Andrew Milligan/PA

It takes a serious shopper to brave the Boxing Day sales, but there are a host of fantastic deals to be had if your blood pressure can handle the queues and crowds.

So how should you tackle the high street to bag the best bargains of the year?

Make a list
The frenzy of Boxing Day sales can cause frazzled shoppers to snap up items that they neither want nor need. A genuine saving is made when buying something at a discount that you would buy anyway, so start thinking now about exactly what you want and where to find it - whether it is a new TV or mattress; winter coat or crockery set.

"The sales are not a time for browsing or going to shops you would not usually buy from," says Caroline Stanbury, founder and CEO of Gift Library. "Always research items online first; that way you have a clear idea of what you like and what to look out for."

Measure up
The biggest savings tend to be on electrical goods and big-ticket items like furniture. "Now is the time to invest, with big discounts don't be afraid of spending a little more on quality items that you'll treasure for a life time," says Liz Mouat, head of buying at Laura Ashley – where the winter sale runs from 12th December until 27th January.

Fitted suites are also heavily discounted. Shoppers can expect 50% off fitted bedrooms and home offices at Sharps for example, as well as 50% off at Furniture Village, including brands like Ercol, Conran and the Handmade Bed Co.

Try to choose beforehand for large items like these, advises Mouat: "Don't impulse buy big interior items, be sure of the style and look you want to achieve and check your measurements too; even though you're bagging a bargain it still needs to be considered."

Budget
With the excitement of huge discounts, often up to 75%, it is easy to get carried away in the sales and splash out far more than you intended to. Avoid this by working out how much you can realistically afford to spend and try hard to stick to it. After the expense of Christmas, think very carefully about shopping on credit card or delving into your overdraft. It can be a long wait until January payday and debt is not a good start to the New Year.

Think ahead
Sales are a great time to pick up gifts for birthdays and anniversaries throughout the year, says Helen Pickard at Goodvalueformoney.com: "If your budget allows, it makes a lot of sense to stock up on presents early. You could also start your Christmas shopping for next year, or at least get all your cards, gift tags and wrapping paper on clearance for less than half price."

Fashion fans can also update their wardrobe by researching upcoming trends, suggests Monique Chambers, creator of gift app, IndulgeMe. "Check the new season trends and look out for pieces you can look forward to wearing - white, blue, pastel shades and sculpted clothes are in for Spring 2013."

Early bird bargains
The most heavily discounted products tend to be in limited supply so you'll need to set your alarm early if you're committed to bagging the best deals. Many high street stores open at 5am on Boxing Day, with queues forming well in advance. The tough economy means many stores started their sales even earlier again this year, with many slashing prices from mid December.

While you can be confident that all the major high street stores will have some great sales, many, including Marks and Spencer and House of Fraser, do not disclose sale dates and discounts in advance – so it pays to keep an eye out on their websites or sign up to email newsletters. Some stores advertise their deals and sale start-dates in the national and local newspapers, but if there's a special item you've got your eye on, just drop into the store yourself and ask when their sale will be.

Clothes caution
Boxing Day is really not the time for trying on clothes - the changing rooms will be hot and messy with a queue snaking through the store. "Check your wardrobe for what size you are in your favourite shops," advises Chambers. "But if you must try on, aim to wear clothing that is easy to slip in and out of, and avoid big jewellery."

Avoid the jumble of cheap, poor quality 'fast fashion' items by zooming in on quality classics in timeless materials like leather, wool and cashmere. Hunt for big discounts on designer items, particularly bags and shoes, in luxury department stores like Liberty, Harrods and Selfridges. "Look out for tailored pieces, blazers, jumpers, little black dresses, shift dresses and key separates that never go out of style" advises Chambers. "Finally, always check for tears and damage on sale items, and do not buy something you will 'diet' in to."

Know your rights
The Sale of Goods Act applies both to non-sale and sale items and states that goods must be as described, of satisfactory quality and be fit for purpose. You have the right to a refund, replacement or repair if sale and non-sale goods are faulty. However, you cannot claim under the Sale of Goods Act for faults you were told about before you bought the item.

Retailers that try to limit your rights in sales by saying 'sale items are non-refundable' are committing an offence, and could be prosecuted by trading standards officers.

Traders sometimes display signs in sales saying that if you return an item you'll be refunded the most recent sale price. If you are returning something faulty you bought in a sale and within a reasonable time (three or four weeks) you should be reimbursed the full amount you paid.

It is a different matter if you just change your mind about an item or it doesn't fit. Many retailers do offer returns for these reasons as a gesture of good will – but have every right to terminate this policy during sale periods.

Be on your guard
The flurry of credit and debit card activity in the sales inevitably leads to a spike in fraud, so be extra careful when spending on your cards or withdrawing cash from an ATM. Don't let them out of your sight and use a handbag that fastens – shopping crowds are a prime place for pickpockets.

When spending online, visit retailers' websites by typing directly into the address rather than following links and look out for the padlock symbol as an indication of a reputable site. Follow our guide to online shopping for further tips of safety.

Avoid the crowds
If you don't fancy battling crowds on the highsteet, shop online instead. "The discounts on offer are just as large as those available in-store and it is far easier to find what you're looking for," says Duncan Jennings, co-founder of VoucherCodes.co.uk. "As with the highstreet, the hottest products will sell out quickly, so if you see an item you like, it's worth saving it in your online shopping basket to ensure its still available when you're ready to make a decision."

An early start is still required - sales often launch online just after midnight on Christmas night - but you can browse with a turkey sandwich from the comfort of home. If you do prefer to see before you buy, check if the website offers the option to reserve online and pick up in store.



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