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How To Raise Your Consumer IQ In Two Easy Steps

James H. Dimmitt -- With the holiday shopping season upon us, become a more informed consumer and make your purchases based on fact, not hype.

Two years ago I bought my 4-year old nephew a racetrack as a Christmas gift. I was sure it was going to become his favorite toy. I bought it because it looked easy to operate, for both adults and children. The track came fully assembled and folded in half for easy storage. And no batteries were needed to power the race cars; instead you wound them up with a lever and gear attached to the side of the track.

What could be simpler, right?

Well, as it turned out the wind-up assembly was difficult to operate and the lever didn't make a complete turn. You had to wind the lever, then remove it, then place it back on the spindle and wind it again and again. Not very easy or fun for him or the adults who also gave it a try. And certainly not the fun and smiles as pictured on the toy box.

I'm sure you've had a similar experience with something you've purchased. The advertisements made the product look easy, simple, or produce great results. The problem is that often the product doesn't live up to the hype.

Since then I've raised what I like to call my "consumer IQ" by following these two easy steps:

1) Read online product reviews from other consumers.

The best Internet site I've found for this is www.epinions.com. Whether you're looking for reviews on cars, books, electronics, travel, or whatever, you'll find it there. The site provides product details along with reviews from real people who have purchased the item and used it. They'll rate it, and tell you what they liked and disliked about it. They'll even suggest how to improve the product or your experience of it.

For example, before I purchased a label maker for my computer, I went to epinions.com and read user reviews on several models I was considering. After reading the customer reviews, I was able to settle on one particular model that fit my needs best. I was able to eliminate the hype and learn from real users' experiences.

2) Compare prices online.

Some of the most popular price comparison sites are www.mysimon.com, www.bizrate.com, and www.shopzilla.com. Each of these sites offers the convenience of finding the best price possible from a wide variety of merchants.

However, the best site by far is www.pricegrabber.com. What I like best about their site is not only will you find the best possible price, but they also include links for coupons and rebates on the item you're researching. None of the other price comparison sites offers this extra "consumer friendly" resource.

Use these steps to become a more informed consumer -- one who makes purchasing decisions based on fact instead of hype! Happy shopping to one and all!

James is editor of "To Your Credit," a free weekly newsletter with tips to help you manage your personal finances. Subscribe today and receive his ebook Identity Theft -- How To Avoid Becoming the Next Victim! and other free bonuses by visiting http://www.yourfreecreditreportnow.com.

© 2005 James Dimmitt

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