The remote control on the tiny drone your son unwrapped at Christmas doesn’t work. The new Xbox game has a flaw, and your daughter already has the doll that was shipped by Uncle Billy all the way from Alaska.
What should you do?
While it might be easy and make perfect sense to say you’ll take care of your kids’ toy problems, there is another approach. Encourage your child to do the same things you would do — namely to stand in line at the return counter at the store, box up the defective product and ship it back to the retailer, or even call the toll-free 800 customer service number to complain about the imperfections and request a refund.
Being a smart shopper is more than just staying within budget, finding good deals and not succumbing to product hype. Kids also need to develop the consumer gene to effectively deal with problem products, communicate customer service issues, understand the pros and cons of warranties, and review some of the paperwork, including those product registration cards that are stuffed in the packaging with electronics and other products.
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Here are some basic tips for youngsters just learning the ropes:
▪ Save the receipts. The place for your teen to keep store receipts is not in a crumpled-up pile in the back seat of her car. Nor should they be stuffed in the glove box.
Whether you get a paper receipt or an electronic email version, hang onto them and keep them together in an envelope at least until the bill is paid. For televisions, cellphones and other big-ticket items, I keep the receipts indefinitely, along with any warranty information.
▪ Read the fine print on product registrations. In many cases, consumer advocates say, there’s no need to fill out the cards and register your product in order to qualify for any warranties.
But those registration cards could provide some protection if there’s a recall, because the company that has your name, contact information, and product serial numbers can reach you more easily.
That’s what I experienced several months ago after buying a new washing machine. Shortly after the purchase, the appliance company announced a recall, and an informational packet from the manufacturer arrived within a couple weeks.
One caveat: If you are concerned about privacy, I suggest providing only as much information on the registration card as is absolutely necessary.
▪ Warranties. “Would you like to buy an extended warranty?” That question typically comes up at the checkout counter, especially when it involves electronics and other expensive items. Generally, however, consumer experts said it’s best to decline the offer, especially on fairly reliable products or relatively inexpensive ones, such as a remote control car.
The manufacturer might already offer at least a one-year warranty that comes with the product. Some extended warranties often have exclusions and deductibles and a lot of red tape to wade through.
▪ Return line remedies. Go with your youngster to the return line until he or she builds up confidence to handle the return, especially if the retailer plays hardball.
▪ Comparison shop. Your lucky teen got not only a new Xbox but the latest Nintendo. He can only keep one. Let your gamer research the two systems, right down to the features, pricing and game options before boxing up the return.
▪ Remember the thank you note. Even if it’s a gift you’ve taken back to the store, a thank you note is still warranted, either hand-written or in a personalized email.
Steve Rosen: 816-234-4879
What’s the best advice about handling money that you ever received from your parents or other family member? Parents (and kids), send your comments to email@example.com, and they could be used in a future column.