Shopping tips for Christmas

Love it or loathe it, Christmas shopping is an inevitable part of the whole yuletide experience. As Christmas approaches, writer and money-saving expert Sarah Flower gives you some tips on how to save time and money and get the best out of the Christmas shopping experience.

Love it or loathe it, Christmas shopping is an inevitable part of the whole yuletide experience. As Christmas approaches, writer and money-saving expert Sarah Flower gives you some tips on how to save time and money and get the best out of the Christmas shopping experience.

Firstly, if like many, you have left Christmas until December, hoping it would go away, don’t panic.

– Order groceries online. Book your slot as early as you can and then you can sit back and enjoy the lead up to Christmas day without having to get hot and sweating in a supermarket queue.
– Speak to your butcher, baker and greengrocer and book early, especially your meat order. The butcher may even reward you with a nice discount.
– Fill your freezer with quick and easy snacks. Home-made mince pies, savoury canapés and even home-made ready meals can save you time and effort over Christmas.
– Don’t overspend on food. Christmas is only one; Supermarkets and shops are open on Boxing Day so you really don’t need to stock up quite so dramatically. Once again, make a list and stick to it
– Pressie buying at the last minute is never fun. Planning ahead means you have time to save money. For example, you can make your own gifts, order personalised items from the internet or shop around for the best deals and the most unique gifts.

Last minute Panic
Ok, so you have ignored the advice to plan ahead and we are fast approaching the big day and you still have a list as long as your arm to buy for.

– Work out a budget for each gift item before you reach the shops.
– If you have any ideas for gifts, why not look online, some companies offer next day delivery so you can shop right up until the last minute – though I would never advise this as you have no time to return if the item is unsuitable. Use price search sites such as www.twenga.co.uk, www.pricerunner.co.uk and www.kelkco.co.uk before purchasing. Check delivery charges and factor this cost into the overall cost of the product – it may not be the bargain you hoped!
– Write a list including name of recipient, ideas and budget. Give yourself time to explore the shops and check items off your list when purchasing. Stick to the list and to the budget!
– Many sites like Amazon offer a wrapping service, so if you have left things to the last minute, you can have the retailer wrap and dispatch to any chosen address. You will pay more for this privilege, but maybe that will give you the right incentive to plan for next year!!
– If you have forgotten the overseas postal deadline, don’t panic, get online and order from the recipient’s country. You will cut down on postage charges and ensure your gift arrives wrapped and safe. Stick to well-known websites and check feedback, security, customer service ratings and service before you order.

Protect Yourself

– For added protection when shopping online, shop with reputable companies. Visit www.safebuy.org.uk or www.shopsafe.co.uk for more information. Ensure your computer security software is up to date and pay by protected credit cards or Paypal. You should see a padlock on the page to highlight the sites security certificate.
– When shopping in the high street, always keep your purse and credit cards safe as pickpockets are always on the lookout for a quick grab and go.
– Keep the receipts for every item, and if necessary, ask the retailer to give you a gift receipt, allowing the recipient of your gift to take it back or exchange if unsuitable.
– When buying online, you are protected by the Distance Selling Regulations (DSR) which means from the moment you place the order up to 7 days working days after receipt, you have a cooling off period to reject the item. Always print and store all references, check out receipts and contact numbers when purchasing online. Never give your credit card details over an email and never reveal your passwords or pin numbers.

Gift Ideas and Inspiration

– Some stores such as Boots, Superdrug and Marks & Spencer’s offer buy two get on free deals on their gift ranges. When using these deals, keep your budget in mind as it is too easy to increase your spend in order to get a higher value free ite
– If you are after unique gift ideas, why not look at website such as www.notonthehighstreet.co.uk, www.notmassedproduced.com or even www.firebox.com.
– Alternatively why not opt for a personalised gift idea. You can order from supermarkets or boots, or have a look online at sites such as www.snapfish.co.uk, www.photobox.co.uk and www.thegiftexperience.co.uk.

– For someone who has everything, why not give them their own domain name? www.mrsite.co.uk offers a great matchbox present. For only £9.99 they can register their own chosen domain name. Alternatively, if they want a website package, for only £19.99, you can buy Mr Sites starter web pack, including domain, emails and full web design package.
– If you are looking for an eco gift, why not visit Oxfam. They have some great eco gift ideas including adoptions packages. Alternatively, online you can visit www.presentaid.org, www.ecocentric.co.uk, www.ethicalstuperstore.co.uk www.love-eco.co.uk and www.traidcraft.co.uk
– Have you thought about spreading your gift over 12 months? You can do this with magazine subscriptions, bringing delight to the recipient that really lasts. A lucky person in your life could unwrap a smartly-packaged Gift Box including a subscription to LOVEFiLM, complete with voucher with a personalised message as well as an additional gift of your choice.  This gift enables your recipient to view DVD’s in their home with no charges or postal costs.
– If you have no idea what to buy someone, tokens can seem like a simple and stress-free choice. The problem begins when you have to consider which token to buy! I love the One4all gift card available at the Post Office. You can load your card with a minimum of £10 and recipients can spend this at hundreds of retailers including well-known high street names. Visit www.giftvouchershop.co.uk, call 08700 84 44 44 or visit your local Post Office for more information.

It’s a Wrap…

A well-wrapped gift often means more than the gift itself. Wrapping gifts does not have to cost the earth. Rolls of brown paper, wrapped with gingham ribbons, coloured twine and ivy leaves look amazing and cost very little. I buy florist cellophane and ribbons from eBay as it is a fraction of the price. Cellophane is so forgiving and gives a professional finish. It is also great to help strengthen cheaper paper – ideal for heavier or difficult to wrap items.

Home-made Chic

Handmade gifts really show someone how much you care. If you have a talent for crafts, why not create some wonderful gifts for friends and family. If you are green-fingered, you could share a plant, tree or even decorate some pots or china with planted winter bulbs. For all those domestic goddesses, why not make some home-made chocolates, truffles, biscuits or mince pies? Decorate with cellophane and ribbon for the expensive deli look.

Easy Hampers

A hamper is so simple to put together. All you need is a decorative or wicker box, some cellophane and your chosen produce. Friends or family who live alone appreciate food hampers packed with a mix practical and luxury items. If your friend is a gardener, why not put together a hamper of seeds, gardeners soap, string, gloves and other themed items. For the glamorous teen, you can fill with toiletries, make-up, jewellery and a fluffy hot water bottle. If your friend loves vintage, why not seek out some great finds at antique/auction rooms or boot sales. Place items in an old style hat box – a real treasure trove of unusual gems. You can do a similar theme for children – why not add items that were popular in your childhood. These presents really show you care and don’t have to cost the earth.

Create your own experience gift

Experience days are becoming increasingly popular and seem like the ideal gift for someone who has everything, but why not make up one of your own? For animal lovers you could book passport tickets to Safari Park Longleat – valid for a whole year so the recipient can choose what day they would like to attend. Maybe the recipient is interested in their family history – why not spend the day taking them back to their childhood haunts or hunting for their ancestors. Create your own pampering day package by booking a mobile beauty therapist to come to the recipients home or salon appointments throughout a special day. The list is endless; all you have to do is think about the recipients’ interests.

Free Gifts

You really can find gifts that cost very little. One day I was at a local auction and discovered a ladies suitcase full of cards and other nostalgic gems. Birthday Cards from as early as the 1920’s showed I.O.U ideas. Aunty Joan promising to knit a jumper of the recipients choice, a friend offering to take her out to lunch. There must have been 20 or more cards, all saved for over 80 years – that is how much these meant to the lady. I can’t see the three for two gifts from the high street having the same nostalgic appeal. Think about the person you want to give a gift to. A promise, deed or IOU would mean so much.

Finally, find some you time this Christmas. It may seem like a drag to plan and prepare in advance, but once Christmas comes you will reap the rewards. Don’t get too stressed and don’t strive for perfection – instead aim for enjoyment for all the family. Merry Christmas!

Sarah Flower’s book ‘Live More, Spend Less’ is published by Spring Hill, an imprint of How To Books Ltd www.howtobooks.co.uk and is available at £9.99 in major bookshops and online retailers across the country. ISBN 978-1-905862-34-4




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