Treat your wallet to a cheaper Christmas
Chiara Cavaglieri offers some handy tips to help you bag a bargain while you're hunting for presents
Sunday 02 December 2012
With only a few weeks to go until the big day, the Christmas shopping starts in earnest now and whether you're bagging a bargain online, or braving the high street, there are lots of clever ways to save money, earn rewards and stay safe.
Earning money while you shop is a good start to clever Christmas shopping so look into using a cashback credit card.
This only works if you can easily afford to set up a direct debit paying it off in full every month, otherwise you'll be paying interest and cancelling out any cashback.
For the most credit-worthy shoppers, cards such as Capital One's Aspire World and the Amex Platinum Everyday offer 5 per cent cashback (up to a maximum of £100) for the first three months and up to 1.25 per cent thereafter. The Aqua Reward card is less generous, paying 3 per cent cashback up to £100 maximum a year, but with no minimum income you are more likely to be accepted. Again, don't bother if you cannot repay in full as the APR is a colossal 34.9 per cent.
"Every reward or cashback card offers cardholders something different. As such, anyone looking to use one of these cards needs to work out what sort of rewards suit their personal circumstances and shop around for the best deal," says Kevin Mountford, the head of banking at MoneySupermarket.com.
"Many schemes are tied in to certain retailers and purchase types, and if you don't use them regularly in the right place your card may not provide such a good deal after all."
Loyalty cards are handy too, allowing you to collect points when you shop in particular stores, but use them carefully – the rewards aren't worth paying over the odds in the first place. Buy things that you actually want and at the best price you can find, leaving any points as a welcome bonus.
"That said, it does pay to look out for special offers, for example, every Christmas Boots holds various events for its Advantage Card customers with extra points up for grabs and up until 5 December you can exchange £5 of Tesco Clubcard points for £10 to spend in particular departments, including toys, decorations and Tesco Finest wine.
There are countless websites and tools helping you to save money when you're shopping online too.
In fact, there are so many that you can get bogged down trying to save a few pence, but the big ones are comparison sites, cashback sites and voucher codes.
Instead of checking all of the individual comparison sites (Kelkoo, Pricerunner, Twenga) save time with MoneySavingExpert's tool (megashopbot.com) which searches a dozen of them at once.
This still isn't the whole of the market so you aren't guaranteed the lowest price, but it's worth a punt and you can still use dedicated sites for specific items such as perfume (Cheapperfumeexpert.com), food (MySupermarket.com) and DVDs (find-dvd.co.uk) on top. If you don't want to put the legwork in, InvisibleHand (getinvisiblehand.com) is a free browser plug-in which automatically compares prices, alerting you to the best offers as you surf the net.
Before you head to the online checkout try a few voucher code sites such as MyVoucherCodes.co.uk, VoucherCodesPro.co.uk and HotUKDeals.com to see if you can cut costs even further. Then see if you can get some of the money you've spent back via a specialist cashback site such as Quidco.com, although remember that most sites have a minimum payout level so you may have to wait a while until you can cash it in.
"Every major brand now uses voucher codes because they know that consumers are getting more and more savvy when it comes to spending online," says George Charles from VoucherCodesPro.
Always read the terms of any codes or cashback deals carefully. There may be more than one code to choose from, for example, and you can usually only use one so do your sums to work out which is the better deal. There is often a minimum spend for discount codes too so don't be tempted to spend more than you need just to shave a few quid off.
Online outlet shops offer clearance deals from high street brands; some shops have their own discount eBay shops, including Argos and Tesco (remember you cannot return items to the high street shops), while others have separate websites including Marks & Spencer (outlet.marksandspencer.com) and Net-A-Porter (theoutnet.com). Online flash sales are yet another weapon in the online shopper's armoury, offering members access to sales lasting for a limited period of time. Popular sites include Achica, Secret Sales, Brand Alley and Cocosa, but new sites are popping up all the time such Casabu and HushHush (from the team behind MyVoucherCodes).
Membership sites aren't necessarily as exclusive as they seem and you shouldn't assume they are always cheapest, but they usually beat the high street and as they often sell old stock that needs shifting, you can secure hefty discounts. Similarly, if you use a group buying website such as Groupon or Wahanda, do check the small print – the deals aren't always as good as they seem and you can go directly to the companies concerned to see if they'll match them.
If you don't mind being elbowed out of the way by other bargain hunters, you can hit the high streets and make the most of modern technology instead.
With a quarter of the UK now owning a smartphone, apps are big business, enabling you to continue cutting costs when you're out and about. Use RedLaser to instantly compare prices on the internet and the high street by scanning barcodes, or check free cashback app Quidco to see if you can earn money buying online rather than in-store.
Some stores also have price-match policies so you can use your mobile to show them that you've found a cheaper price elsewhere and see if they will match it for you.
"It seems that more and more of us in the UK are waking up to the financial benefits of having access to the internet wherever we are," says Sylvia Chind at Three Mobile.
Your shopping rights
Under the Sale of Goods act 1979, goods must be of satisfactory quality, as described, fit for purpose and last for a reasonable length of time.
Take faulty items back to the retailer (not the manufacturer) as soon as possible – you may only get an exchange, repair or part refund after four weeks. After six months, the onus is on you to prove that the item was faulty when you bought it.
Online you have more rights under the Distance Selling Rules which state that you can send goods back within one week for a full refund, whether there is a fault or not (although you may need to pay for the delivery).
For big ticket items, paying with a credit card offers extra protection. As long as the item costs between £100 and £30,000, the card company is jointly liable for the whole amount so you can turn to them if a firm goes bust and your goods haven't arrived or they are faulty
Mark Dampier: 'We're on our own in retirement. They've pulled pensions to pieces'
Questions of Cash: I don't use Amazon Prime, but my credit card bill says I do
Crippling PFI deals leave Britain £222bn in debt
Pension freedoms: How to deal with cold calls from scammers
Barclays new Blue Rewards hands cash to customers. What’s the catch?
- 1 BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
- 2 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 3 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 4 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
Russian warships in English Channel 'to conduct anti-aircraft and anti-submarine military drills'
iJobs Money & Business
£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...
£50000 - £667000 per annum + excellent benefits : Ashdown Group: IT Manager / ...
£13000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Scotland's leading life insuran...
£40000 - £45000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manag...
Day In a Page
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
A two-bedroom detached house with ensuite bathrooms and a sun-drenched decked terrace, £750,000
A modern and spacious two-bedroom, penthouse flat with two bathrooms in a prestigious development
A beautifully renovated five-bedroom terrace with three reception rooms and a courtyard garden, £700,000
A four-bedroom period house which has been extended to provide almost 2,500sq ft of living space, £675,000
A pretty three-bedroom Georgian home with a 22ft drawing room and a master suite with a balcony, £525,000