The 10 golden rules of successful sales shopping

The Bank Holiday sales seem to send normally sane human beings into a spending frenzy. The temptation of getting a fantastic deal on that coveted leather jacket, three-piece suite or 32-inch flat-screen TV sends hordes of shoppers rushing to the high street, clutching their credit cards.

While tighter budgets mean most of us have less disposable income these days, the recession is also pushing retailers into slashing their prices. This means the sales look set to offer some of the best deals we’ve seen in recent years.

Low prices are of course great for saving money on items we need. Unfortunately, the psychology of sales shopping can quickly take over and your spending can spiral out of control. So before you hit the shops, read our guide on how to make some serious savings in the sales.

1. What do you want?

It’s easy to mindlessly wander around the shops, returning home with something you didn’t even know you wanted. So figure out what you really need or want before you leave the house. This will help you stay focused when you’re faced with an array of choices and pushy sales assistants talking up the savings.

A key point to remember is that a true bargain is saving money on something you actually want or need. Just because an item is half price, doesn’t mean you’ll ever use or wear it. A good test is to ask yourself if you would pay full price for it. If the answer’s yes, then you’ve got yourself a good deal.

2. Set a budget

We often hit the sales without a set budget in mind, assuming anything we buy that’s not full price will be a good deal. However, it’s important to keep in mind how much you can afford to spend – and then try to stick to it.

A camcorder knocked down from £500 to £350, for example, may seem like a good deal, but if your budget is £300, and that extra £50 pushes you into overdraft territory, it would be wise to rethink the purchase.

Signs such as ‘Save £150’ simply lure you into parting with your cash – try to avoid looking at the reduction. If you’re considering whether to buy an item, calculate the saving based on the current price and what you can afford.

3. Avoid the lure of credit

It’s easy to get carried away when you’re surrounded by sale signs and discounted deals. But remember that the purpose of successful sales shopping is to save money, not push yourself into debt. Think carefully before dipping into your overdraft or reaching for the credit card. If you struggle to meet repayments on your debts, the mounting interest can turn what was initially a bargain into an expensive burden.

Store cards, in particular, are notoriously bad at any time of year, with sky-high interest rates of up to 30%. So make sure you don’t succumb to the shop assistant’s heavy sell at the till point.

However, using a credit card with 0% interest on purchases could help you buy much-needed items without having to cope with the cost upfront. Just make sure you make your payments in full and on time each month, and pay off your balance before the 0% period ends.

See top credit cards available to you today

4. Compare prices

Different stores often charge different prices for the same items, and the same is true during the sales. The difference can vary from a few pounds to a few hundred pounds depending on the value and the item, so it still pays to shop around to find the best deal before you buy.

Some stores, particularly large furniture and electrical chains, offer a price-match guarantee, where they promise to refund the difference if you find the goods cheaper elsewhere. This is a good deal in theory – it makes it sound as though the retailer will always give you the best deal in the end.

However, in practice, stores require proof of the lower price, and they rely on the fact that we usually can’t be bothered to carry on comparing prices once we’ve bought an item.

5. Internet bargains

If you extend your research to the internet, you can find great deals and avoid the chaos of the high street. The websites of high street retailers often charge cheaper prices than the stores themselves. But where this is the case, it’s important to factor in delivery costs to ensure they don’t cancel out your savings.

Shop bots, such as and, which scour the online retailers for you, are a quick and easy way to find the best deal online.

6. Ask for a better deal

The credit crunch has put shoppers in a very strong bargaining position. Retailers need you to buy their products, and many stores will knock an extra 10% or 20% off sale items – particularly on high value purchases such as furniture and large electrical items – if it means they’ll secure a sale.

Just ask politely at the checkout. If they agree, then you’ve boosted your savings; if not, you’ve still got a good deal. Read more tips on how to haggle and bag a bargain

7. Know your rights

When shopping in the sales, it’s not uncommon to see signs at the cash register informing customers that sale items are non-returnable, but that this does not affect your statutory rights. Statutory rights are those vouchsafed by the Sale of Goods Act, which states that goods bought from shops and online traders must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and match their description. If they’re not, you should be able to claim a repair, replacement or a partial or full refund, even if the item was purchased in a sale.

The ‘non-returnable’ part of the warning usually refers to the ‘goodwill policy’ many stores operate – you don’t have any legal right to return items if you choose the wrong size or change your mind, but many retailers allow you to do this with non-sale items. This policy does not extend to sale items, so when you buy something in a sale be sure it’s exactly what you want. But hold onto your proof of purchase in case you need to claim on your statutory rights.

8. When good deals turn bad

Everyone likes the idea of snapping something up for less than it’s worth, yet this doesn’t always result in actually saving money. For example, gyms and health clubs.

Gyms and health clubs often offer deals such as half-price for the first three months if you sign up for the whole year. If you work out regularly, then it will be a good deal – but for many people, good intentions soon wane, and you’ll find you’re tied into a contract costing you up to £100 a month.

9. Value for money

A handy way of working out the value of a purchase is to think in terms of cost-per-use. Spending £400 on a bike, for example, might appear expensive, but if you then cycle to work every day, it’s a bargain. A £20 shirt, on the other hand, might seem like a steal at the time you buy it, but if you only wear it once, it’s not such a great deal.

10. Early-bird bargains

If you go to the shops at the end of a sale, you’ll be faced with the sad few remaining items, in odd sizes and strange colours, that nobody wants. The best bargains are found in the first two days, so it’s important to find out exactly when a sale starts so you can be there to snap up the deals.

Many stores advertise their deals and sale start-dates in the national and local newspapers. Many also announce their sale dates on their websites. But if there’s a special item you’ve got your eye on, why not just drop into the store yourself and ask when their sale will be.

More about