Day 21: Mastering the Christmas sales

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Day 21 of our money-saving advent calendar, and the Christmas sales have already begun. It's easy to have a rush of blood to the head and start shopping like a maniac when it feels like we're saving at the same time.

However, it's worth bearing in mind the five circumstances under which a bargain isn't a bargain.

1. When you wouldn't otherwise buy it

If it's not really essential, and isn't something you have been hankering after it, then the fact it is reduced (even if it's 75% off) shouldn't make you buy it. It may feel like a saving, but if you are spending money that you wouldn't otherwise part with, then it's just a waste of money.

2. When it forces you upmarket

If you find yourself buying something posh because it has been reduced, then what are you really gaining? You may have a fancier label on your goods, but you can be sure that however much it has been reduced it will still cost more than the budget alternative. It may feel more luxurious and showbiz, but it's really just more expensive.

3. When you buy more than you want

When bargains come as a '3 for 2' or any other kind if multibuy then they are particularly dangerous. They can force you to spend much more than you originally intended, and unless you have your wits about you, you could end up getting the wrong thing for free, and saving a small fraction of what you originally expected.

4. When it forces you into a quick decision

When things are thin on the ground, or it's a limited time offer, it's tempting to rush into a purchase without shopping around. However, there's every chance that a deal isn't what it seems, so unless you check the competitors, there's still a good chance you're being ripped off.

5. When it makes you stop thinking about affordability

Any time you are shopping, price is only one consideration - the cash in your pocket is the other one. When a deal seems too good to pass up and makes you stop thinking about whether or not you can afford it, that's when you are vulnerable to making terrible decisions.

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