I was recently contacted by Best British Bloggers who are working on a project with NOW: Pensions to encourage bloggers to think about money saving tips and saving for the future, especially with the Christmas present buying season now upon us (or upon us about a month ago if you're overkeen like me!). They asked if I'd like to write a post with some tips for saving money at Christmas. I am a big ol' thrifter and try and avoid paying full price for anything so I thought my tricks and habits for saving money when Christmas present buying were worth a share.
I absolutely love buying presents at Christmas - I tend to start early November both because I get so excited I simply can't wait any longer and also because it helps me spread the cost of buying across two paypackets. Despite my enthusiasm for present buying I am inherently thrifty and so although I probably tend to spoil people a little too much I'm also very careful in planning and budgeting so I don't go overboard.
The first thing I do is write out a list of who I need to buy for. I usually have a rough budget in my head of how much I'll spend on each person and I'll jot down some ideas and start doing the maths. I start looking around online and I have a bookmarks folder for Christmas shopping so I can save ideas and come back to them. I budget for my monthly spend every month so I always know how much disposable money I have for buying presents and I don't go over this. Christmas is a wonderful time but you don't have to get yourself into debt to enjoy it and it's not always the most expensive gifts that are the most treasured.
Usually I'll have rough ideas of presents for everyone but if I run out of inspiration I use gift guides, magazine features and blog posts for ideas. Most websites this time of year have gift sections. BUT I never buy an item I see straight away - there are always a few things I do first. Firstly, never assume that the item you've found on a website is only sold on that site. Firstly, take the item and search for it in Google, then click on Shopping. You'll see other sites that sell this item and you can do a comparison and find where it's cheapest (remember to factor in delivery costs). Another great site for this is the MoneySavingExpert tool MegaShopBot which uses tons of shopping robots to find the cheapest place to buy particular products such as books, DVDs or perfumes. I also do this if I see something in a shop I like; I always check the internet to see if it's cheaper (with all the whizzy phone technology these days you can usually do this whilst you're still in the shop).
Another place I often look for gift inspiration is websites with 'secret sales' such as Achica, Brand Alley or Hush Hush (still, don't assume they're the cheapest - still Google and do price comparisons.) If you're a fan of websites like this look out for a review of Hush Hush later this week.
Once I've found the cheapest place however, I don't just click buy! I'll look around on that site and check there's nothing else on my list that can be bought from there to save on delivery costs. Even if it's £1 more on that site it's cheaper than buying it elsewhere and paying £3.95 delivery costs. Delivery costs are a real bugbear of mine in any case and so I do tend to favour sites with free delivery (ASOS, Amazon, Feel Unique etc) or sites where I can pick it up for free if the store's not far away.
I am also a lover of getting things back for money spent! We have our own Cashback/Reward scheme at work but prior to this I used to use TopCashback - I once even got £30 cashback for a £30 Weight Watchers subscription. I also check if a website's on the Nectar Card scheme as I'm always keen to collect Nectar points!
My final tip for before you click buy is to look for voucher codes. A quick Google of the website and then 'discount codes' or 'voucher codes' should find any that are available. I'll sit there and enter all of the ones I find until I get one that works! Another tip for this is to always check any Twitter or Facebook accounts operated by the company as they often put discount codes or offers on there. Sarah has done a great posts with lots of discount codes over at A Million Dresses.
Another tip - if you have a group of friends and you tend to buy for all of them it can get expensive. Why not set up a Secret Santa for your group; it can work with even just 3 or 4 people and it means you only have to buy one person a present rather than breaking than bank.
Finall, if you're running low on money but you still have a few people to buy for, check out my posts on handmade Christmas for ideas for food hampers and gift wrapping.
Phew, that was a lot of tips! It might seem like all of that takes a lot more time than just getting down to your local Shopping Centre and doing it all in one day - and to an extent, it does - but it really does pay off and I'm a big believer in being careful with money. Take care of the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves as they say.
Please share any money saving tips you have in the comments, I'm always interested in new ways to save some pennies!