ShopSmart, the shopping magazine from the publisher of Consumer Reports, suggests these six ways to shop smarter:
1. Get stuff sooner. If you need a TV or other gadget in a hurry, consider buying at Best Buy. The retailer delivered electronics items even faster than Amazon did last holiday season, according to StellaService, which tracks customer service. Best Buy's secret weapon: lots of stores to ship from. Ship-to-store is a growing trend; other retailers that offer the time-saving service include Ace Hardware, Macy's and RadioShack.
2. Ship it for less. ShopSmart compared shipping a 6-pound medium-sized box from New York to San Francisco using FedEx, the United Parcel Service and the U.S. Postal Service. It checked standard and express delivery times. The cheapest option: the Postal Service's two-day Priority Mail Service, using its free flat-rate box (for up to 70 pounds). It was $40 less than the competition for the same two-day delivery.
3. Get free credit monitoring. If you shopped at Target or Neiman Marcus last year and haven't signed up for their free credit watches, there's still time. Both companies are giving away a year of credit monitoring for customers, whether or not they were part of the big data breaches. Sign up at corporate.target.com or neimanmarcus.com. Be aware that they monitor only one credit bureau: Experian. When your free year is up, don't pay to continue. You can monitor your credit history free by requesting copies of your reports at annualcreditreport.com. (Tip: Ask for one of your three reports every four months.)
4. Shop and do good. It's not as sexy and exciting as delivery by drone, but a quieter development at Amazon.com is a pretty big deal. Next time you want to order stuff from the site, start at smile.amazon.com; the company will donate money for every dollar you spend. The donation may sound small — it's 0.5 percent of your purchase price — but it can really add up. Just choose a charity, then shop as usual. (No, you won't get a tax deduction; you're doing it for the good of it.)
5. Skip extra warranties. Car dealers may try hard to sell you an extended warranty, but it probably won't pay off, based on ShopSmart's survey of more than 12,000 auto owners. Fewer than half of those who bought an extended warranty wound up using it. Those who did use it saved a median amount of $837 on out-of-pocket repair costs — but they spent $1,214 on average for the warranty, so that's a net loss of $377 on the deal.
6. Don't be dazzled. It's easy to get overwhelmed when you see many versions of products in the store. ShopSmart recently found 27 different Crest toothpastes and 25 kinds of Head & Shoulders shampoo at a supermarket. But some "new" formulations might not be any better than or different from old ones. Try new products when they're on sale or shop by price.