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Do Your Homework

Kelly Ann Butterbaugh

Doing your homework can save a lot of money. Yes, studying hard in school could land you a job that drives home in a sports car, but it's an easier type of homework that saves money right now. It's shopping homework, and it can be done on your home computer and save you hundreds.



The key to successful shopping is investigative research. Before buying an item, check the internet for customer reviews. Whether you're buying the item in the store or online, that shouldn't stop you from turning to the internet to find what others are saying about the product.

Two years ago I could have saved $40 (and the broken heart of a four-year-old) if I had researched one of the toys that my son requested for Christmas. Thinking it was made by a reputable manufacturer, I purchased it without question. It was awful; pieces didn't fit together as advertised and none of the triggered motions worked on queue, causing frustration to both adults and children. Then, after turning to reviews we realized that everyone (every single reviewer!) told us about the products' problems. The silver lining? The reviews gave us suggestions for stripping down the playset to get some use from an otherwise useless toy.


Before buying, turn to popular websites such as and large chain store sites to see what others are saying. The middle reviews are probably most helpful; offering pros and cons for the product rather than simply lauding or attacking it.

What to Look For

When reading online reviews, keep in mind that these are not objective reviews. The negative reviews are most likely from consumers who feel "cheated" or in the least disappointed. Positive reviews sometimes have addendums to them with different thoughts after using the product for some time. Skim past reviews that start, "I just purchased this and . . ." Instead, look for those who state that the review has owned the product for some time.

Another thing to keep in mind when reading reviews; read the words, not the stars. Some reviewers give products one or two stars, but while reading the review it's easy to see that one fault earned this harsh star rating. Meanwhile, others give items four stars and then list five problems with the item.

Rely on the reviews that relate to you the most. If a busy mom declares that an electric razor takes too much time to get the job done, ask if this is something that concerns you. If not, it's not necessarily a problem. Likewise, look at the profile for the reviewer (some sites provide good background info to profile the user such as interests and age group). Toys are often reviewed by collectors who haven't really put the toy to the play test. Also, if an adult reviews the toy as a collector, no one really has an idea how easy the toy is to manipulate in small hands. If you want the toy as a collector's item, this type of review is quite helpful.


Look for Suggestions

Many reviewers offer better products as alternatives. Recently, after learning through research that a child's science experiment was a huge disappointment, we found a much better alternative experiment in a customer review. A reviewer who isn't happy with a product may offer suggestions for making it better or even fixing the problem. Suggestions that might help if you're willing to work with the product.

Help Others

Don't forget that people spent valuable time writing those helpful reviews. Give back and write a few of your own. If a product already has one hundred reviews, leave it alone. However, if you have information that you can share, write a review and help others make wise decisions and save money.

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December 8, 20090 found this helpful

I enjoyed your article. Great points. Can you suggest a web site for reviewing products sold on TV. In particular I was wondering about the one that cleans the inside of car windshields. Thank you.

Reply Was this helpful? Yes

December 12, 20090 found this helpful

Not a website, but I just bought one, and have used it on my car windows. It worked great! I did them all, inside and out.

My daughter's boyfriend used it on his, and it streaked. I think it may have been because it was dirty (he didn't know it came with two bonnets). I washed the dirty one in the regular laundry and it came out fine.

I think I am going to try it on my house windows when I start doing the insides (that's my winter project, one room at a time, after Christmas).

Reply Was this helpful? Yes

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