The next few weeks will see something of a shopping frenzy. According to Tesco Bank, Brits are planning to spend an average of £325 on Christmas presents this year. Add in an average January Sale spend of £93 (according to Sheila's Wheels), and we can easily squander the best part of £500.
So we have five useful tips to ensure you spend this money smartly, save cash, and protect yourself.
1) Stay abreast of vouchers and offersBefore you buy anything, do a quick search on Google for the name of the shop and the word 'voucher'. In around 30% of cases you'll find a voucher that will help you save significant sums on your shopping.
It's also worth timing your shopping on the high street. The pre-Christmas sales are now a firm tradition, so unless you are after something very specific and reasonably rare, it's worth waiting until it's on offer before you buy. This way you can save around £50 of your Christmas spend.
2) Register for cashbackYou can do this through a website, or get yourself a cashback credit card. Either way, you will get money back that equates to a saving of somewhere between 1% and 20% on almost everything you buy. That should take another £20 off your spend.
3) Prepare for gift returnsEvery year you should be checking the returns policy of the stores you buy from and getting gift receipts to ensure that if the recipients need to take something back, they can do so without stress. It's worth highlighting that if there's nothing actually wrong with the present, the store doesn't have to take it back, but the vast majority will do so as a gesture of goodwill at this time of year.
If there's something wrong with the gift, their consumer rights will give them the right to replacement or repair, so make sure you keep receipts. If you are spending over £100, it's worth doing so on a credit card. That way if the store kicks up a fuss, you can claim a refund from your credit card provider and leave them to chase the store.
4) Protect yourselfIn the current environment, it's worth taking extra precautions to protect your cash. If you are buying online, or ordering something in advance (and you are spending more than £100) it's worth using a credit card, because if the business goes bust between you ordering and receiving the goods, you will be able to claim a refund from the credit card provider. Otherwise your cash could be lost entirely.
You also need to think long and hard before buying vouchers. You may be able to get a discount - which is tempting. However, usually when a business goes bust, they will stop accepting vouchers after the administrators are called in. If you have any concerns about the future of a business, then you need to understand that you are taking a risk if you buy a voucher.
5) If in doubt, don't buyIt sounds flippant, but this is something we could all do with bearing in mind. For Christmas, we can save over a quarter of our festive spend by keeping our wallet in our pocket - which is a saving of over £100. This may mean making gifts, checking out freecycle, or looking at 'regifting' objects of ours that we know someone has long-admired.
In the sales, it's more a question of starting with a list, being specific, and being ruthless abut what we buy. If you go for a winter coat, it doesn't matter how cheap the sandals are - you don't need them.
Clearly these tips aren't brand new shopping alchemy. Deep down, we already know these steps can save us cash. However, just by keeping them in mind through the madness of the festive season we can save between £150 and £170 - which is going to make the new year much happier.