When is a bargain not a bargain?

SalesPA

This Friday is known in the US as Black Friday, because it's when the retailers start their seasonal sales. Over the next few weeks millions of pounds will be spent on things we consider to be 'bargains' as we pursue the illusive dream of an ideal Christmas.

However, a good few million of this is highly likely to be wasted, because we think we're getting a bargain, but we have actually just fallen prey to one or more of the five pitfalls of bargain hunting.

1. The discount is a mirage

There are strict rules surrounding sales. Things need to have been on sale at the higher price for at least 28 days, and the percentage reduction needs to be an honest reflection of how that price has dropped. However, while the retailers will follow the letter of the law, many will blatantly abuse the spirit of it.

This Christmas we can expect to see hundreds of thousands of products on sale which have had their price artificially boosted for a month in a few stores and then a big half price sticker plastered across it - when in actual fact it may be selling for roughly the same price as before they started mucking about with the price.

It pays, therefore, not to take a sale at face value.

2. It stops you shopping around

We can be so keen to snap up a bargain that it can persuade us to part with cash without checking the alternatives. This is a real risk when a more expensive brand is offering a big discount. We can easily spend twice as much as we would on a cheaper brand and we don't realise until it's all too late.

Taking a break, checking elsewhere, and working out whether this really is a worthwhile bargain could help save you hundreds of pounds this Christmas.

3. The small print makes it useless

This is a risk with any services sold at a discount. It's also something that seems quite common with some of the deals offered by some group discount websites.

You don't bother with the small print, led astray by a massive discount on a haircut or house cleaning service. It's only when you get the voucher through that you realise you are restricted as to the time you can take advantage of it, or it's only available in a particular area. Save yourself the pain, and check the small print before you buy.

4.You don't need it

This should go without saying, but often we'll see something that seems too good to resist and our careful plans and lists go out of the widow. If you end up with a present left over, or giving someone a gift they'll never appreciate, then it's not a bargain it's a waste of money.

5. You can't afford it and you pay a fortune in interest

This can be a huge temptation. You see a bargain and you reach for the credit card, promising yourself you'll pay the bill on time, However, by the time Christmas has added up we end up spreading the cost over a few months, and everything you saved will be squandered in interest payments. If it takes more than a couple of months to pay off then you'll end up paying far more than if you'd held back and found a cheaper or free alternative.

Of course, knowing about these pitfalls isn't always enough to stop us falling foul of them. When the doors swing open and the crowds rush into the sale the endorphins kick in and the overspending begins.

But what do you think? Do you fall for these tricks? Will you avoid them this year? Let us know in the comments.
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