A guide to bagging those Boxing Day 2013 bargains

AR3A35 Sale signs in window of High Street store with moving shoppers carrying bags in foreground

Last Boxing Day, millions of shoppers thronged Britain's high streets, spending almost £3bn. Many had queued overnight to be sure of snapping up a bargain.

While most of us won't go to those lengths, few can resist the sales altogether. But if you want the best buys, you'll need sharp wits and even sharper elbows - as well as a bit of a strategy.

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There's something about all those big red 'sale' signs that seems to trigger a feeding frenzy amongst shoppers, and it's easy to come away with bagfuls of stuff that you don't really need or want. So start looking around the shops now and create a wish list, noting when each sale starts. (This isn't always possible, as some stores, such as Marks & Spencer, don't release their sales dates in advance, presumably to encourage us to buy more now.)

Most of us end up spending more on Christmas than we really intended to, and getting into debt is no way to kick off the new year.

"A good shopping plan starts with doing things in the proper order," says personal finance expert Erica Sandberg. "Budget should always come first, and paying bills should never be a struggle because you spent too much."

But the sales are a good time to snap up something you need anyway, and maybe to go for better quality than you might otherwise do. The best bargains tend to be on the most expensive items - designer clothes, furniture or electrical goods. Technology also often gets a good mark-down. If you're really organised - and have the space - this is the time to buy wrapping paper, cards and crackers for next year.

If you're shopping for clothes, make sure you know your measurements. And be selective: there's often a good reason this stuff hasn't sold before. Stick to timeless classics in good fabrics, designer items, bags and shoes. Knowing what you want is even more important when it comes to furniture - it's all too easy to impulse-buy a sofa that's too large for the room.

Sales items often get pretty harsh treatment, so check for lipstick marks and tears before you buy. If you do get home and find something's faulty, you'll be legally entitled to a refund of the amount you paid (despite the fact that some stores try to deny this). But if you just change your mind, it's a bit of a lottery: some stores will give you a refund or replacement, some won't.

If you want the best selection, of course, you'll need to hit the sales right at the beginning; prices often keep falling through January, though, so the best bargains come later on. Don't be seduced by big discounts alone: that £100 dress may have 60 percent off, but is it worth £40 to you?

Increasingly, shoppers are staying at home and doing their sales shopping online.

"The biggest shopping days of the year are the post-Christmas sales, both on and offline," says Andrew Walker, country manager of price comparison site PriceRunner. "For savvy shoppers, online shopping can make the sales stress free, avoiding the crowds and those regrettable impulse purchases."

For many of us, though, the lure of getting what we want right there and then outweighs such concerns. Braving the crowds can often be fun and, says Sandberg, is frequently the cheaper option.

"Online shopping is great for comparing prices, but traditional in-store shopping still has a lot to offer," she says. "There's something very festive about shopping in the store during the holidays. And these days, stores are working hard to combat the online shopping trend, so you may find your best deals inside the store."

Harrods
Sale starts 26 December at 10.00am, running until 6:00pm on 19th January. Discounts often reach 75 percent. Last year, the sale was opened with a performance by Cirque du Soleil; no word yet on this year's celebrity.

Harvey Nichols
Sale starts on 26 December, with discounts of up to 50 percent on designers including Marc Jacobs, Chloe, Paul Smith, Lanvin, Stella McCartney and Christopher Kane.

John Lewis
John Lewis is offering discounts of up to 50 percent across all departments. The sale starts at John Lewis Trafford Centre at 9.30am on 26 December, and in all other stores at 9.30am on Friday 27 December. Clearance runs until Sunday 19 January 2014.

Liberty
Sale starts at midnight on December 26, with discounts of up to 60 percent throughout the store, and runs until the end of January.

Selfridges
Sale starts 26 December. Up to 50 percent off some items, with discounts on womenswear, accessories, beauty, furniture, childrenswear, luggage and home accessories. "Some luxury items up for grabs last year included dresses by Stella MacCartney, Miu Miu jackets and Chloe and Marc bags, so fashionistas should get their credit cards at the ready for similarly stylish bargains this year," says the store.

Currys PC World
"All I can tell you is that the Currys PC World sale will begin on the evening of Christmas Eve," says the spokesman.

Heals
Sale starts 26 December, running until 2 February, and there's a pre-sale on furniture from 5 December. There's up to 50 percent off on selected furniture, lighting and home accessories. The Skanda Small Sofa, for example, is now half-price at £648.

Do you brave the Boxing Day sales? Have you any tips to share? Let us know in the comments box below!

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A guide to bagging those Boxing Day 2013 bargains

This takes time, but once you know the cost of a phone call, putting the dryer on, or a bag of potatoes, it enables you to judge far better how much you can afford to consume.

Once you know the base price, you are in a position to keep your eyes open for a better offer. If you see a discount you can judge for yourself whether it actually constitutes a bargain. For bigger things like utilities it enables you to do a proper price comparison and see if you can cut your bills.

Don't just assume that the premium range is better, try the every-day brand, or even the basic version and see if you spot the difference. Likewise, consider trading down your supermarket from one of the big players to local markets or discounters like Aldi.

If you plan what you buy to match what you actually cook and eat then not only will you be able to budget far more effectively, but you'll also waste much less and find your money goes further without you having to try.

If you can't think of a way to get your meat for less, consider a vegetarian day once a week. If you can't find petrol any cheaper, then work on making your driving as efficient as possible. The more you can think of clever alternatives the less you will have to make painful cuts to make ends meet.

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