Oxford StreetStefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Forget the Boxing Day Sales, this is the year of the Christmas Eve sales. Just when you thought the crazy shopping frenzy was over, the retailers are tempting us back into the shops with the thought that we could save up to 70%.

However, before you go, it's worth checking whether you will be saving any money - or just spending cash you don't have.


According to Sainsbury's, we're currently spending £55 million an hour, and by the end of the day we will have racked up an astonishing £1.3 billion.

But while some of those purchases will be well thought-out gifts or long-term purchases which constitute a genuine bargain - there's a fair proportion of it that will prove to be a disaster. So before you set foot in the shops (or open up that browser) it's worth asking the five questions that will separate a sale bargain from an expensive mistake.

1. What do I really want?

No-one was every inspired in a truly sensible way by a sale. You need to head out with exactly what you want in mind. That way if you don't find a black cashmere sweater for under £20, you won't settle for a gold boob tube instead. If what you really want is 'a present for mum', then at least get an idea of your budget, and plan a reliable fall-back if you get stuck.

2. How much can I spend?

This isn't a matter of having a rough idea in your mind: check your bank balance and set a budget for each purchase. If you are sale shopping for yourself, think about how much cash you have now and any large expenses in the new year before you think about opening your wallet again.

If you are planning to use a credit card, think carefully about when you will be able to pay it off. If you're carrying the debt even for just one month you could wipe out any saving you make.

3. Is it really a bargain?

It's easy to get carried away when something is marked 70% off, but it still may not be the cheapest option. The only way to know if a reduction is really a bargain is to compare it to other things.

You can either go armed with a smart phone and a pair of stout shoes, or do your research before you go. Perfume is a classic here. In some stores you may find it marked 25% off - but it may still be cheaper through an online specialist.

4. Do I really need it?

You may want something, you might have the cash, and it may be a bargain, but you still need to think whether you need it.

Imagine for a second that you live in a tiny flat, with hardly any storage space, and think what you would throw out to make room for this new purchase. If you have no hesitation because you're replacing something that's broken, or something you have been desperate for for months, then go ahead. If you're struggling, then there's a good chance you don't really need it at all.

5. Why?

There are all sorts of reasons why we shop: it's entertaining, we love the buzz of getting a bargain, we want to own something shiny and new, we want to cheer ourselves up, we want to get out of the house, or we want to 'treat ourselves'.

None of these are good reasons for buying anything at all, so unless you can genuinely be sure that none of these motives are driving you, you might be better off staying in with a seasonal film, or going for a walk to blow the cobwebs away without it costing you anything.