10 tips for making the most out of the sales

Most of us are a sucker for a discount at the best of times, but during the January sales we hit the high streets in huge numbers in search of bargains. But it's all too easy to get caught up in the moment and spend more than you wanted to - or waste money on stuff you didn't want or need in the first place.

So before you hit the shops, take a look at our top 10 tips to help you bag the best of the bargains.

1. Know what you want

Decide what you need first. Start with a walk through what you already have. If you're into homeware, have a scout through your cupboards and think about what you actually use. Consider where you would put that scented candle you're tempted to buy just because there's 70% off.

If you're shopping for clothes, go through your wardrobe to find any gaps, and think seriously about which items and colours would work with what you already have.

2. Do your research

Before the frenetic madness of the high street kicks off, have a browse online. Or if you have the time – and the willpower – take a stroll down the high street and try on everything that catches your eye.

This should give you a wish list of all the items you really want from the sales – the styles, colours and sizes – so when the doors open and madness descends, you know exactly what to make a beeline for, and you won't be in danger of making any terrible, last-minute decisions.

3. Go early

It's worth finding out when the sales in your favourite shop start, as you'll usually find the best bargains during the first couple of days. Your best bet is to ask the staff, or check out its website.

Some sales attract a real following. For example, many people start queuing for the Next sale in the small hours, while to guarantee your bargain of choice at the Harrods sale you may need to spend the night in a sleeping bag.

4. Stick to your budget

Setting a budget is simple – it's sticking to it that's the hard part.

It's easy to get carried away in the heat of the moment and compromise on the sort of money you're willing to pay, or to slip an extra item into your shopping basket.

If you're rigid about a budget – and even better, if you take cash and only spend what you have – there's no way you'll look back on your purchases in the cold light of day and wonder how on earth that frappucino machine made it into your bag.

5. Haggle

It may seem wrong – after all, you're already getting a bargain – but there's still wiggle-room on sale prices. Admittedly, if you're first through the doors on day one you're unlikely to have much joy.

But if you're there on the last day of the sale, or if you show up as they're packing up, you'll find most stores are prepared to strike a deal. If you ask and they say no, all you've lost is a bit of pride, but if you don't ask, you may lose out on a sizeable saving.

6. Think twice

If you spot something that defies all your planning and budgeting, consider whether it's really worth it before making your way to the tills - don't get sucked in by useless clutter. Many shops and services will overestimate that 'new year' buzz and actually charge more because consumers will assume it's a good deal.

7. Think outside the box

Try to buy things out of season. Thick winter coats will be going cheaply in the summer, and likewise you can pick up summer clothing very cheaply in January. While it might seem a bit strange, it will cost you much less.

Otherwise, if you buy for the current season, you'll tend to find the best reductions are on 'extreme' sizes. But if you're buying out of season, make sure that an item of clothing isn't something that will go out of fashion straightaway or a gadget won't have a new and better version out shortly.

8. Adjust your mindset

Buying gives us an endorphin rush; buying what we perceive as a bargain doubly so. Researchers say that it takes as little as 2.5 seconds to make a purchasing decision – hardly time enough to let those endorphins subside and rational thought kick in.

So once you've grabbed something off the shelves, take your time to cool down. Try it on, take a breather and think it over. Consider: when the memory of the bargain subsides, will you still enjoy it?

9. Try the online sales

It may be traditional to dash out at Christmas for the shop left-overs, but it's not your only option - retailers are increasingly offering online sales too.

You could even stretch the search a bit further. Up and down the country people will be quietly listing their disappointing gifts on eBay. And while it's nice to get last season's trousers for 70% off, it's even better to snap them up in an internet auction for 99p because the rest of the world was offline.

10. Check your consumer rights

Just because you're buying a discounted product in the sales, doesn't mean you trade-in your consumer rights. According to Citizens Advice, shops can often reduce the amount of time you have to return items bought in a sale, purely because you change your mind. But you’ll always be protected if you find something is faulty after you bought it. However, if the goods were reduced in price because of a fault the trader showed you before buying, you’re unlikely to be able to ask the trader to put things right. Check out the Citizens Advice website at citizensadvice.org.uk for more.

How to find the sales

Website thejanuarysales.com aims to bring together news of the biggest and best January sales, and has fairly comprehensive listings. It also keeps up with the sales during the rest of the year – despite its seasonal name.

If there's a particular item you're after, you can use a shopping comparison site. Most of the sites, such as Kelkoo have a sales comparison tool and will list the sale price of items.

If you have a specific chain of stores in mind, it's worth subscribing to its newsletter or checking its Twitter feed, as this will often offer advance notice of sales.

Also check out local and national newspapers for information on when the sales start.


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