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How do I find bargains at Christmas?

Dear Dave,

I woke up this morning and realized that it is already December and I haven’t started Christmas shopping yet. I immediately broke out in a cold sweat because I hate the idea of having to fight the crowds of angry shoppers. I have been listening to you for a long time and I don’t want to fall in the trap this year of paying outrageous prices for things just because I have waited until the last minute. Can you give me some tips on how to get through the Christmas season without regret? I have cut up all of my credit cards so I won’t have all of the bills come January, but I want to know how to save on Christmas. Please help.


Jackson, Miss.

Dear Ali,

You have done a good job already by cutting up those stupid credit cards. It is staggering to me the number of people who will wake up in January with a huge credit card bill because they didn’t plan for Christmas. Imagine how easy it would be to buy Christmas gifts if you started setting money aside in January.

That is my first piece of advice for you for next year. Decide now how much you want to spend on Christmas gifts and then divide that number by 12. Set aside that amount each month starting in January and then when Christmas rolls around next year, you won’t be in a panic. Planning ahead with financial matters directly reduces stress related to money. It’s amazing.

As for this year: my advice to you would be first to be aware of the last-minute shopping trap. It sounds like you are, so that is good. Some stores know that people start getting desperate as Christmas draws near, so their prices reflect that. Be aware of that and don’t fall into that trap. Also, it is OK to stay away from the mall altogether. I know people will think I am un-American for saying that, but that’s OK. I don’t care. Our culture has become a culture of mall rats who run to the mall, pay 120 percent retail for something, and think they got a bargain because there was a sign that said, “SALE” over it. Well, they didn’t.

Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Bargains have to become a way of life if you are trying to have financial peace. You have to stop paying retail for things. If you go to a store to buy something and you have cash, then you have the power. If you are willing to walk away from a store and are willing to pay cash, you will have the upper hand and you will get a deal almost every time. It may not be comfortable for you to negotiate at first, but I promise you it is worth it. And once you get in the habit of it, it will become second nature to you. It becomes fun.

There are also some great websites for you to look for a deal. Try the e-bay and other saving websites like to find good deals. It may take some effort but you will thank yourself when you are finished. Good luck!


Should we get an MSA account?

Dear Dave,

I have a small company that has been in business for about 13 months now. Right now I am getting medical insurance through the local chamber of commerce. I have been looking into Medical Savings Accounts (MSA) for some time. My wife and I have two kids but we are not finished having children just yet. I was wondering how MSAs work with maternity costs and if you could give me some general advice if the MSA would work for me.


Newark, N.J.

Dear Dale,

MSAs do not typically cover normal birth and delivery. They would cover any extenuating circumstances or emergencies, but not the normal pregnancies. You would be paying those expenses out of your pocket. You better get ready to use the savings portion of that, and be ready to pay it.

The thing about it that makes it OK in my mind is this. I know several people who have paid cash for their deliveries in this kind of a setting. If you will sit down with the hospital administrators late in the second trimester or the beginning of the third trimester and negotiate with them by pre-paying in cash, you can save half on the cost of labor and delivery. Go back and read that last line again. I said “half.”

There are two reasons for this: one, they don’t have to worry about collecting because you are pre-paying, and two, the pregnancy, birth and delivery process is very competitive within any given city between the hospitals, that you can almost shop around for the better deal. You can, at least, play them against each other in this case. It is amazing what happens when the consumer is equipped with the dollar bills to make those decisions. I think it would be a wise decision on your part to go with the MSA and the larger deductible in this case.



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