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
- 1 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 2 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
- 3 The 'sex selfie stick' lets you FaceTime the inside of a vagina
- 4 Why you're almost certainly more like your father than your mother
- 5 Westboro Baptist Church couldn't picket Leonard Nimoy's funeral because they didn't know where it was
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Nigel Farage promises Ukip will not 'stigmatise' would-be migrants – and says he wants 'everyone to speak the same language'
Ex-head of MI6: 'We shouldn't kid ourselves that Russia is on a path to democracy'
Most people think legal tax avoidance is just as wrong as illegal tax evasion, poll suggests
iJobs Money & Business
£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established early...
£30 - 35k + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Executive Assist...
£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...
Voluntary post, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Would you ...
Day In a Page
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 deceptively spacious, beautifully presented Georgian home with 3000sq ft of living space and five reception rooms
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
A three-bedroom, 15th-century cottage with original features in the picturesque village of Sissinghurst
A six-bedroom terraced house with large south-facing roof terrace, cinema room and wine cellar
A new seven-bedroom home built in Queen Anne-style with swimming pool and parkland views in Mortimer
A listed, four-bedroom farmhouse in the rural hamlet of Rushall with detached barn, four acres of gardens and paddocks
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads