Shape up your spending for the countdown to Christmas
Festive shopping doesn't have to be stressful – if you know what you want in advance. Rob Griffin presents a selection of cost- and time-saving ideas
Saturday 28 November 2009
The countdown has begun. There are now just 26 shopping days to Christmas, with industry observers predicting that UK shoppers will splash out a whopping £44.7bn on presents, food, drink and decorations over the next three weeks.
Richard Lim, British Retail Consortium economist, said the sales figures of many shops were already well up on last year, when people were dealing with the credit crunch and feeling extremely nervous about spending.
"Consumer confidence is rising and there's some spending out there to be fought over," he says. But where can you find the best bargains, and what tricks do you need to master in order to make the most of your shopping expeditions? Your Money has consulted the experts to compile a Christmas shopping guide.
Plan your attack
The most successful shoppers will plan their attack with military precision – and the earlier you start, the better. Few things at this time of year are more frustrating than trying to think what to buy for people, so try to keep a running list of ideas.
Put together a list of their interests and scour websites devoted to these subjects. You can even join the online forums of these sites and see if fellow enthusiasts can come up with any suggestions. They can also be a source of consumer advice, too.
Do your research
It's worth finding out about the experiences of fellow shoppers, so visit websites such as www.productwiki.com for unbiased product reviews, and www.grumbletext.co.uk for accounts of problems with companies.
Once you have a list of items, you need to decide where to buy. Visit the online homes of retailers that sell such items, as well as the specialist price-comparison sites.
You might find the ideal gift for a fraction of the price on online auction sites such as www.ebay.co.uk.
You can pick up plenty of bargains online – particularly when sellers have made spelling mistakes in the keywords of the item title or placed it in the wrong category, says Dan Wilson, author of Make Serious Money on eBay UK. "There is no fast track for finding bargains – you've just got to hunt them out and second-guess the other bargain hunters out there," he adds.
You might even get the item for free. Put a request on Freecycle ( www.freecycle.org.uk), where people in your local area can post up things they are prepared to give away.
Be clever with your plastic
You also need to decide how to pay for your presents – and credit cards can
provide plenty of benefits to the shopper, as some not only enable them to delay paying the money back for a few months, but also give decent rewards.
However, time is running out, warns Kevin Mountford, head of banking and credit cards at moneysupermarket.com. "The time needed from applying to getting the plastic in your hands may mean you won't have much chance to take advantage of it before Christmas, although some providers will instantly decide."
If you want a card for new purchases, only then can you get those offering 0 per cent for 10 months. However, if you also want to transfer an existing balance on to your new card, make sure you will be paying the same rate for both debts. "There are certain cards, such as the Halifax All-in-One card, that is offering 0 per cent on both new purchases and balance transfers," says Mountford.
"Amex is offering 5 per cent for the first three months, which can be quite useful in terms of Christmas spend," he says. "Equally you have got reward cards that can help boost your air miles or provide you with vouchers to spend in certain shops."
Pick the right times to shop
Saturday 19 December is the day to avoid heading into town, as this is predicted to be the busiest sales day on the high street, according to Kelkoo. Go during the week – and as early as possible to avoid the lunchtime and post-work rushes.
It's a similar story online. Consumers are expected to flood the internet on 7 December. This is the day when online sales are anticipated to hit a whopping £417m, and help online retailers record annual sales of £8.9bn – a 24 per cent increase on last year.
Bruce Fair, managing director of Kelkoo UK, expects online spending will fare well, despite the ongoing recession. "The peak weeks of Christmas trading are vitally important, accounting for up to 60 per cent of annual profits," he said. "The internet can offer substantial average savings of 15 per cent over the high street."
Learn how to haggle
There are plenty of haggling techniques you need to master, according to Sarah Flower, author of Live More, Spend Less. These include identifying the right person with whom to negotiate, being able to read them, and having the gift of the gab.
"Some retailers may not be able to offer reductions but may be happy to throw in 'extras'," she adds.
You need to pick your moment carefully, suggests James Daley, money editor at Which? "Go in at a quiet time," he says. "Be confident and prepared to walk away if you do not think the deal is good enough."
Almost 27 million people will be doing their Christmas shopping online this year – but some may be sacrificing their security as well, warns Garreth Griffith, head of risk and security at PayPal.
Griffith's tips include making sure you understand the refund policies for the online retailer with whom you're planning to deal; and ensuring the site is legitimate – such as looking for the padlock symbol in the browser and for the address to start with "https".
It is also worth credit card holders registering with the MasterCard SecureCode and Verified by Visa payment systems that make shopping on the internet even more secure, according to the UK Cards Association.
Finally, make sure you scrutinise your monthly bank and credit card statements for unusual activity. After all, Christmas is an expensive enough time as it is without fraudsters adding to your personal debt mountain.
... and something for the kids
The Peppa Pig Tumble and Spin Memo electronic memory game, which won the Children's Game of the Year at Toy Fair this year, is sure to be popular with children this Christmas.
Other sure-fire hits include the Creative Building 5585 Pink Brick Box from Lego, the Star Wars Science Jedi Telescope, the Ben 10 Alien Force Quickshot Game and the Bakugan Battle pack.
Will your credit card rewards be scrapped following new EU rules on charges?
What would happen if you put a statistician in a casino with £1m?
Simon Read: 'Has Phoenix done it again on charging too much for its life policies?'
Simon Read: 'The fight must go on over equality on expat pensions'
Pension freedoms: How to deal with cold calls from scammers
- 2 Smartphones are making children borderline autistic, says psychiatrist
- 3 Why this father didn’t hide his daughter’s heroin overdose in her obituary
- 4 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
Rupert Murdoch berated Sun journalists for not doing enough to attack Ed Miliband and stop him winning the general election
iJobs Money & Business
£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...
£50000 - £55000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Service...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Did you know? SThree is the o...
Day In a Page
This six-bedroom home is set amongst three acres of grounds. Currently a large family home, Clift Hill has potential to make a B&B, subject to change of use permissions.
A former period coach house, Glebe Farm Stable is now a three-bedroom cottage with a double car barn, office, kennels and an outbuilding that's currently used as a gym.
Set sail for this four-bedroom farmhouse in Cowes. With five acres of land and an indoor pool, this home oozes character. There is even potential to let a one-bedroom annexe.
Surrounded by woodland, this five-bedroom manor house has plenty of outdoor storage space in the form of three converted loose boxes, two smaller outhouses and a woodstore.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with a double carport, useful workshop, garden and two walkways that offer views of the adjacent countryside.
With space for an equestrian business, a greenhouse for growing your own veg, a wine store and a gym; this five-bedroom home has all the ingredients for a country retreat.
This four-bedroom home has exposed brick chimneys and a vaulted ceiling in a breakfast room that's ideal for summer entertaining - the doors open to the patio and garden.
The decked roof terrace of this two-bedroom flat is perfect for summer drinks while large windows and ample storage space make for a light and spacious interior.
Surrounded by approximately 15 acres of grounds, this six-bedroom grade II-listed home has been extensively refurbished yet retains many period features.
This four-bedroom home comes with a two-bedroom cottage and commercial office, with planning to extend, in a stunning courtyard setting.
In a pretty Norfolk village, this four-bedroom family home is surrounded by landscaped gardens, with even a self-contained annex for guests.
A few miles from the seaside at Perranporth, this four-bedroom farmhouse sits amongst nine acres of idyllic grounds - including a lake and two barns used as holiday lets.
This five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors of a converted Victorian hospital, offering spectacular views of the Pentland Hills - only three miles from the city centre.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with grounds that span to approximately 2.5 acres, as well as two large patio areas and a double garage.
This four-bedroom cottage is a Grade II-listed town house, well-located for the thriving market town of Nailsworth.
A four-bedroom apartment on the ground floor of a stunning period property in North Yorkshire, with two kitchens and a large south-west facing garden.
This high-spec two-bedroom home is part of a smart collection of new flats at Beaufort Park and has a large decked balcony that's perfect for summer drinks.
Capitalise on the fabulous views of Trevone Bay by taking two homes and creating one spacious boutique B&B. Just a cliff-top walk from Padstow.
Overlooking a golf course, this six-bedroom Edwardian detached home spans four storeys and retains many period features including the original, operational servants' bells...
On the edge of the city, this six-bedroom home comes with an outdoor swimming pool and a large garage block that has annexe potential.
In a Grade II-listed manor just outside of Bath, this three-bedroom home is arranged on two floors with a skylight in a vaulted roof line.
Open the living room's bi-fold wooden doors to reveal a retro-style kitchen, and a conservatory leading to a paved garden at this three-bedroom home.
A Grade II-listed, four-bedroom home, in a charming Somerset village, with a two-storey studio that could be converted into a holiday cottage
A modern four-bedroom Victorian home, within walking distance to the high street
A luxury apartment in the Gothic mansion of Wyfold Court in Kingwood, offers six bedrooms spread over three floors and a turret
This school conversion, near Stockwell Tube, oozes New York loft style. The one-bedroom flat features double height ceilings and exposed brick work
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two-oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn
High Crest House covers an impressive 9384sq ft, with almost three acres of grounds including a tennis court and summer house enclosed by electric gates
A six-bedroom farmhouse with separate accommodation in converted stables. Situated in the village of Church Aston, within walking distance to the market town
A two-bedroom flat with under-heated walnut floors and bespoke built-in storage. The Tube and Clapham Common are a short stroll away
A refurbished seven-bedroom townhouse with staff quarters, cinema room, superb gym, steam room and plunge pool
A minimnalist four-bedroom home designed to the highest spec, featuring glass walls and a kitchen space lit by a glass roof
Hibernate during winter and make your living during the summer at this busy guesthouse with panoramic sea views, in the village of Lynton
A four-bedroom penthouse next to the Tate with direct views of St Paul's from two floors of luxurious living space
A four-bedroom detached home surrounded by spacious gardens and woodland, close to New Pudsey
An 18th-century, three-bedroom home near Langstone Harbour built from ships beams with vaulted ceilings and wood burning stoves
A five-bedroom semi-detached home with a mix of period and modern features in a popular and convenient location
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
A three-bedroom villa with self-contained flat, minutes from Lake Windermere
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
A boutique mews house, set around a central courtyard, with three bedrooms and a private roof terrace
A four-bedroom farm-conversion with three bathrooms and two reception rooms