to end up buying more, and they also buy less-satisfying things through this process,” Yarrow says.

When alerts can save: After you buy. Set up a price alert for the item and if the price drops, email customer service about a refund of the discounted amount, says Madhok, who used this recently to save $70 total on two separate buys. “Usually, they’ll honor it within two weeks” of purchase she says.

5. Make the most of that shopping cart.

If you want to save a few bucks, that shopping cart is valuable real estate.

“Pre-load your shopping cart with items you’re hoping to buy, in order to snap them up quickly if they go on sale,” says Yarrow.

“Most sites don’t empty your shopping cart if you’re a registered user,” she says. “So when they go on sale, you’re ready to go.”

It gives you time to rethink your buying decision, too, she says. “This process also helps shoppers make better decisions because it forces a ‘cooling off period.'” Want an extra incentive not to spend? Consider the cost and hassle of returning before you click “buy,” says Yarrow. And find out who pays return shipping.

6. Find out upfront: Available or back-order?

Shopping under a deadline? Check back-order before you pay, says Leslie Linevsky, co-founder of

Ideally, sites should notify you that something is out of stock when you place it in your shopping cart, she says. But not all of them do. Some notify you after you’ve given your card information, but before they bill you, Linevsky says. Others may not tell you at all. So keep back-order in mind as you shop and look for indicators that your merchandise is actually available. If the site doesn’t disclose if an item is in stock, call before you place the order, says Linevsky. Or go to a site that makes it plain, she says.

7. Practice safe shopping.

If you really want to save time and money, it pays to be as safety conscious online as you would be at your neighborhood mall.

Some smart habits:

  • When you’re supplying personal data (such as your name, address or card number), make sure you’re on a secure, encrypted page, says Frank DeBlasi, co-founder of, a cash-back shopping site.
  • If the URL has an “s” (for “secure”) after the “http,” that means “any information you send is being transmitted securely,” he says. “You never want to shop anywhere that doesn’t have that.”
  • Likewise, you don’t want to use public or office computers for shopping. Information can linger, even if you think you’ve erased it. (Not to mention that some employers actually monitor your keystrokes.)
  • Skip the public WiFi, too, says DeBlasi. “You never know the true level of security of the network you are connected to,” he says. “On your home network, you have control of the level of security.”
  • And watch how you pay. “Always use a credit card when you purchase online, not a debit card,” DeBlasi says. With a debit card, if something goes wrong, you’re fighting to get back cash that’s already missing from your account, he says. “When you use a credit card, you have a middle man in the transaction. And the money isn’t removed from your account.”

Article Source: