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Originally published December 16, 2012 at 8:00 PM | Page modified December 17, 2012 at 9:15 AM

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Some gift deals may not be so special

'Tis the season for shopping smartly.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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May you find good stuff at the mall. Now, that's a real season's greeting.

The holiday season is about a lot of things, some of them deeply profound and meaningful. You can't go wrong emphasizing the higher sentiments, but it's hard to ignore that the buying and selling that drive the economy and much of life the rest of the year peaks around now.

I read that retailers expect to add 700,000 temporary jobs during the holidays to handle all the extra shopping.

Getting a good deal on something cool will make you feel merry, if only for a moment. What's better is to score something that you (or whoever you're buying it for) can feel good about after the initial purchase high has worn off.

Fortunately, I just got a copy of ShopSmart, Consumer Reports' sister magazine.

It pays to check products or services out before giving up your cash. It's easier than ever to do that, but I still like to see what Consumer Reports has to say about the thing I'm considering, and sometimes I thumb through just to see what's out there.

I just realized I need a thing that sucks lint out of the dryer. It's actually a matter of safety, since a lint-filled dryer can catch fire. And, anyway, the dryer vacuum, called the Lint Lizard, is only $11.

It was on the list of stuff the staff at ShopSmart loves.

The magazine said don't bother with the Earth Essentials toilet paper, because it's "Easy on the Earth, but not on the butt." That's useful advice.

Being a consumer is a little bit like hunting in a jungle — you might find something good and useful, or you might get bitten by some camouflaged critter. Caution is advised.

People who've been ruined by subprime mortgages can tell you that sometimes the marketplace isn't friendly, especially if you're underinformed.

Consumer Reports and ShopSmart are published by a nonprofit, Consumers Union, which also lobbies on behalf of consumers.

A CR investigation of arsenic in rice and rice products prompted the introduction of a bill in Congress to limit the allowed amounts.

CR helped push for greater fuel efficiency in cars and trucks and got credit for helping preserve a law that limits the amount that insurers spend on overhead instead of benefits to customers.

The ShopSmart edition I just read pointed out a product labeled "buttery syrup," that didn't have butter or actual syrup.

And a "chicken caesar dinner" with this notation on the box, "just add chicken and salad." You have to keep your eyes open.

Even with a product CR likes, and that isn't deceptive, I have to ask if I am the person who should be buying it, such as the cool light bulb that lets you change its colors or switch from warm to cool lighting. You can even control it wirelessly, or program it to turn on or off whenever you want.

I was sold until I read the price, $199 for three. It's an interesting product, but only for people who can afford it.

It's good the magazine has lots of tips on saving money, too. One I like to remember is that it's not a bargain if you don't need it or can't afford it.

That's advice you can take to the mall or Downtown, or Pike Place Market, or your neighborhood shopping district.

May you stimulate the economy without breaking your piggy bank.

Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com. Twitter: @jerrylarge.

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About Jerry Large

I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
jlarge@seattletimes.com | 206-464-3346

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