Jean Chatzky
Jean Chatzky welcomes financial columnist M.P. Dunleavey, whose "Basic Instincts" column runs in the Saturday New York Times. Jean and M.P. talk about M.P.'s most recent columns, a September article dealing with credit reports and an October article focusing on online shopping.

In her September column, M.P. says she drew from her own experience trying to download her annual free credit report. M.P. outlines the problems she found in trying to obtain her free credit report, and offers tips on making the process as easy as possible:

  • Make sure you're at the right web site. There is only one web site——that provides credit reports for free. Don't be fooled by imposters that tweak the words or the spelling slightly to sell you the service.
  • It can be a somewhat lengthy process, so don't leave it for the last minute—say, the night before you need to apply for a loan or mortgage. Prepare for these situations in advance by having a copy handy ahead of time.
  • Keep you finances organized. If you have a clear filing system, you'll have a better chance of spotting errors on your report. Don't count on the report's accuracy.
For her October column, M.P. talks about the dangers of a form of online shopping she calls "sip and click"—placing orders online after having a few drinks. M.P. shares the story of one man who, after drinking a few martinis, mistakenly bought his girlfriend a pair of $15,000 earrings (he thought they cost $1,500). Here's M.P.'s advice on how to prevent spontaneous online spending after drinking:

  • Know yourself. "If you can catch your trigger early, that will help with overspending," M.P. says. Think about why you shop—it's likely not because you need, or even want, new things. Perhaps you shop after a fight with a friend or significant other, or maybe, you just feel you deserve it after a long week. "Once you learn what your emotional trigger is, you can pull back on that."
  • Know that men and women both fall victim to the "sip and click."
  • Focus on a bigger goal, like saving for a vacation or an expensive item that you really want or need. Chances are you want to meet that goal fast, which means saving your money—and if you share it with someone, you're more likely to be accountable for it.