Cross-border bargains?

After eyeing my daughter’s Mac with envy for the past year, I decided to buy one of Mr. Job’s fun machines. But once I crunched the numbers it cost me $82 less to buy it here than in the U.S.

Still, countless Canadians stampeded south this past weekend as U.S. retailers hacked at prices like gladiators determined to be the last man standing. Bargains do abound for canny shoppers but you have to know your prices, do some research and be disciplined.

For example, on Black Friday last week, Best Buy in the States was offering a door buster price of $999 US on a Samsung 46” LCD HDTV. Nice. In Canada the best price I could find was $1,399 US — $1,581 Cdn after taxes.

Let’s assume you were tempted by the siren call of deep discounts in the States and bought that TV. The landed-in-Canada price ends up at $1,342 Cdn including GST, exchange, gas, tolls and lunch. (There’s no duty on this TV but you’d pay three per cent to five per cent if it had been a plasma model.) That’s a savings of $239, give or take. Not bad. But the price assumes you got the door crasher special which was limited to lucky ticket holders.

Many cross-border shoppers fall victim to impulse. “I drove all this way so I can’t go back home with just a pair of socks!” Impulse is deadly if you don’t know your tariffs. Clothing made outside the US is subject to as much as 20 per cent duty. Ouch! Downhill ski boots can come home duty free but cross country ski boots could set you back 18 per cent depending on where they were made.

Check with customs at 1-800-461-9999 for tariff rates and don’t forget that you pay GST on all goods after duty has been applied and it is based on the value of the item in Canadian dollars.

– Alison Griffiths is a financial journalist, author and host of Maxed Out on the W Network. Write to her at alison@alisongriffiths.ca.

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