Bag a bargain at the January sales

Now that the Christmas shopping is out of the way, it's time to bag some bargains in the January sales. Here's how to survive - and make the most of the sales this year. Preparation is everything!

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Scope things out
Before the sales start, visit your favourite stores for a browse. Make a note of the items that you're desperate to get your hands on and get to know the layout of the store itself and of the shopping centre, if that's where your bargain-hunting will take place. It'll save time when the doors open.

Prioritise those things that you actually need. Whether its electrical goods, clothes, linen or DVDs you're after, if you go without a list you're likely to end up with plenty of bargains... none of which you really needed.

If you're hoping to bag a bargain wardrobe, try them on beforehand and make a note of the sizes that fit. It is also wise to plan your route ahead of the big day so you can head to those priority stores first.

If you know beforehand the items you want to buy, it's worth checking out what the standard retail price is. As shocking as it may seem, there are some in the retail business who bump up the prices to make the reductions sound irresistible but with a little research, you'll know a bargain when you see one. And remember, it's only truly a bargain if you actually want and need it!

Limit yourself
Always, always, always set yourself a price limit. Once you're in amongst the panicked crowds it's all too easy to get carried away and end up spending more than you wanted or, worse still, more than you've got.

Decide how much you can reasonably afford to spend and leave the credit card at home so that you don't get distracted by unnecessary purchases. That way you won't be tempted to buy unflattering or badly fitting clothes just because they are rock bottom prices.

Making a list of the items you really need or want so that you don't get caught in the 'impulse purchase zone'. If you have money left over at the end, that's the time for browsing.

Beware faulty goods
This applies largely to electrical items - the slashed price on a 'sold as seen' product may not necessarily be the bargain you think it is. Be sure to check the quality and ask staff about the warranty. Remember, some offers really are too good to be true.

Be comfortable
Those towering heels might seem like a good idea but two hours in you'll be suffering. Flat shoes will enable you to power around the shops without fear of blisters or aching feet. Similarly you won't want to waste time faffing around in the fitting rooms so easy-to-remove shoes and clothes are vital. Those of you heading to a shopping centre should think about leaving that winter coat in the car - bargain hunting can be hot work!

Think ahead
Where clothing is concerned, the January sales are a great time to look out for wardrobe staples so if you come across well-fitting black trousers, your perfect pair of jeans, a fitted white shirt or a shift dress to die for, buy two while they're cheap. You could save yourself a bundle by stocking up on day-to-day classics.

Get online
If the thought of the crush, the crowds and the queues fills you with dread, do your shopping online. Most high street stores have an online presence and will offer the same, if not better deals, on the web. Some even start their online sales a day or two earlier so you can grab the best items without even leaving home. And that'll give you plenty of time to enjoy those festive movies and a glass of mulled wine.

Are you a regular at the January sales? What are your top tips for getting the best bargains? Leave your comments below...