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Five tips for shopping retail and on-line

"No money down." "Lowest price of the season." "Early-bird specials from 7 a.m. until noon."

Every consumer wants to get the best price and deal possible, so it could be enticing to fall prey to the save-a-buck scenarios out there. But how can you be sure the sales are the real deal and not just a bunch of holiday hype? The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers a few tips to help you get the most for your money come the holidays.

•Comparison shop. The sale price at one store isn't always the lowest price out there. Write down the model number of the item you're researching and check out a number of stores. See how the sales price stacks up against the competition. And remember, many big-name stores will match or beat competitor's sale prices, so it helps to inquire, especially if you prefer shopping at a particular store.

•Read sale ads carefully. Some may say "quantities limited," "no rain checks," or "not available at all stores." Before you step out the door, call ahead to make sure the merchant has the item you want in stock. If you're shopping for a popular or hard-to-find item, ask if the item can be put on hold for a later pickup. Oftentimes a store will do this because once you're inside you may be compelled to purchase other things.

•Factor in gas and tolls. How much will it cost you to travel to that store three towns over for the big sale? It could end up totalling more than if you shopped locally. Keep travel costs in mind when shopping sales.

•Consider all "bargain offers." Many sales offer "buy one, get one free" or "1/2 off on a second item of equal or lesser value." Think about whether you need or want more than one item to assess if you're really getting a deal.

•Online sales may not be the best deals. Many times online retailers will offer lower prices than brick-and-mortar stores. At first glance they may seem like the way to go. However, remember that you'll have to factor shipping and handling costs into most prices for online orders. Find out if the total cost of shopping online still beats the local competition before you start punching in your billing information.

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