It’s been a tough year for everyone all round, so I hope that you’re enjoying the festive season, whoever you are with, wherever you are. We all need a few good times. And in 2023, I’ll be doing my level best to help you save money, while campaigning for your rights, so keep sharing your stories with me.

Retailers have been hit pretty hard by the cost-of-living crisis, so with less money being spent over Christmas, it’s likely that when the sales start there may be many bargains to be had. But it’s not always easy to tell if you’re getting a good deal. And it pays to know your rights if something goes wrong. Here’s my guide to surviving the sales.

Let’s get cynical

I had to buy a new vacuum last week when my old one finally bit the dust (sorry). Amazon had the brand I wanted reduced by £200, from £299.99 to £99.99. That’s a hell of a discount, but a bit of research revealed that it wasn’t nearly as good as it looked. The same vacuum was also for sale at £99.99 on twelve other retailer websites. The manufacturer’s site had the vacuum priced at £149.99. So in reality, the reduction was only £50 and even then, the discount deal seemed to be the standard price with most retailers. The moral of the tale is do your research, don’t believe the discounts and above all else, remember an item is only worth what you are willing to pay for it.

Keep the tags on and packaging intact

You might adore your purchase, but keep the tags on what you buy until you are sure you want to keep it. Sometimes faults or damage aren’t immediately apparent. Photograph receipts just in case they get lost in the chaos of the sales and don’t forget to ask for a gift receipt if you’re buying for others.

Gift cards and vouchers

If you received a gift card or voucher for Christmas don’t shove into your purse or wallet and forget about it – spend it now. They all have expiry dates, even if that isn’t clear at first glance. Usually, the maximum amount of time you have to use the cards or vouchers is a year (though many are as little as six months). Sales are a good time to spend the vouchers as many don’t give ‘change’ if you don’t spend the full amount, so you could get more for your credit.

Think before you click

Online sales and adverts on social media can be tempting but watch out for unfamiliar brands and businesses based abroad where the consumer rights in that country might be substantially different. Never give your card details to a shop you don’t know or recognise and never pay by cheque or direct transfer.

Give yourself some credit

This one needs an iron will, but it’s worth it. If you buy goods or services on a credit card and spend over £100, then you have additional protections under the Consumer Credit Act. So if there’s a dispute with a retailer, or they go bust, you might be able to claim your cash back from the card provider. Pay the card in full immediately though!

Make a plan of action

Confession time: we’ve all got back from the sales to find we’ve bought a load of old rubbish. So before you shop, make a plan of action. Rather than browsing without an agenda, make a list of the things you want to buy and research their prices online. Now is the time to check your spending too so set yourself a maximum spending limit.

You still have rights in the sales

If the goods you buy are damaged or misrepresented, you can still return them and ask for a refund. Of course, some sales items will be damaged, but this must be made clear when you make the purchase.

Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.

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