Sometimes it feels like we couldn’t live without the internet. It has become so prevalent in our lives in a relevantly short period of time it’s easy to forget not too long ago we actually had to walk into a store to buy something. To those of you who may still be holding out don’t be intimidated or nervous. The internet is a safe place to shop.

We weren’t one of the first adopters of online banking. We weren’t even one of the first million. Eventually I decided security had become sophisticated enough to protect our sensitive information. Now we hardly use checks, since all of our bills are paid online.

Internet shopping has come a long way, too. You can find anything you want with a simple search engine entry. We have purchased flooring, appliances, furniture and electronics online. Is there absolutely no chance of fraudulent activity? Of course not. But the chances are about the same as a clerk at a store stealing your credit card number when they run your bill. Over the past couple years the credit card companies have become more vigilant at detecting fraudulent charges and alerting you to the activity. That can be good or bad, depending on whether your spending trend suddenly changes enough to trigger an alert. I was in a pinch a few years ago when my credit card was frozen because I forgot to call the company and tell them I was traveling overseas. Imagine my surprise when I couldn’t pay my hotel bill. Fortunately these things are easily resolved with the 24/7 customer service lines, but not without a temporary spike in your blood pressure!

When shopping online for gifts, the biggest challenge I’ve found is deciding from which store to purchase the item. You are bombarded with so many options it can be overwhelming. A simple search entry can return hundreds of thousands of hits. How do you compare all of them? My answer is simple: Stick to the bigger name stores. Especially with electronics, I try to stay away from any retailer whose price is considerably lower than the competition. Sure, there will be some outlets where they’ll be able to cut a good deal with the manufacturer, but if the price is 30%-50% lower than everyone else, buyers beware. In my experience it is almost always better to avoid buying directly from the manufacturer, as you will realize quantity discounts by dealing with retailers. It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes buying from the middle man can be a good thing.

My wife is the queen of online coupons. I’m constantly amazed by her ability to find a coupon for seemingly everything. Most online retailers have a section during checkout to enter a coupon code. It can be worth your time to look around for coupon codes for either the retailer or the specific item. Sometimes you may just save shipping charges, but other times you’ll find coupons for 10%-20% off the total purchase. They’re out there if you search for them.

You may also want to consider whether to ship the gift directly to the recipient or have it delivered to your house so you can wrap it and send it on to its final destination. There are advantages each way. You will save shipping charges by having the gift drop shipped from the retailer to the recipient, but you may think it’s not as personal if you haven’t wrapped it. Either way you choose, the options are there for you to decide.

If you’re looking for something that’s not being made any longer, don’t forget to check eBay. I was recently looking for a Spirograph for my kids, only to find you can’t buy them new from the manufacturer. I was disappointed because I had a lot of fun making amazing designs with mine as a kid. A quick search of eBay resulted in over 100 auctions for different sets of Spirographs. You’ll want to be careful with eBay to check the seller ratings and comments for the seller before you plunk down your money. My wife recently bought a new high-end digital camera from a reputable seller. We got a good price and the item was exactly as advertised. If you could add: If you do have a problem, EBay is very good at helping resolve disputes that arise between buyers and sellers. But it’s best to limit your business to the established sellers.

Many of the online retailers, resellers, and auction sites provide multiple means of payment. The auction sites offer the most variety because it’s up to the seller what methods of payment they will accept. Some will even take personal checks, but they’ll hold shipment of the item until your check clears their bank. If you want a quicker transaction, you may consider setting up a Paypal account. Paypal is similar to a bank in that you use their service to transfer money. The advantage is that you can both buy and sell through them, and the transactions are quick and smooth. We have our Paypal account linked to a credit card. This provides a layer of security because we don’t have to enter our credit card number at each site whenever we buy something. We pay through Paypal, and they route the charges to our credit card. You can also link it to your checking or savings accounts, or use it as a prepaid account, where you transfer money into your Paypal account, and then you can use that money to purchase things.

I’ve barely scratched the surface in this article, but I hope you feel confident that the internet is a great means of finding and purchasing a gift. Happy shopping.

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