How Shopping Small Makes a Big Impact in Your Community

I get it. It’s easy to shop on Amazon. Running low on toilet paper? Need lightbulbs? Want a bath caddy on a whim? With two clicks and even less thought, the item you need/want/desire is at your doorstep, often in 48 hours or less.

Shopping locally requires more thought. Supporting small businesses is an intentional act — one that the mom and pop shops in your neighborhood desperately need you to make.

Tens of thousands of small businesses closed over the past year, many of them permanently. Each closure leaves a void that goes deeper than an empty storefront. The community loses dollars, jobs and resources that now-shuttered business would have circulated back into the local economy.

Small businesses reinvest

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, when you spend $100 at a small business, $48 stays in the community. Spend the same $100 at a big-box store or national retailer and only $14 stays.

Why? Because local businesses rely on other local businesses.

Kela Nabors is the founder and CEO of Organically Bath & Beauty, an organic vegan skincare line and shop in San Antonio. She uses a local firm for marketing and financial services whenever she can. The cards she puts in each gift set come from another local business: Belle & Union.

“We keep it local as much as possible,” says Nabors, who also partners with and supports a local food bank and frequents other small businesses for her personal shopping.

If her business went under, which it nearly did last year, the loss would ripple through the community. But Nabor’s customers came through, buying products and promoting her store.

“Some people were buying something every day to send to people they knew,” Nabors says. “It really helped create new relationships with people outside of our core (customer) base.”

Turning the lights on

Local support is the only thing keeping the lights on for many businesses. In some cases, it’s turning the lights back on.

Some small businesses that had to close earlier in the pandemic have been able to reopen, in large part because of customer support, according to a January 2021 report from Facebook and the Small Business Roundtable, a coalition of organizations that advocate for businesses and entrepreneurs.

According to the report, 25% of small businesses were closed in December 2020, an improvement from 31% in April 2020. Among those that closed and later reopened, 31% say customer support is the reason they were able to do so. Businesses also cited social distancing measures (40%) and loosened restrictions (30%) as factors that allowed them to reopen.

Nabors had to close her storefront early in the pandemic when sales plummeted from around $15,000 per month to just $500 in March.

“I thought, ‘We can’t make rent like this.’ So we moved everything back into our home,” Nabors says.

Customers kept reaching out, asking Nabors to add products to her website and encouraging her to do more outreach on social media. Her online sales grew from around 10 per month to 50 to 100 per day. She reopened her storefront in May and is now looking to expand.

“We were able to actually thrive and grow during the pandemic,” she says.

Local shops hire locally

Businesses need to staff up as they reopen and gradually bring operations back to pre-pandemic levels. That hiring is going to happen locally, says Tom Sullivan, vice president of small-business policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“Small businesses have a unique advantage when it comes to hiring: a network of community that is different than Indeed or LinkedIn,” Sullivan says. “We’re going to see more of an emphasis on local hiring than we have ever seen before.”

Nabors is already looking to hire. Her business went from three employees pre-pandemic (two of whom have since relocated) to one employee and a handful of family members in the early months of the pandemic. Now, she has five employees, is shopping for warehouse space and plans to hire 22 new employees.

A rising tide

There’s a saying: a rising tide lifts all boats. It means everyone benefits from a good economy. This happens on a micro level, too.

When a town or neighborhood has a healthy small-business district, property values rise and housing demand increases, says Matt Wagner, chief program officer at the National Main Street Center Inc., a nonprofit organization that works to revitalize historic commercial districts.

Other small-business owners notice, too.

“You get a bandwagon effect, with more entrepreneurs wanting to enter the market,” Wagner says. “A lot of it has to do with having small businesses there, whether it’s a brewery, coffee shop or grocery store. It becomes a neighborhood.”

Small-business districts become a point of pride, a place to show off to friends and family when they visit.

“It’s become an amenity in some ways. It’s like having a robust school system or parks and trails system,” Wagner says. “People may have taken it for granted before, but we see now that it could be gone and that does a lot to your personal quality of life.”

Kelsey Sheehy writes for NerdWallet. Email:

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3 Ways COVID-19 Reshuffled Our Finances

The U.S. economy ground to a halt in March 2020 as state after state issued lockdown orders and shut down businesses to blunt the spread of the coronavirus.

A year later, mask-wearing is commonplace, the phrase “social distancing” is now in the dictionary, elbow bumps have replaced fist bumps and hugs are still on pause.

The tumult of the COVID-19 pandemic impacted our financial lives in ways big and small, too. The big: Many businesses are still temporarily closed, while countless others have closed permanently or are on the brink of doing so, and millions of people are still out of work.

Less acute is the way the coronavirus has influenced how we interact with money, both physically and philosophically. People are being more intentional about how they spend their money, learning what they can do without (sometimes the hard way) and forgoing cash in favor of more contactless payments.

Here are three financial trends we can chalk up to the coronavirus pandemic.

1. Cashless payments

Cash is dirty. Like, covered in bacteria and food and feces dirty. That didn’t bother us much prior to the pandemic. But now, in an effort to minimize contact with germs (namely, the coronavirus) businesses and consumers are ditching cash in favor of credit cards and digital wallets. Payment services quickly pivoted to follow suit. Case in point: Venmo.

Before the pandemic, Venmo was an app you used to split the bill at happy hour or pay your roommate for the electricity bill. Now, you can scan a QR code at CVS to pay for your hand sanitizer using Venmo.

Digital transactions may be more hygienic and convenient, but cashless payment systems typically require a credit card or checking account and, therefore, aren’t easily accessible to the 7.1 million American households who don’t have a bank account.

That’s why major cities like Philadelphia, San Francisco and New York City, along with a handful of states, require retailers to accept cash. And, until the alternative is more accessible, cash will remain king.

2. Shopping small, supporting local

Don’t let the trail of Amazon delivery trucks fool you. The pandemic also prompted people to shop small. In a May 2020 survey commissioned by NerdWallet and conducted by The Harris Poll, 37% of Americans said they made more of an effort to support local businesses as a result of the pandemic.

Shoppers’ desire to support local businesses outweighed their desire to find the cheapest price. In a November 2020 survey by Union Bank, 72% of Americans said supporting small businesses was more important than getting the best deal and 43% said they were willing to spend $20 more on an item to support a small or local business.

While business owners can seek grants and Paycheck Protection Program loans, they will need continued solidarity from shoppers if they are going to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.

3. Saving money

Few things amplify the importance of an emergency fund more than an extended, large-scale emergency. The personal savings rate over the past year reflects that trend.

In December 2019, the personal savings rate was 7.2%. In December 2020, it was 13.7%. In the 12 months between, savings rates skyrocketed up to 33.7%, which was an all-time high.

The pandemic didn’t simply illustrate the need to save. By shutting down travel, concerts, restaurants and other fun things we used to spend money on, COVID-19 effectively cut the fun out of budgets.

Almost half (48%) of Americans reported spending less than they did pre-pandemic, according to the May 2020 survey by NerdWallet and The Harris Poll. And 38% said they planned to save more in their emergency fund post-pandemic, too.

But saving money during the pandemic is a luxury mostly afforded to those on solid financial footing before March 2020. Among those with a household income of $100,000 or higher, 47% reported saving more than they did prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, compared with 35% of those earning less than $50,000 per year, according to NerdWallet’s May 2020 survey.

The coronavirus has disproportionately impacted low-income communities and people of color, both physically and financially. And many people struggling to stay afloat before the pandemic find themselves in more dire circumstances now.

Resources like can help those in need find assistance for bills, housing and other necessities. And nonprofits like Feeding America can help you find food banks in your area.

And if you’re among those with more disposable income since the pandemic started, consider donating to community organizations serving those who need help.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

Kelsey Sheehy writes for NerdWallet. Email:

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Get Ahead of Holiday Debt With a Payoff Plan

In a holiday season that many of us will spend apart from loved ones, gift-giving might feel even more important than usual. After all, if you can’t travel to see family, at least you can see them unwrap gifts over a video call, right?

And just as many families will use a video service for holiday celebrations this year, many will also turn to credit cards to cover their expressions of love. Three-quarters of holiday shoppers are planning to use credit cards to purchase gifts this year, according to a NerdWallet survey of 2,049 U.S. adults conducted online by The Harris Poll.

Using credit cards can be a great way to earn rewards or get cash back, but make sure you know how to dig out of the debt you ring up. Otherwise, you might be still paying off the debt late into next year, something 33% of 2019 holiday shoppers who used credit cards said they were still doing when surveyed in September.

Here’s how to handle holiday debt.

Take stock of what you owe — and what you can pay

First, catalog your holiday debt. Log into each credit account and note the balance and interest rate. Consider creating a simple spreadsheet or using a debt tracker to keep accounts organized. If you have debt that’s not on a credit card, such as a shopping loan from a company like Klarna, list that, too.

With your debts sorted, turn to your budget. The 50/30/20 budget is an easy template. With this approach, half of take-home pay goes toward necessities, like housing and groceries. Then, 30% goes toward wants, like takeout or a nice bottle of Champagne to celebrate bidding farewell to 2020 on New Year’s Eve. Lastly, 20% of your income goes toward debt and savings.

As you hash out your budget, pin down how much money you can allocate toward debt each month. Divide the total debt by that amount to estimate how fast you can rid yourself of debt, keeping in mind that accruing interest can increase the balances.

Focusing on what you can pay monthly helps make your debt more manageable, says Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, a Vermont-based wealth psychology expert who helps people understand the personal factors of money decisions.

“Ask what you can reasonably pay off each week or each month and really work at achieving it,” Burns Kingsbury says. “From a psychological standpoint, this helps you feel a sense of success, and the more successful you feel, the more motivated you are to continue that behavior.”

Find your payoff path

Your best route to resolving holiday debt depends on your cash flow, credit score and personal preferences. Here are a few:

Pay off the full balance with the first statement

If you have the cash, this is the fastest way to deal with debt — and the cheapest, since you avoid paying interest. According to the NerdWallet shopping survey, 35% of holiday shoppers who added credit card debt in 2019 took this approach.

Roll a snowball or kick off an avalanche

The “debt snowball” and “debt avalanche” are two popular debt payoff methods. Which is right for you depends on your financial priorities.

With the debt snowball method, you focus on paying off the smallest balance first, then roll the amount you were paying on that first debt into the next largest. The amount you’re paying on the focus debt keeps growing, like a snowball rolling downhill. You might choose this if you need the early wins from paying off the first accounts to keep you motivated.

The debt avalanche method may be best if you want to pay as little in interest as possible. With this route, you prioritize paying off the debt with the highest interest rate first, regardless of balance size. Again, when that first debt is done, you put the amount you were paying on that into the next highest interest account, repeating until you’re debt-free.

Consider a balance transfer card

To avoid costly credit card interest, look into taking out a balance transfer credit card with a 0% APR promotional period, says Mike Cocco, an Equitable financial adviser based in Nutley, New Jersey.

“Once you have that, you’re eliminating interest, which can allow you to pay off debt a lot quicker,” Cocco says. “Then, be cognizant of when the 0% APR period runs out and work backwards to create a reverse Christmas Club for paying off your debt. If you have $1,000 on the card and 12 months interest-free, you have to pay at least $83 a month.”

To get a 0% balance transfer offer, you’ll need good to excellent credit. In general, that means a score of 690 or higher, although credit scores alone don’t guarantee approval. Issuers will look at your income, existing debts and other information.

Regardless of which debt payoff method you choose, the important thing is to find a plan and commit to it. Taking decisive action to resolve your debt can ensure you are debt-free faster — and maybe let you start building up savings for the 2021 holiday season.

Sean Pyles writes for NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @SeanPyles.

The article Get Ahead of Holiday Debt With a Payoff Plan originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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13 Ways to Leave Scammers Empty-Handed This Holiday Season

We’re primed to get suckered this holiday season. Tight budgets, wishful thinking that we can get a screaming deal if we hurry, and plain old impulsive spending are a dangerous mix. Scammers know this.

One example: Clicking an online ad, maybe for an ornament featuring a Santa with twinkling eyes and a smile hidden under a cloth mask, may put you at risk for identity theft — or maybe just for a bad deal.

Kathy Stokes, AARP’s director of fraud prevention programs, says she once bought “the funniest T-shirt from a Facebook ad. It never came.” That was before Stokes began working in fraud prevention.

So how do we prepare for battle? Three ways: Protect our mobile devices, recognize and avoid risks, and guard against identity theft.

Make your mobile device safer

Your device is only as safe as you make it. Avoiding free Wi-Fi at coffee shops and other public places is a good first step, but also:

1. Secure devices with a difficult-to-guess password and/or biometrics. If you can use a fingerprint or facial recognition to sign in, that’s best. If two-factor authentication is available, use it.

2. Heed notifications to update your software. Many times, updates improve security. This is true whether it’s your operating system, virus protection or an app.

3. Use a virtual private network. A VPN gives you an encrypted “tunnel” when you use public Wi-Fi. Protecting a device isn’t expensive — you can protect several devices for less than $10 a month. There are also free VPNs offered online. But Adam Levin, the author of “Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves,” recommends sticking with the ones that charge, because of the risk that free ones will collect your data. Failing that, he recommends using your phone as a hot spot or using your provider’s closed cellular network.

Be careful when shopping online

Stokes and Levin agree that using a credit card is essential when shopping online. A debit card withdraws your money immediately. But you can dispute a credit card charge and not have to pay while it’s being investigated.

Slow down and be careful. Stokes says duplicated or spoofed websites can take advantage “when you get a text or you get an email and you get excited because it’s this thing you really wanted to buy and you can get it really cheap — and you just click and go and you don’t look for any red flags.”

Other safeguards:

4. Use a virtual wallet if the site allows it. Card numbers are encrypted, meaning your actual card number is not shared when you make a purchase.

5. Go to the source. Don’t click on ads on social media or even in texts or emails. Some are scams. If the retailer is new to you, Stokes recommends checking carefully for contact information and for return and refund policies.

6. Be cautious. When going to a site, type the URL carefully, then double-check, advises Levin. “Typo-squatters” have sites that are almost indistinguishable from the real ones.

7. Don’t open attachments. The exception is if you are expecting an attachment from someone you know. Spoofing is sophisticated; the sender may not be who you think it is.

8. Use retailer apps. Your payment information is better protected that way. If you regularly buy from a particular retailer — or will this holiday season — go ahead and download the app, Stokes advises.

9. Use strong passwords. Using a password manager app can set complex passwords and remember them for you. If a retailer website offers to store your payment information, decline. The less information you rely on others to protect, the better.

Guard against identity theft

Holidays are big for identity thieves because criminals “are geniuses when it comes to taking a situation and radically turning it to their benefit,” says Levin, who is also the founder of CyberScout, a company that offers identity protection and fraud resolution services.

Add to that the loneliness of the pandemic. “People are desperate to get a phone call from anyone,” Levin says, and may be more willing to talk.

Protect yourself from identity theft with these tips:

10. Don’t give your card number if you get a call or email to “confirm a purchase.” Real credit card issuers do not need it. If you think a retailer might be trying to contact you, initiate the call or send the email using contact information that you look up yourself.

11. Don’t respond to an email “double-checking your address” for a package delivery. That may be a scam, Levin says.

12. Sign up for text alerts when your credit card is used. Levin advises setting the purchase amount very low; identity thieves may test a stolen card number with small purchases.

13. Check to see if you have free or discounted ID theft insurance available. You can’t entirely eliminate your risk, and it’s easier to recover from identity theft with help. An organization you belong to, your employer or your insurer may offer free or deeply discounted protection. Failing that, you can consider buying some.

Bev O’Shea is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @BeverlyOShea.

The article 13 Ways to Leave Scammers Empty-Handed This Holiday Season originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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Should You Choose a Point-of-Sale Loan to Gift Now and Pay Later?

A point-of-sale loan lets you break down a purchase into a series of smaller payments, so you can buy now and pay later.

In recent years, point-of-sale financing has rapidly expanded in the United States, with lenders like Klarna, Afterpay and Affirm now partnering with major retailers, including Macy’s, Bed Bath & Beyond and Walmart, to bring the option to consumers.

Choosing a point-of-sale loan can make sense if it charges zero to minimal interest and the payments don’t stress your budget. But if the interest rate is high, consider other types of loans to finance your purchase — even if they’re less convenient.

How to get a point-of-sale loan

To apply for a point-of-sale loan, you’ll need to create an account with the lender. This is usually integrated directly into your checkout experience.

Once you opt in, you’ll provide basic personal details like your name, date of birth and address. You may also be asked for your Social Security number, and most companies will perform a soft credit check, which does not impact your score.

You’ll then see the breakdown of your payment plan options. Point-of-sale loans divide your balance into installments, spread out evenly over an agreed-upon repayment term, with the first installment due at checkout.

For example, if your total is $100 with a zero-interest, two-month repayment plan that comes due every two weeks, you would pay four installments of $25. After you input your payment information and billing address, and agree to the terms and conditions, your debit or credit card will be charged for the first payment and automatically charged every two weeks until your balance is paid in full.

Just like applying for a store credit card, the whole process takes anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. The approval decision is instantaneous.

Depending on the financing company, interest and late fees may be applied.

Are POS loans a good idea?

Point-of-sale financing can be a good option when you need to make a purchase you can’t cover outright and the installments fit comfortably in your budget. You should also look to pay zero to minimal interest.

Consider a POS loan if:

You’re new to credit: Companies that offer point-of-sale financing have more lenient criteria when deciding whether to approve you for a loan. Though some lenders check your credit score, others focus on the funds available on your debit or credit card, the repayment term and the price of your purchase.

Some companies also report your payment history, which can help your credit score if you make all payments on time.

You’re making a big, one-time purchase: Point-of-sale loans are useful when you need to get a new mattress, piece of furniture or some other big-ticket item, but don’t have a credit card or prefer the simplicity of fixed monthly payments.

You won’t pay much interest: While some retailers may offer zero-interest rates, that won’t always be the case. For example, annual percentage rates at Affirm can be as high as 30%. To finance a purchase of $800 on a 12-month repayment plan at 25% APR, you would pay $113.68 in interest.

You can afford the payments: The convenience of point-of-sale financing may tempt you to overspend. If you carry a balance on your credit cards or have other debt, taking a loan for nonessential purchases is not a good idea.

You plan to keep the item: If you want to exchange or return your purchase, you typically have to work directly with the retailer, not the lender. If you don’t get a full refund, you may still have to pay back part of your loan or risk a hit to your credit.

Where to get a POS loan

Unlike other types of loans, you don’t need to shop around for the right lender for a point-of-sale loan. The lender is determined based on the stores you shop at, and the biggest players are Affirm, Afterpay and Klarna.

Affirm works with trendy wellness retailers like Peloton, Casper and Mirror and negotiates its loan eligibility criteria and interest rates with each individual retailer, meaning your repayment term options and interest rate can change based on where you shop. While some of Affirm’s partner stores charge zero interest, others can charge up to 30% APR. Affirm never charges late fees.

Afterpay, which partners with well-established retailers like Old Navy, Gap and Bed Bath & Beyond, offers a more straightforward model. Regardless of the retailer, you will make four interest-free installments that are due every two weeks. These installments are divided equally, though your first payment could be higher if your purchase is large.

As long as you pay on time, there are no additional fees with Afterpay. However, if your payment is not received within 10 days of the due date, you will be charged a maximum fee of $8.

Klarna differentiates itself by focusing primarily on its mobile app experience. Once you download the Klarna app, you can shop at stores like Sephora, Foot Locker and Macy’s using the Klarna payment plan — your total balance divided into four payments, paid every two weeks, with zero interest. If Klarna is unable to collect a payment after two attempts, it will charge a late fee of $7.



Late fee


0% – 30%

Varies based on retailer




4 installments, due every 2 weeks




4 installments, due every 2 weeks


Alternatives to POS loans

If you’re making a larger purchase, you may want to research what annual percentage rate you could get on a personal loan. Like a point-of-sale loan, you can pre-qualify with a lender and see your rates without affecting your credit.

If you qualify for a lower APR on a personal loan than you do on a point-of-sale loan, the personal loan will likely be the more affordable option.

If you have good or excellent credit, you could also try qualifying for a 0% APR credit card. Some cards offer an introductory period up to 18 months, during which no interest will be charged on any purchases. You may also be offered a sign-up bonus or access to a rewards program.

If a point-of-sale loan offers a similar term but with interest or fees applied, a 0% card would be the cheaper option.

Jackie Veling is a writer at NerdWallet. Email:

The article Should You Choose a Point-of-Sale Loan to Gift Now and Pay Later? originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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The Case for Shopping on Black Friday in 2020

Like most things in 2020, Black Friday won’t be the same this year.

But at least in the case of holiday shopping, change might not necessarily be a bad thing.

If you’re thinking about shopping on the day after Thanksgiving, here’s why you should — and at least one reason you shouldn’t.

The day still holds meaning

Retailers kicked off Black Friday sales back in mid-October to coincide with Amazon’s Prime Day. There’s been an onslaught of discounts ever since.

But no matter how many sales retailers label throughout the year as “Black Friday” discounts, there’s still something special about the day itself. This year, it falls on Nov. 27.

The day after Thanksgiving is a “designated consumer shopping day,” says Tom Arnold, professor of finance at the University of Richmond in Virginia.

That’s why retailers continue to market it and offer savings. Based on prior years, there will still be something special left, even after all of the early deals.

Retailers typically hold on to some fresh deals to release over Thanksgiving weekend, according to Katherine Cullen, senior director for industry and consumer insights at the National Retail Federation. She recommends acting on early deals this holiday season if you see a price you like though.

Official Black Friday deals often start on Thanksgiving Day and last into the weekend. They’ll be followed by Cyber Monday sales on Nov. 30.

You can save money

These sales make Black Friday shopping a fun family tradition. But it’s also a great way to save cold, hard cash.

In fact, that could make the discount bonanza even more attractive this year, according to Christopher Newman, associate professor of marketing at the University of Mississippi.

“It may be especially popular this year since many consumers are feeling financial strain due to economic and employment problems caused by COVID-19,” Newman said in an email. “Many consumers will likely not be in the financial position to pass up the price savings afforded by Black Friday.”

Cullen says wellness, personal care and comfort items as well as those for the home have been “popping” during the pandemic as consumer demand has increased. Hobbies like baking and holiday traditions like wearing matching pajamas are also popular.

You can likely expect retailers to discount products that appeal to pandemic conditions. Best Buy’s early Black Friday deals included markdowns on laptops and wireless headphones. Target slashed prices on things like video games and toys.

In-store shopping is so 2019

In an effort to promote safety in the pandemic, most stores are closing on Thanksgiving this year. They’re also bringing sales online — a move that’s both convenient and cost-effective for Black Friday shoppers.

“We’ve heard retailers saying, ‘We’re probably going to offer the same deals both online and in store on Black Friday so that people can shop in the way that’s most comfortable and safest for them,’” Cullen says.

That means many retailers won’t be enticing customers to brave the crowds for in-store-only doorbusters, she adds. That’s welcome news for consumers.

“Many shoppers will still feel uncomfortable going to brick-and-mortar retail stores, and many state and local governments are still imposing reduced capacity limits inside stores,” Newman said.

Aside from the safety and convenience of not having to leave home, Arnold suspects this head-to-head online competition will also be a monetary win for shoppers.

“I think the consumer is going to benefit because now it’s going to be a lot easier to compare prices with the competition online,” Arnold says.

In the past, he says, retailers could lure shoppers into stores, and consumers would often buy the products, even if they were listed online for a slightly better price. That’s because at a physical store, you have the item with you and don’t have to worry about shipping delays — even if you pay a little more for it.

But exercise restraint

As in the past, for every impressive Black Friday deal you see, there’s likely another deal that’s less worthwhile. Set a budget ahead of time so you know exactly what you’re looking to purchase and how much you’re comfortable spending.

Be cautious about your health, too. Look into a store’s safety protocols to see if you’ll feel safe being in a physical store. If you won’t, many retailers allow you to buy online and pick up curbside, Cullen points out.

And if you’ve already shopped more than enough this holiday season during the impressive early sales, it’s fair to say you can sit out Black Friday to avoid overspending.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press. 

Courtney Jespersen is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @CourtneyNerd.

The article The Case for Shopping on Black Friday in 2020 originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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What to Buy (and Skip) on Black Friday 2020

Amid all of the retail chaos and change of 2020, at least one thing remains the same: the biggest sale day of the year.

Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving — has a reputation as the best time of the year to buy just about anything.

But even though Black Friday still exists in 2020, it won’t be the same experience as before. Our guide can help you get the best bargains this Nov. 27.

Buy: Televisions

Low-priced electronics deals are a given on Black Friday. That won’t change this year.

Last year, Target sold a 65-inch TV in stores for only $279.99. Walmart, too, had a 65-inch TV for just $278. This Black Friday, you’re guaranteed to find discounts on TVs, as well as tablets and laptops.

As for some stocking stuffers to go along with your new TV, you’ll find video games, CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays deeply discounted from their original prices. In 2019, Walmart had over 50 movie titles for $1.96 apiece.

Skip: Toys

Historically, it’s best to wait until closer to Christmas to purchase dolls, action figures, play sets and other toys. You run the risk that certain items will sell out, but you may also be able to find bigger savings on what’s left.

In past years, select toys have been on sale for as much as 50% off in the final days before Christmas.

Buy: Apple products

There’s a specific electronic brand that’s popular on Black Friday: Apple. Major retail stores such as Best Buy, Target and Walmart discount Apple products each year, and previous-generation models usually see dramatic deals. These offers may include price cuts, free gift cards with purchase (up to $400 with a qualifying phone purchase on an installment plan), or a combination of both.

Target devoted an entire page of its 2019 Black Friday ad to Apple. The Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS) started at $169.99 (regularly $199.99), and select App Store and iTunes gift cards were buy one, get one 30% off.

Apple discounts likely won’t disappear this Black Friday. In fact, Apple items have already been on sale in pre-Black Friday sales. Keep an eye out for deals on MacBooks, iMacs, iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches and Apple TVs.

Skip: Bedding

You’ve got the entertainment center covered, but hesitate before stocking up on supplies to refresh the look of your bedroom this Black Friday.

Every January, retailers such as Overstock, Pottery Barn and Sears host “white sales.” During these seasonal promotions, discounts on bedding, pillows, towels and linens can hit up to 70%. Expect these to come around after Jan. 1.

Buy: Gaming systems

Black Friday is big for gamers. This year, look for savings on video game systems from retailers such as Best Buy, Walmart and GameStop. Expect deals on products from Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo.

You’ll also find particularly great offers on gaming bundles. These include the game console plus a combination of accessories or games.

Skip: Winter clothing

Winter clothing generally isn’t the best value on Black Friday. Retailers frequently offer big clearance sales on jackets when winter gives way to spring.

But if you need something to keep you warm before then, you’ll be able to find some bargains this Black Friday. Year after year, department stores like to offer doorbuster deals on women’s boots with select pairs for just $19.99 each.

If you miss Black Friday, don’t worry. Department stores and clothing retailers have been rolling out new sales almost daily.

Buy: Christmas decor

Blowout post-Christmas clearance sales happen every year on Dec. 26 as shoppers make their way to the store to return gifts. Christmas decorations, wrapping paper, tinsel and other seasonal trimmings reach super low prices (for obvious reasons). Prices also drop in the final weeks before Christmas.

For those reasons, Christmas decorations used to be on our list of items to skip on Black Friday. But this year, it’s less likely you’ll be at the mall shortly before Christmas. And waiting to order online could spell shipping delays.

So if you need decorations, consider scooping up deals on artificial trees and rolls of wrapping paper from home and craft stores on Black Friday. That way you’ll have your essentials in time for Christmas.

Skip: Outdoor items

Outdoor products, grills and patio furniture were already deeply discounted immediately after summer ended.

If you didn’t pick up these products at the close of this summer, wait until Memorial Day and Labor Day sales roll around next year. Another viable option is the Spring Black Friday Sale that home improvement store Lowe’s usually holds each year.

Buy: Appliances

Black Friday brings big savings on washers, dryers, refrigerators and other kitchen appliances. Retailers typically mark down home appliances by 40%. Look for similar deep discounts again this year.

You’ll find smaller appliances such as coffee makers, mixers, blenders or vacuum cleaners on sale, too. Expect deals from department stores such as Kohl’s, Macy’s and JCPenney.

Shop: Online

For the ultimate combination of convenience, safety and savings, spring for online shopping. With so many stores closed on Thanksgiving, big-box retailers are bringing their doorbusters online this Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

Online shoppers will usually enjoy free shipping. Or, you can choose to make your purchases online and pick them up at the store.

Courtney Jespersen is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @CourtneyNerd.

The article What to Buy (and Skip) on Black Friday 2020 originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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3 Ways to Keep Your Distance With Contactless Payments

If you’re looking for a self-improvement task in this pandemic era, try teaching yourself to use contactless payments with your phone or “tap-to-pay” credit and debit cards.

Any germaphobe will tell you that the surfaces of bills and coins have always been gross. And handing your credit card to a cashier who has the sniffles and a hacking cough? Even in pre-pandemic times, also gross.

Now, COVID-19 has prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to advise using touchless payments whenever possible in the brick-and-mortar world.

Americans have been relatively slow to adopt touch-free payments even though they’re more convenient and secure than swiping credit and debit cards. But maybe hygiene will be the tipping point as people seek a solution for, well, yucky money.

‘A strong impetus to change’

“I think the pandemic is a strong impetus to change,” said Jodie Kelley, CEO of the Electronic Transactions Association. “I think it’s going to stick and accelerate further. As people get used to it and understand how to do it and find that it’s simple and convenient, then they’re not going to shift back.”

Consumer interest in contactless payments has spiked during the pandemic.

Since January, no-touch payments have increased at 69% of retailers surveyed by the research firm Forrester on behalf of the National Retail Federation. And two-thirds of retailers surveyed now accept some form of no-touch payment.

Learning to use contactless payments might be awkward at first, and some of your favorite retailers might not be equipped to accept them. The point is to give it a shot the next time you’re not in a rush in a checkout line that can handle contactless payments.

“The first time I went to pay with my phone, I didn’t quite know how to do it,” Kelley said. “I felt a little silly trying to figure it out. But once I figured it out, I loved it.”

As people try to return to normal and encounter in-person payment terminals more regularly, here are three ways to experiment with contactless payments and avoid dirty currency and much-touched payment terminals.

1. Tap to pay

True, the word “tap” doesn’t exactly scream contactless. But “tap to pay” credit and debit cards really only need to be within a couple of inches of the payment terminal. The cards have little antennas inside.

How to tell if your payment card has contactless capability? It will have a logo that looks like a sideways Wi-Fi symbol of radiating waves. Retail payment terminals that accept contactless payments have the same symbol.

These cards don’t require a smartphone to complete a contactless payment, and you don’t have to use a PIN. Nine of the top 10 U.S. credit card issuers are actively distributing new contactless cards to customers, Visa has said.

“For people who are not used to engaging with technology, I would say first look at your card, see if it has the symbol. And if it does, the next time you’re at a retail location, all you have to do is touch that card to the terminal,” Kelley said. “It is incredibly straightforward. I encourage people to try it.”

2. Smartphone payments

With this option, you call up your wallet app and hold your phone near the terminal, and your phone will ask for authentication. That’s the normal unlocking procedure with your phone, whether punching in a code or using thumbprint or face identification. Many smartwatches work, too, as long as they have the required technology, called NFC, or near-field communication. The most popular services are Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay.

Phone payments require a little prep work before you get to the checkout counter. First, you must enter your payment card information into your mobile wallet app. Then, the card is saved and available to use.

3. Touchless pay at the pump

Many retailers have mobile apps that let you pay on your phone and bypass in-person payment completely. In those cases, you typically would get items delivered or visit the store for curbside or in-store pickup.

Another way to use a retail app is at major gas station chains. The apps (download them at an app store) let you identify which pump number you’re at, then authorize you to use it. You fill your tank with gas, and the charge goes to whatever payment method you identified in the gas-station app.

Just be sure to clean your hands after using the pump nozzle.

Is it secure?

As you beam your next payment to a retailer’s checkout terminal, you might wonder, “Will I have my credit card number stolen?”

The nontechnical answer is that it’s safer than the old method of swiping your card. That’s because the card or phone sends encrypted payment information to the terminal — it essentially masks your real credit card number. Even if the payment information was intercepted, it would be useless to a thief.

“It’s an incredibly safe way to pay,” Kelley said.

These days, in more ways than one.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press. 

Gregory Karp is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @spendingsmart.

The article 3 Ways to Keep Your Distance With Contactless Payments originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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Scaling Back Spending Yields Unexpected Benefits

When I originally set out to write this column, I wanted to share the unexpected benefits of cutting back on my online shopping habit.

At the beginning of the year, I set a personal challenge to reduce my online orders from several times a week (insert embarrassed emoji) to a few times a month. As time passed, I realized I had fewer deliveries to track and more money left in my bank account at the end of the month.

But then COVID-19 happened. And now eliminating online shopping is more than a fad or a New Year’s resolution. For millions, cutting things out of the budget is an absolute necessity.

If you’re having to scale back on discretionary spending — whether that’s shopping, travel or something else entirely — here’s how to give up that financial habit without feeling deprived.

See the silver lining

The news is filled with fear, worry and sadness. But it helps to see the silver lining, says Denise Downey, a certified financial planner and owner of Financial Trex LLC, based in Spokane, Washington.

Depending on where you live, you may be forced to stop some spending — on travel, sporting events, haircuts, entertainment and more. This involuntary saving can help you make changes you wouldn’t have otherwise made on your own.

“Those decisions are being made for us right now,” Downey says. “It’s not a matter of, ‘Do I cut the vacation this year or not?’ It’s cut. There’s no decision to be made with that.”

“If you want to put a positive spin on it, it’s making it easier for people to cut their expenses because they’re removing that decision-making hurdle.”

It’s all about perspective. So, if you can, focus on the benefits. For instance, you may find you’re feeling a positive boost as you watch your bank account grow and your credit card bill stop climbing.

So sure, my deliveries of clothing, makeup and the newest scented candles aren’t as frequent. But much like the thrill of getting a delivery, I’m finding that not spending is also appealing.

Get your power back

It’s probably obvious that placing fewer online orders equates to saving more money, as long as you don’t substitute an expensive activity in its place. The same goes for other types of spending. Cutting back any spending habit can lead to savings.

It can also give you a sense of empowerment, says Drew Harris, CFP, senior financial advisor at Greenway Wealth Advisors LLC, based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“It’s a good way to gain back some control by taking ownership of our spending,” Harris says.

Cutting back means you’re giving something up. But you’re also gaining freedom from the financial stress that discretionary spending can cause, as well as the buyer’s remorse that so often accompanies spending.

This sense of empowerment can help you feel better. L. Kevin Chapman, a licensed clinical psychologist, says you may “adopt a sense of mastery when eliminating something that has led to financial strain.”

Basically, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment, which allows you to feel positive (rather than negative) about the changes you’re making.

Learn a new habit

Don’t get discouraged. Your decreased spending won’t have to last forever.

But then again, you may find you don’t necessarily want to return to your pre-pandemic spending habits. And that’s OK, too.

Chapman says many people will become more accustomed to shopping less following the COVID-19 outbreak, especially if they’ve replaced their shopping habit with more cost-effective activities.

Take this time to learn some new habits in place of your old costly ones. Harris suggests going for a walk, talking with family and friends or finding some other inexpensive activity you enjoy doing.

Another example? Downey says her children were constantly busy with extracurricular activities — activities that cost money. But since the family has been home, she’s noticed they’re happy and entertained, even with a not-so-busy schedule. That has led her to rethink enrolling them in quite as many activities in the future.

Regardless of the specific substitutions you make, the changes you’re implementing during these unprecedented times will help boost your savings and emergency fund. Best case scenario, when life returns to some degree of normalcy one day, hopefully that fund is more than you ended up needing, Downey says.

In that case, you can reward yourself by buying something you’re putting off right now — and paying for it in cash.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

Courtney Jespersen is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @CourtneyNerd.

The article Scaling Back Spending Yields Unexpected Benefits originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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Upgrade Your Old Car With New-Car Tech

Time has marched on since you last bought a car.

You may love the reliable, low-mileage car parked in the garage but still long to make a hands-free phone call or summon up a song off Pandora. But you don’t need to spend $35,000 on a new car just to get a rear backup camera or any of the other high-tech features you’re lusting after.

For the price of a typical new-car payment, $550, you can add any of the seven upgrades below.

Backup camera. Of all the safety features on the market today, Consumer Reports found that drivers ranked the backup camera as the most useful. In tall vehicles, such as pickups and SUVs, the backup camera shows the blind spot under the rear tailgate. Even in small cars, the camera will help you safely park, then pull out in crowded parking lots. They became mandatory in 2018.

Prices and features vary wildly. A basic backup camera with a monitor costs less than $50. Other models that connect wirelessly and display an image on a rearview mirror are about $100. Before you choose a backup camera, review the directions to see if drilling and advanced wiring is required. If so, have the installation done by a pro.

Blind spot warning and cross-traffic alert. By adding radar sensors to your car, you can enjoy two popular safety features. The two that are most commonly bundled together in aftermarket kits are blind spot warning and cross-traffic alert.

If you want to change lanes, the device warns you if a car or truck is in your blind spot. In busy parking lots, even a rear backup camera might not show you a car that’s coming. But cross-traffic systems alert you to when a car’s approaching, even if it’s out of sight. This is another upgrade that might need to be done by an electronics expert.

Bluetooth connectivity. Hands-free use of your mobile phone is an important safety feature and can prevent you from getting a traffic ticket. Some basic units, selling for as little as $25, are basically plug-and-play. Simply connect the device to the auxiliary power outlet (formerly known as a cigarette lighter) or the audio input jack, and you can make and receive phone calls safely through your existing sound system.

Head-up display. Surprisingly inexpensive, and costing less than $100 for some models, a head-up display projects your car’s vital information on a small screen right in front of your eyes. So, instead of glancing down at the gauges, your speed and other information are in your line of sight. Installation is easy — most units plug into the car’s computer connection, under the steering wheel, and a single wire leads to the display unit on the dash.

Dash cam. The aftermarket is flooded with many types of dash cams that provide an array of features. In a basic unit, selling for under $100, a small camera records a looped video on a digital storage card. If you’re in an accident, the event is locked in the memory so you can download it and use it for evidence. More expensive dash cams offer other information such as vehicle surveillance, sending you a notification if someone bumps your car or breaks into it. You can install most units yourself in a few minutes.

Tunes, directions and apps. The head unit in your car is often a touch screen used to access the car’s features and connect with your mobile phone. Swapping out the head unit is best done by a professional, but it can add to your in-car entertainment by allowing access to your favorite apps. Prices range wildly from $50 to $500.

Massaging and heated seats. On long drives, it’s nice to get a massage to stay alert and feel refreshed. And, on cold mornings, heated seats warm you up before your car’s system blows hot. There are many models available for less than $100. All you have to do is put it in place and plug it into your car’s power source.

Shopping tips

  • Review the product description carefully to make sure it is compatible with your year, make and model of car. This is easier on and other sites that allow you to enter your car’s information first, then display compatible products.
  • Be realistic about your installation abilities. If drilling and wiring is required, have the upgrade installed by an electronics expert, a mechanic or the dealer.
  • Search for information about the best products on car forums dedicated to your vehicle. This way, you can contact other owners of your type of car for advice.
  • YouTube is a fount of information about selecting and installing vehicle upgrades.

The article Upgrade Your Old Car With New-Car Tech originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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