CARTHAGE, Mo. – Smart consumers know money isn’t earned accidentally, so they don’t spend it carelessly. One useful tool for shrewd shoppers is the Rule of Three.

“Basically, you check out at least three sources for prices and features before you make a decision,” said Janet LaFon, family financial education specialist for University of Missouri Extension.

The Rule of Three is particularly helpful when shopping for a big-ticket item or service, such as a car, a major home repair or insurance, LaFon said. “Comparison shopping is just a good way to ensure that you’re getting the most value for your dollar.”

It takes some effort to gather information to find the best price and features that fit your needs, but LaFon says it will be worth it in the long run. That extra time and effort can prevent regrets later.

“Sources such as Consumer Reports magazine provide unbiased research on products and services, so you can get an idea about what’s on the market, what kind of features they have and what kind of reliability they have,” she said.

Look for deals, discounts and coupons online. The Internet makes it much easier to research items and comparison shop. Just make sure you can trust the information you find on the Web. “Be very cautious, because there’s misinformation or incomplete information out there,” she said. “Make sure you’re dealing with reliable sources as you surf the Web.”

Online reviews and ratings about products can be very helpful. Often you can spot a company with good customer service based on product reviews. Also, friends and family may be able to recommend a reliable product or service.

Armed with the power of research and information, you can make spending decisions with confidence.

For more information from MU Extension on money matters, see