The credit crunch might have forced you to tighten your purse-strings; but rather than go without, why not take advantage of special offers and go in hunt of discounts instead?
Increasing numbers of high street shops, restaurants and online retailers are attempting to improve sales by circulating vouchers offering money off, special offers or free delivery.
Dubbed the 'secret sale on the high street', these vouchers are often marketed as exclusive to friends and family of loyal shoppers. But in fact they are a less than subtle means of dragging you in from the cold and encouraging you to spend your cash.
While many high street favourites, such as M&S and Debenhams, have not hesitated in offering huge discount days, others prefer to be a little more discreet about their flagging sales by making vouchers widely available and hoping email and the internet help circulate them even wider.
In addition, vouchers are attractive to some shops because they reduce the risk of shoppers holding off making purchases in anticipation of further discounts at a later date.
Unlike discount days, vouchers appear more as sweeteners to help people make their money go further. So, while someone considering a big-ticket purchase might be tempted to delay in case the retailers hold sales, a voucher represents an opportunity that might not be repeated down the line.
For consumers, the glut of vouchers currently available represent a real opportunity.
But there is an art to making use of discount vouchers - follow the Moneywise golden rules of secret sale vouchers:
1. Check the expiry date
If you receive a voucher, the first thing to do is check the expiry date, as this may give you less time than you think to redeem it.
2. Always check the terms and conditions
Many vouchers may only be valid on certain days or in selected stores. For fashion vouchers, you might find the discount only applies to the shop itself rather than concessions in department stores. Restaurant vouchers also tend to have exclusions - for example, you might not be entitled to the discount on certain days of the week, or it might only apply to lunch diners. Wine and other alcohol might also be excluded.
In addition, shop discounts may not apply across all departments with higher-worth items sometimes excluded. Vouchers are often non-redeemable against gift vouchers and cannot be used in conjunction with other in-store offers, such as buy-one-get-one-three.
3. Watch out for fakes
With so many vouchers being circulated, it is little wonder some of them turn out to be dubs. Check the voucher carefully to see how it is produced or if there is any important information missing – the logo of the store in question for example.
Duncan Jennings, founder VoucherCodes.co.uk, says: “If you are not sure if a voucher is real or fake, then don’t be afraid to call the shop and ask. This is better than making a long journey only to be disappointed when you get to the till.”
4. Go online
Printable vouchers normally have to be exchanged in person in shop, but it is also possible to get discounts on internet purchases by using online codes. Again, make sure you check the terms and conditions before you buy.
Many online codes offer free delivery, either with an additional discount or without. Although delivery charges don’t tend to be too expensive they can add up so it’s worth hunting down vouchers with free delivery.
5. Know where to find the latest vouchers
A quick Google search will return thousands of sites offering vouchers, but it’s worth using the most reputable ones. Myvouchercodes.co.uk and vouchercodes.co.uk are two of the most popular, alongside with discountcodes.tv.
You can also download vouchers from Moneywise - and search for offers in your local area.
6. Be alert to scams
The Internet Advertising Bureau recently announced it was launching a code of conduct for shopping vouchers. It says one of the most common problems with online voucher codes is unscrupulous ‘click to reveal’ vouchers where the consumer is redirected to a spam site. If in doubt, don't click.
7. Stay in the loop
With new vouchers coming out all the time, and many offers extended beyond the original expiry date, it’s worth signing up to newsletters from voucher websites so you can keep track of the deals being offered. Once you’ve signed up you can unsubscribe at any time.
8. Think before you buy
Just because you have the opportunity to get a 30% discount doesn’t mean you should be getting your wallet out. Think about whether you actually want or need the item, and whether the discount really justifies you spending.
Some vouchers also only offer you a discount if you spend a certain amount - for example, get £10 off when you spend £100. Unless you really intend to spend £100 in this shop, this type of discount may not actually be as attractive as it sounds.
Remember, shops are designed to encourage you to spend so it’s important to keep a clear head and not get carried out.