smart spending

Will these 3 trends curb your spending?

In Idaho, for instance, part of the state consumer protection statute forbids retailers to increase the price of goods laid away after the original agreement has been made. If retailers run afoul of the rules, consumers can complain, and the state attorney general's office will mediate, says Bob Cooper, spokesman for the Idaho office.

In a Consumer Alert, the FTC warns that consumers should look for a written layaway agreement, which spells out when payments are due, possible fees and what provisions the retailer will make if you want your money back instead of completing the purchase.

Do you want your credit card to stop your splurges?

"Your card is declined," are the words anyone who flirts with their credit limit dreads. So, it may seem ironic that Citigroup is asking MasterCard customers if they would like to request such an embarrassing decline.

Citi's new "inControl" service is initially offered to select MasterCard holders. With this feature, customers can set up blocks of certain types of spending, like charging more than $300 monthly at restaurants. But customers can also unblock their self-imposed limits by calling Citi or going online.

While self-imposed blocks may be helpful to some people, Loewenstein says, he doesn't think confirmed spenders will reform their ways with such a service.

Artificially blocking spending is analogous to trying to stop drinking by taking a drug that would make you ill if you consume alcohol, Loewenstein says. "There was much hope when that drug came out, but what happens is that people accumulate a desire to drink and stop taking the drug.

"My guess," he says, "is that a lot of people will end up unblocking and then spending the way they want."

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