6 min read

Common spending traps to avoid this Christmas

Andre Spiteri
7 November 2017

Don’t let the fear of missing out on a bargain create a hole in your bank account. Find out how to stay on budget and beat buyer’s remorse this shopping season.

Christmas sales shopping can be a double-edged sword. There are great deals to be had. But it’s also easy to get carried away when you’re promised big savings at every turn.

77% of Brits say the prospect of savings makes them go over budget. Ironic, right? So how do you avoid overspending when you're on the hunt for a bargain?

Shop with a strategy

Discounts, flash sales and special offers are always tempting. But a study on shopping psychology found it’s even easier to give in if you browse the aisles without a goal.

  • Make a list

Putting pen to paper (or using a note-taking app) gives you time to think about what you really need. It makes it easier to separate the essentials from the nice-to-haves, and may help you put back down those items that could push you over budget.

  • Set a limit

Sounds a bit obvious, but if you struggle to tell apart your items from the essentials and nice-to-haves, then setting yourself a limit on how many things you buy and how much you spend, is another way of stopping yourself going over budget.

  • Compare deals

Many retailers “leak” offers ahead of time to build hype. This is your chance to research the best deals before you hit the shops. Websites like Flubit, PriceSpy and Offer of the Day make comparisons easier.

  • Shop online

Aside from avoiding busy crowds, shopping online makes impulse buying less likely. However, do watch out for delivery charges as they may require a minimum spend.

Walking away could pay off
Some online retailers offer further discounts to draw you back if you walk away at checkout. To find out, close your browser while there are unpaid items in your cart. The retailer may email you a voucher within a few days. Extra discounts aren’t guaranteed. So, it’s only worth trying this trick if you’re not too worried about the item going out of stock.

Waiting longer can pay off

As Christmas gets closer some shops may reduce stock before the big sales to help get rid of stock. If you can wait a little bit longer, toys and clothes are usually cheaper right after Christmas, because retailers will want to make way for new stock.

Cars tend to be cheaper at the end of December, too. Many salespeople will be keen to hit their quarterly sales targets, so they may be more flexible.

If you're waiting for the Boxing day sales, watch out for misleading pricing. For example, a Which? investigation found that 88 out of 178 deals were cheaper before or after Black Friday 2015 than they were on the day. The same goes for any other sale.

If you’re hoping to bag a bargain on something specific, it’s worth setting up a Google Alert. That way, you’ll know if there’s a price-drop.

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Large discounts aren’t necessarily the best value

Don’t get blinded by ridiculously low prices. If it seems too good to be true, there may be a catch.

  • Research the item

Sometimes, the most attractive discounts are on unbranded, older or low-end items. Some of them are perfectly fine. However, others may lack important features, be of poor quality or have known performance issues. Try reading a few reviews before you fork out the cash for an unfamiliar model.

  • Look at the fine print

The terms and conditions of sale are just as important as the ticket price. In particular, look out for:

  • The returns policy

Many retailers accept returns out of goodwill. However, they’re not legally obliged to have a returns policy. This can be an issue if you’re buying a gift.

  • Delivery and installation

Is this included in the ticket price, or do you have to pay extra? When can you expect delivery? High costs or a long wait can make the deal less appealing.

When in doubt, buy online
If you’re unsure of a retailer’s returns policy, it’s usually best to shop online. That way, you’ll have a 14-day cooling off period.

Beware the “foot-in-the-door” technique

This involves selling you an item at a large discount, then offering you an expensive add-on item at the till. One example is a leather protector to go with your new shoes.

Alternatively, you may be offered an extended warranty or insurance. These play into your fear of damaging an expensive item you’ve just bought. However, they might not always be worthwhile. For starters, cover tends to be limited. More to the point, if you’re worrying about your new goods developing a fault, you already have some protection.

The Consumer Rights Act, gives you up to six months to return a faulty product. It’s up to the retailer to prove it wasn’t faulty.

You can also protect yourself by paying with your credit card. Credit card purchases costing £100 to £30,000 fall under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. This allows you to claim straight from your credit card provider if your purchase is faulty, of poor quality or lost or damaged during delivery.

All set… time to shop!

Despite all the traps, you can still get great deals from seasonal sales. As long as you know what to watch out for, you won’t spend more than you bargained for.

by Andre Spiteri

Andre is a former lawyer turned financial writer. Andre has written this article especially for ClearScore.

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