by Amanda Walker on Thursday October 30, 2014

Gearing up for your holiday shopping? You might think that because you faithfully compare prices online before buying, download coupons to your phone, and watch for deep discounts on yesterday's inventory as new models appear in stores, you're getting the best deals you possibly can.

Still, deep discounts for some products go by the calendar. Consumer Reports product research experts, who track prices all year long, have compiled a list of items that are typically discounted most deeply in November.  

––Mandy Walker

You should be able to find great prices on a variety of baby products this month, including strollers. First and foremost, you want your baby to be safe and comfortable in her stroller. But think about yourself, too, since you're the one who'll be pushing it. Subscribers will notice in our Stroller Ratings that there's a wide price range among types and brands. What makes one stroller worth $100 and another $1,000 or more? Several things drive up the price–such as accessories–but we've found good models in a wide range of prices.

Shopping tips:

Consider your environment. If you're a city dweller who relies on subways, buses, and cabs, you'll need a lightweight but sturdy stroller that folds quickly and is compact. If you'll be tromping through snow or on unpaved roads or grass, a model with large wheels is a great option.
 
Think about extras. Factor stroller accessories into the price of models you like, because you may find yourself needing (or wanting) extras such as a parasol, rain cover, netting to keep out bugs, drink holder, and more.

For stroller shopping tips, check out our buying guide.

Like last month, you'll find great deals on these wheels in October, because we're approaching the end of the riding season in many places in the country.

Shopping tips:

Decide what kind of riding you'll do. That will narrow your choice to one of the four basic types. If you're an avid cyclist, you may prefer a conventional road bike. Looking for a leisurely ride on flat, paved roads? A comfort bike may be more your speed. If rugged trails are in your sights, than a mountain bike might be best.
 
Find a good bike shop. You'll pay more, but we think you're more likely to be satisfied. Bikes from big-box stores might not be properly assembled or well matched to your body. If you don't like the pedals or seat on a particular model, some bike shops will swap components at little or no cost.

For more shopping tips and information about different brands, see our bike buying guide. And read our bike helmet buying guide to make sure you get the best fit (subscribers can read our Bike Helmet Ratings). 

Buying a camcorder can be complicated. Models not only vary in size and capabilities, but also in price. You can spend as little as $150 or as much as $1,600, or more.
 

Shopping tips:

The right camcorder features are important. That's true whether you're considering a standard definition or high-def model. If you want better quality and more options, consider a full-size model. If you need a smaller, more portable model—or if you're an athlete or adventurer who loves to capture action footage—then consider an action cam. 

Give some a try. In the store, try different camcorders to make sure they fit your hand and are comfortable to use. Most camcorders are designed so that the most frequently used controls—the switch to zoom in and out, the record button, and the button for still photos—are readily at hand.

Use our camcorder buying guide to discover which features are most important to you. We also have unbiased Ratings based on our lab tests, plus camcorder reviews to help you choose the best model at the right price.

Want to know what's on sale the rest of the year? See our calendar of deals.

Like bikes, it's the end of the season for grilling (even though some of us have been known to clear a path through the snow to do some wintertime grilling), so you'll find some deep discounts on the stock still in stores.

Shopping tips

Think about size. Match the grill's cooking area to the number of people you typically feed. Remember, manufacturers might include racks and searing burners when tallying cooking area. Our measurements are based on the main cooking area and how much food it will hold.

Think about space. Next factor in how much area the grill will take up on your patio or deck. Some of the grills we tested are a whopping six feet wide.

You'll find more shopping tips in our grills buying guide. (Subscribers can find our recommended models in three different size categories in our Ratings.)

In today's competitive market, GPS prices have come down to the point where even budget units include features previously available only on more expensive models (and not available on some apps), such as the ability to speak street names, issue speed warnings, and provide reality view, graphically representing major intersections. Shoppers looking for navigational aid can choose from many types of GPS devices, including aftermarket portable or in-dash units, cell phones, factory-installed in-dash units, telematics systems, and even laptop computers.

All GPS types advantages and disadvantages, as our GPS buying guide points out, and choosing the right one for you depends on your needs and budget. Subscribers can get a list of recommended models and our GPS Ratings.

Shopping tips:

Do some research. Before you buy a GPS navigator, think about your typical driving conditions, how often you're in unfamiliar areas, and figure out which features are most important to you. For example, if you often encounter traffic congestion on your commute, choosing a nav system with real-time traffic information can help you avoid traffic congestion, accidents, or road construction, and plot a route around it before you even get to the trouble area.

Think about where you'll use it. If you're buying a new car, check to see if a built-in system is available and how much it costs. These are nicely integrated into the car, but they are typically far more expensive than portable systems, initially and for subsequent map updates. Still, if most of your driving is done in one car, you might be happier with a built-in system. If you often fly to new places and rent vehicles, or if you own more than one car, a portable system might be the way to go, especially with prices for entry-level systems starting at less than $100.

Early holiday shoppers will find great sales on toys this month, although you may not find discounts on the hottest playthings (such as a singing Elsa from "Frozen" doll). The right toy can make key developmental stages more fun—or your child and for you. Our toy buying guide can help you to find age-appropriate toys for your baby—and to learn what you can do to play up their important lessons.

Shopping tips:

Consider the classics. Don't overlook toys such as stackable plastic "doughnuts," shape sorters, building blocks, and interlocking plastic oversized beads for very young children. There's a reason that they've been around so long. For more clues about what toys your child might like, take note of what toys he or she gravitates to on play dates and/or at day care.

Shop around. Browse stores, catalogs, and Web sites for other ideas. Also, ask for suggestions from parents who have children of similar ages.

It's possible to find good TVs selling for a few hundred dollars, while others go for several thousand, and there are many sets that fall in between those extremes. Screen size, features, brand, and more affect the price. Our TV buying guide will help you get the most bang for your buck, no matter how much or how little you want to spend. The video below outlines even more ways to save.

Shopping tips:

It's hard to judge TVs well in stores. That's because TVs are usually set to a Retail or Store mode, which pumps up brightness and color to a level that looks great under fluorescent lights. Subscribers should consult our TV Ratings before hitting the stores to make sure you get a set that performed well in our lab tests.

Shop where you'll get a price guarantee. Many retailers will match or beat a lower price from a local competitor, so go to the store with those prices in hand. Even after the sale, some stores promise a refund within a specified period of time, often 30 to 60 days, if they reduce the price of your TV within it or if you find the set selling elsewhere for less. There are usually restrictions, so check the details. Save your receipt and keep checking the ads even after you buy.

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.


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by Lisa Luca on Thursday October 30, 2014

Chances are you’re paying more than you need to for prescription drugs. But thanks to discounts offered at Costco, CVS, Target, Walgreens, Walmart, and others, hundreds of common generic drugs can be purchased for pennies per pill.

Retailers offer the discounts to draw in customers. The lower-priced pills aren’t part of any health insurance, and using them won’t count toward your deductible. But they can be a huge help, especially if you don’t have insurance or good drug coverage. And sometimes prices could even be cheaper than if you used insurance. Here’s how to get the most from the programs.

1. Ask for a 90-day Rx

To offer such low prices, retailers often buy the medications in bulk. You should, too. A three-month supply could cost just $10, compared with $4 for a one month’s supply.

2. Factor in membership fees

Though CostcoTarget, and Walmart offer savings without enrollment or fees, others don’t: CVS charges $15 per person; Walgreens, $20 for individuals or $35 for a family.

3. Consider your privacy

You may be required to sign a form or check a box giving the pharmacy or third parties such as drug manufacturers or insurance companies permission to contact you with other offers and promotions. Ask whether you can join the program or get the discounted price if you don’t check that box, says ­Stephen W. Schondelmeyer, Ph.D., a pharmaceutical economics professor at the University of Minnesota.

What else you need to know about prescription privacy, and how to find the best pharmacy for you.

4. Ask for the lowest price

That’s what helped our secret shoppers get the best deals when they called more than 200 pharmacies across the U.S. “Also, ask your pharmacist, ‘What would this cost if I didn’t use my insurance?’” Schondelmeyer says. For an independent pharmacy, see whether it will match or beat competitor prices. You might be surprised.

5. Check back often

Which drugs are discounted, as well as the doses and prices, are subject to change.

6. Look for other extras

CVSKmart, and Walgreens offer discounts of between 5 percent and 20 percent on flu shots and similar services. At Target, membership in the Pharmacy Rewards program gets you a 5 percent discount on a day of shopping after the first prescription fill. Every five fills after that earns you an additional 5 percent discount on store purchases. Walmart offers free shipping on many $10, 90-day prescriptions.

Get free information on the effectiveness, safety, and cost of hundreds of medications from Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs.

7. Know the restrictions

Program discounts usually cannot be combined with other promotions or even insurance. For example, people who use Medicaid and Medicare aren’t eligible for discounts at Costco. Certain discounts are offered only to those who don’t have drug insurance or are for drugs not covered by insurance.

8. Practice Rx safety

Getting a good deal is important, but be sure to have all of your prescriptions filled at a single pharmacy. Your pharmacist can flag any potentially dangerous drug interactions or allergies.

It pays to shop around—you could save hundreds of dollars a year.

 

Generic drug name
(brand name)

Citalopram (Celexa)

20 mg, 1 pill daily, treats depression

Fluoxetine (Prozac)

20 mg, 1 pill daily, treats depression

Lovastatin (Mevacor)

20 mg, 1 pill daily, treats high cholesterol

Metformin (Glucophage)

500 mg, 1 pill twice daily, treats type 2 diabetes

Paroxetine (Paxil)

20 mg, 1 pill daily, treats depression and anxiety

 

Retail price
30 days

$29 

 

$32

$19 

 

$17

$25

CVS
90 days

$11.99

$11.99

$11.99

$11.99

$11.99

Costco
30/90 days

$4.99/$6.39

$5.69/$5.69

$4.99/$6.39

$4.99/$6.39

$5.99/$6.99

Rite Aid
30/90 days

$9.99/$15.99

$9.99/$15.99

$9.99/$15.99

$9.99/$15.99

$9.99/$15.99

Target
30/90 days

$4/$10

$4/$10

$4/$10

$4/$10

$4/$10

Walgreens
30/90 days

$10/$20

$5/$10

$5/$10

$5/$10

$10/$20

Walmart
30/90 days

$4/$10

N/A

$4/$10

$4/$10

$4/$10

This article also appeared in the December 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine. This article and related materials are made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by the multistate settlement of consumer-fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin).

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.


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by Consumer Reports on Thursday October 30, 2014

For many people, the day begins with a cup of coffee and ends with a glass of red wine. If you have seen the headlines touting the health benefits of both beverages—and you’re among the 61 percent of Americans who down a daily cup of java or the 31 percent of drinkers who prefer a glass of wine to other alcoholic beverages—you’ve probably been thrilled to watch former vices morph into virtues. But how good are the drinks for your health? Here’s the latest.

Some research shows that coffee and wine, when consumed in moderation, may have similar benefits, such as increasing life span, boosting blood flow, and diminishing the risk of depression. And coffee and red wine have been found to contain antioxidants, which may prevent disease.

But the beverages aren’t just bundles of antioxidants; that’s why they’re more fun to drink than a kale smoothie (for most of us, anyway). The question is how exactly coffee and alcohol can play a role in improving health. People who moderately drank any type of alcohol—red or white wine, beer, or spirits—were 30 to 35 percent less likely to have a heart attack than nondrinkers, according to Harvard University researchers who tracked more than 38,000 men over 12 years; other studies have found a similar effect in women. Drinking caffeinated coffee may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, according to another study—which is attributed to the caffeine working in tandem with a compound in coffee to boost brain health. (If you drink only decaf, you still reap some benefit: Research has linked caf and decaf with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes.)

Still, the news isn’t all good. In the short term, regular and decaf coffee can aggravate acid reflux. Caffeinated versions can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety disorders and insomnia, among other conditions—particularly in women, who tend to be smaller than men, as well as in people who metabolize coffee slowly. Too much red wine can cause weight gain; a five-ounce glass has 127 calories.  Alcohol can be dehydrating, the main culprit behind hangovers. (But moderate coffee drinking, contrary to popular belief, is not dehydrating.) Over the long run, drinking the amount of caffeine in two to three 8-ounce cups of brewed coffee per day appears to increase bone loss that can lead to osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. And several types of cancer are more common in people who drink any amount of alcohol.  

It may all come down to you. Research shows that the impacts of coffee and wine differ greatly depending on how quickly your genes tell your body to metabolize those drinks. Until genetic testing is more common and you can pinpoint your limits, moderation and common sense are key. Translation: If you have or are prone to a condition that is exacerbated by drinking either beverage, skip it. If you take a medication that either beverage can interact with, ditto.

Here are some guidelines: Regarding coffee, data suggest that most healthy adults can safely consume, daily, up to 400 milligrams of caffeine—the amount in around two to four cups of brewed coffee. (Exact amounts vary a lot, though.) Pregnant women should keep it to less than 200 milligrams; kids, no more than 45 to 85 milligrams. (A 12-ounce can of cola has roughly 35 to 40 milligrams of caffeine.) The amount of caffeine in coffee can vary from brew to brew; see "The Jolt in Your Java," below.

As for wine: If you’re at a high risk for cancer, talk to your doctor about alcohol intake. If you’re generally healthy, the American Cancer Society recommends no more than one drink per day for women and two for men. “Drink”—sigh—is defined for wine as a 5-ounce serving, and the limit is per day, not a weekly average. So forget those huge goblets of pinot noir; instead, pour a few ounces. If that feels sparse, at least you have room for coffee.

This article also appeared in the December 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.


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by Consumer Reports on Thursday October 30, 2014

Oops. And Oops Again.

Who says no one reads the fine print? Consumer Reports readers won’t let companies get away with sloppy copy, unintentionally hilarious misspellings, or claims that are wrong, wrong, wrong.

In this month's installment of Selling It:

When 'one' really means 'two'| The meat of the matter: It ain't muscle | Doggone it! | The difference between 'G' and 'Q' | See more Selling It items

Dosage Double Take 

“How many a day?” asks Myron Wojtowycz, M.D., of Madison, Wis.

Animal, Vegetable, or . . .   

One skeptical reader wonders: Does meat grow on trees?
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Wrong Dog

The caption says “Golden Retriever,” but this pup looks tougher, thinks Peter Frederiksen of Monterey, Calif.
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Combats Tooth Decay, Black Death

“If only they had these in the Middle Ages,” Gregory Milligan of Olympia, Wash., says of the supposedly multitasking flossers.
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Send us your submissions

If you spot something that makes you chuckle, causes your jaw to drop, or leaves you confounded, send it our way:

E-mail: sellingit@cro.consumer.org

Fax: 914-378-2911 (attention: Selling It)

Mail: Consumer Reports, Attn: Selling It, 101 Truman Avenue, Yonkers, NY 10703

This article also appeared in the December 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.


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by Nancy Metcalf on Thursday October 30, 2014

Most people are referred to hospice by their doctor. Patients, family members, even friends can also make referrals. If you’re looking for a program, check with the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. But beware: More than half of U.S. hospice programs are for-profit, according to Medicare figures, and several recent news reports have highlighted problems at some of those programs.

Here’s what to look for in a hospice.

  • Not-for-profit status and 20 or more years of experience.
  • Hospice-certified nurses and doctors on staff and available 24 hours per day.
  • Palliative-care consultants who can begin care if you’re not yet ready for hospice.
  • An inpatient unit, where patients can go if symptoms can’t be managed at home.
  • Ability to provide care in nursing homes and assisted living residences.
  • Medicare approval. That way, Medicare will cover services, including equipment and home health aides as needed, plus counseling and grief support for the patient and the family.

 

See our complete end-of-life coverage

Click on the photo at right to read "A Beautiful Death" and watch our video, which follow the end-of-life journey of Paul Scheier, a retired dentist from Buffalo, N.Y. It contains more information on how to prepare for this final passage.

This article also appeared in the December 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.


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