Bargains galore out there - but read the small print

After weeks of planning and shopping for other people, many of us are now planning to treat ourselves in the upcoming sales. 

The January sales are starting earlier and earlier and many shops will be starting to discount even before Christmas Day itself, with reductions likely to be available in some shops this weekend. On this day week, the bargain hunting will kick off in earnest. Serious shoppers should be drawing up their own lists now.

You know what the shops are going to be like for the next few weeks — packed, messy and with signs for sales everywhere. In that kind of environment, it is way too easy to get swept up by the sense of urgency and make some truly terrible decisions.

I have a mint green mini dress (never, ever worn) stuffed in the back of my wardrobe that I keep purely as a reminder of how daft I can be in sales situations. So do make a list.

Think about the months ahead when buying. There will be plenty of party dresses on offer but sequins-season is nearly over. Far better to invest in good-quality items that will see plenty of wear, like a good coat or boots. Have you any presents to give in the next few months? Now is a good time to buy bed linens and other household goods that can be tucked away until they are needed.

Yes, it is boring, but do set a budget. Between tapping and swiping, it is possible to burn through serious money without fully realising what you have spent. Christmas is costly enough, don’t exacerbate the pain of January or even February by racking up extra debt. Consider taking the amount you can afford to spend out at the ATM, handing over the cash makes the purchase much more real. Just be careful to keep your wallet safe and ensure you keep all receipts.

You should also cash in any rewards coming to you. Have a Boots or other loyalty card? Now is the time to check what you have accumulated and spend your points on cut price treats. Double bargain.

Áine Carroll of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission advises consumers to take simple steps to ensure they are truly getting a great deal.

“Try not to buy a product just because it is discounted: the idea of a special offer is to encourage you to buy now, as you might never get such a good bargain again.

“Sometimes this might be true, if the deal is for a product that you wanted to buy anyway.” However, if it just feels too cheap to miss, step away. Take a breather, go for a coffee and mull over whether you really need it. If not, then it’s not a bargain at any price.

“A bargain might look good on paper, but if it’s not up to the standard you expect, your great deal might turn out to be a let-down.” She suggests a little research.

“If you don’t know the business before you purchase, see if you can find online reviews to give you an idea of how others have found the same deal or product.” Check the small print before committing, just in case of problems. “January tends to be a busy time for our helpline with contacts from consumers querying their rights after buying goods or receiving presents,” Ms Carroll said.

“Generally, the queries we receive relate to issues with faulty goods or consumers who have changed their mind about a purchase.” She advises consumers to check returns policies before buying. Many shops these days will refund any item but they are not required to do so. If you have bought an item in store and you simply change your mind, you do not have rights under consumer law.

“Retailers are entitled to set their own policy as to whether they offer a refund or exchange if a consumer makes a purchase and then changes their mind. It is important to be aware that a retailer’s returns’ policy may be different when something is bought in a sale, so consumers should check before they buy.” Online shoppers do have breathing space. “When consumers buy goods online or over the phone from retailers based in the EU, businesses must provide consumers with a cancellation period of 14 days after they receive the item.”

=============DEAL OF THE WEEK

There has been a run of price increases in recent months, with households facing hikes in the cost of everything from utilities to TV packages.

Bill payers who would prefer some peace of mind might be interested in the latest offer from Just Energy. The company have a Christmas offer they are running with comparison site

New electricity-only and dual fuel customers who sign up to Just Energy’s Xmas Special deals on can fix their gas and electricity prices for 20 months and they suggest average savings of of €93 (electricity only) or €275 (dual fuel) when they switch.

The fixed unit rates on offer are 15.21c per kWh for electricity and 4.653c per kWh for gas (both include Vat). They estimate customers who sign up for the electricity-only deal will end up paying about €878 for electricity over one year, based an average amount of electricity, or roughly €1,476 for both your gas and electricity. Customers must sign up to both direct debit and ebilling.


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