11 Ways To Shop Smarter This Christmas

Most of us can agree 2020 hasn’t been the easiest year, and that includes financially. And while it would be nice to spoil our friends and family as much as ever this Christmas, it’s an expensive time of year, even at the best of times. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up some of the easiest hacks to save you money this festive season.

Plan Ahead

It goes without saying, but before you even start your Christmas shopping, it’s wise to make a list of people who you need to buy presents for and set yourself a budget. That way you won’t fall prey to last-minute splurges. Instead of planning for the perfect Christmas, says Jenny Keefe from Money Saving Expert, plan for the one you can afford. “Before you start planning, consider this: many people list every lusted-for item, gifts for all, and a corking meal, then only afterwards consider: "How will I pay for it?" That's a recipe for ending up broke. Instead, calculate your budget and ask: "What can I afford to spend?" Christmas is one day – don't ruin the whole of the next year for it.” Meanwhile, those in the know will tell you some items are marked up in the approach to Christmas – some of them as early as October – so it pays to get a head start. 

Focus On Cyber Monday

This year, finance gurus predict Cyber Money is going to be bigger than ever – especially as many of us in the UK won’t be able to visit physical stores over the Black Friday weekend. The Monday immediately after Americans celebrate Thanksgiving is the day when online retailers promote big sales – so you can be sure you’re saving while shopping from the comfort of your own home. “The web usually beats the high street on price,” agrees Jenny. “To help, comparison sites search the net to find the cheapest books, games or anything else. We find Google Shopping is the most consistent at finding the cheapest price. It searches a wide range of retailers, including biggies such as Amazon, Currys PC World, John Lewis and Tesco.” Just be wary that sometimes discounts can appear too good to be true, with plenty of goods marked up in advance to making the saving appear greater. 

Track Different Prices

If you’re shopping with a big online retailer like Amazon, it’s possible to set up a tracker through websites like CamelCamelCamel or PriceSpy to determine when is a good time to buy or if you should wait for the price to drop on certain items. Meanwhile, the Amazon Price Checker app, which is available for both iPhones and Androids, lets you scan the barcodes of items in a store and compare its price to those for the same item online. Failing this, Jenny suggests hunting down bargains on online outlet stores. “Many drive miles to outlet villages to snap up end-of-line bargains. Yet now, lots of high street and high-end shops have online outlet stores. You can usually find them on eBay or via special websites.” 

Earn Cashback

Save yourself money when online shopping through free cashback sites such as Quidco or TopCashback. Simply sign up, log in, click through their site to your store of choice, make your purchase and receive cashback in your account. “With cashback sites, you sign up for free, then click through them to buy something,” adds Jenny. “They get paid for sending traffic and give some of this to you, netting some £100s a year. Never let the cashback dictate where you spend though. Focus on the cheapest deal, then see if cashback's available.”

Use Online Codes

These days, there are so many any sites out there offering an easy way to quickly check if there are any discount codes available for your favourite retailers – think VoucherCodes, Hot UK Deals and more. Also, sign up to newsletters and promotions where you can to earn yourself a one-time money-off code, and never make a purchase before scouring the internet to see if there’s a way to get it for less. If you plan to see relatives after the big day itself, consider holding out for the January sales, too (in fact, you’ll probably find many of them kick off earlier this year). “Grab gift wrap, Christmas cards, baubles, decorations or even a new tree as heavy discounts hit,” says Jenny. 

Avoid Credit Cards

It should go without saying, but try to avoid charging more to your credit cards than you’ll be able to pay off. And don’t get talked into starting a credit card with a particular store, either. Instead, keep close track of the money you spend and know where your limits are. Jenny adds: “While it’s far better to budget, some will still borrow. If you must, get a 0% card – if you can’t get one in time and it was your only option, frankly, you should think hard about whether you can realistically afford your Christmas spending. Instead, perhaps just enjoy a meal, raise a glass and focus on a financially good New Year.”

Group giving can be a great way to reduce individual costs while buying something that may be on the more expensive side.

Buy The Same Gift Twice Or Re-Gift

If you find a gift you know several people on your list would love, don’t be afraid to buy it in multiples. Not only does this cut down on your shopping time, if the store is offering any kind of ‘Buy One, Get One Free’ deal, then the more the better. Conversely, if you find you end up receiving something you already own, consider passing it on. According to statistics, about two in five of us have regifted a present at one point or another, with those aged 25 to 39 the second most serial re-gifters. It makes sense, too – after all, why let something go to waste if you don’t think you’ll use it? It’s also a conscious way to reduce waste and lengthen an item’s lifespan. 

Always Get A Gift Receipt

It’s important to remember that only the person who bought the gift has rights, so the gift receiver has no rights to exchange, says Martin Lewis from Money Saving Expert. “Most shops do tend to ignore this and will help you out, but for safety, always ask for a gift receipt. With a gift receipt you should be able to exchange an item, though if you want a refund the retailer may insist that the payment be refunded to the same card. If a gift receipt isn't an option ask the shop assistant to write on its copy of the receipt, and yours, that it's a gift and who it's for and this should help to at least exchange the item.”

Pitch In As A Group

Group giving can be a great way to reduce individual costs while buying something that may be on the more expensive side. It also gives people a chance to play to their strengths and take a different role, whether it be providing gift suggestions, collecting the cash, purchasing the present, wrapping it, or writing the card. The most obvious way to play to a group scenario is with Secret Santa. 

Get Savvy With Food Shopping

“Everyone thinks they need to make festivities extra special and this is sometimes translated into buying the most expensive foods,” says Martin. “However, multiple taste tests have proved that the most expensive option isn't always the tastiest. Why not have a look at taste tests online and compare the prices before you write your supply list?” From there, use price comparison sites to compare food prices in your local area, and opt for own-brand products where possible to cut back on unnecessary mark-ups. 

Save On Postage

There’s usually a date later in December past which you no longer qualify for second class delivery prices. To save on postage, consider lightweight presents or send a voucher instead. For parcels larger than 1kg, Royal Mail is rarely the cheapest or the most convenient option. Use a courier, such as Parcel2go instead. Just type in the parcel’s destination and weight and you will receive instant quotes and delivery options. These generally include a collect-from-home option. “If using Royal Mail, ensure you send parcels and letters before the last posting date,” agrees Jenny. “The cut-off depends on where and how you send your post.”

For more helpful saving tips and expert financial advice, visit MoneySavingExpert.com.
 

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