Tips for safe shopping trips

COLUMBUS — As the holiday shopping season gets underway, the Ohio Department of Aging, through its Golden Buckeye program and STEADY U Ohio falls prevention initiative, offers tips for consumers of all ages to spend wisely and shop safely.

Throughout the holiday shopping season, there are many opportunities for consumers to save big on the gifts they want to give. The Golden Buckeye program suggests a few strategies to help stretch a dollar even further:

• Ask anywhere you spend money if they honor the Golden Buckeye Card or offer another discount for which you may qualify. The Golden Buckeye Card is most often honored at locally-owned small businesses.

• Set a budget and stick to it.

• Consider payment methods carefully. Cash is the best way to control your spending but can be easily lost or stolen. Debit cards and checks can help you avoid finance charges but are particularly risky if lost or stolen. Credit cards often offer the best consumer protections against loss and theft but can cost you more in the long run in fees and interest.

• Compare prices using store sales circulars and websites. Save your receipts and continue to compare prices after you’ve purchased something, as retailers may match competitor prices following the sale.

• Shop at discount, resale and outlet stores for rock-bottom prices on unique gifts.

• Buy gift cards for shopping as well as giving. Many merchants offer special holiday offers on gift cards such as bonus coupons/cards, fuel discounts and other incentives. Buy gift cards to earn these perks, then use the cards to buy gifts.

• Understand return policies before you buy. Look for information about how long returns are accepted, if a receipt is required, whether opened items are accepted, if a restocking fee applies and if a shipping fee applies to items bought online.

• Be careful and alert. Park in well-lighted areas and avoid leaving valuables in your vehicle. Never leave your jacket, purse or wallet unattended.

The hustle and bustle of holiday shopping increases risk factors that can lead to a potentially life-changing fall. The STEADY U Ohio initiative has been helping older Ohioans prevent falls since 2013 and offers these tips for safe holiday shopping:

• Don’t “shop ‘til you drop.” Do some light exercise and stretching before you shop. Take frequent breaks and shop at off-peak times to avoid crowds and long waits. Take someone with you who can wait in line for you while you sit and rest.

• Avoid walking around items blocking aisles or displays that block your view of other shoppers and obstacles. Report slipping hazards, such as spills, loose rugs or mats and unsafe sidewalks or stairs to store staff immediately.

• Ask store staff for help in carrying heavy or bulky packages or bags to your vehicle. Avoid carrying large, low-hanging bags that can trip you.

• If you use your cane or walker, always shop with it or take advantage of the mobility scooters many stores provide if you could be on your feet for longer than you usually find comfortable.

• Tell store staff if you see anybody behaving in an unsafe manner that could lead to an accident.

• If you fall, even if you’re not hurt, notify store staff and management right away so that they can document the incident and take steps to prevent future accidents.