How to do the sales – 10 top tips

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The sales are upon us. Here’s how to shop without committing murder.

Today’s Christmas Eve and barring those last-last-minute presents, most of us are about ready for Christmas, the turkey is defrosting and we’re getting ready for tomorrow. But come the day after, the sales begin in earnest, with all those seemingly-irresistible opportunities to snap up a bargain.

To turn sales shopping from a nightmare to a joy, it pays to take a military approach to the sales.

1 Look at the holes in your wardrobe. We all have these: the right trouser, the right shoe, the blouse with the exact right neckline. Make a list of items you could do with and that would make your wardrobe more usable and flexible. The sales are an ideal time to plug those gaps.

2 Visualise what you’re looking for so that you’ll know it when you see it. Write down your criteria, and be specific about it – not ‘trousers’, but ‘size 14 black jersey trousers with a flared leg’. Work out which shops will offer you the best chance of getting what you want and go there – don’t work your way from one end of the mall to the other.

3 Set a budget. Whether it’s £50 or £500, set yourself a budget and stick to it. Draw the cash out of the bank and take it with you in a secure bag. Leave your credit cards at home. We all know it’s far too easy to get carried away otherwise. If you decide in advance what you can afford, you’ll be grateful later for the discipline you showed.

4 Deal with the guilt. If you have qualms about the state of the planet, people starving, everyone living in a warzone etc while you shop till you drop, make your charity donation in advance. Decide how much you want to give and drop the cheque in the post or donate online before you set off to town, then shop without beating yourself up.

5 Dress the part. Wear comfortable slip-off shoes that you can walk in for long periods but which don’t hamper you when trying on trousers and skirts; a button-down or zip-off cardi or top so that you don’t have to pull things over your head; black or nude tights and a black or nude sleeveless body that keeps you pretty well covered in communal changing rooms and creates a neat silhouette over which you can try blouses, sweaters etc without having to strip down to your bra and pants. If you’re buying something like an evening dress for which you need particular shoes, take them with you in a separate bag.

6 Time your day. For tops, accessories, coats or jackets, shop in the morning. If you’re looking for bottom halves (skirts or trousers), or dresses with a waistband, shop in the afternoon after a good lunch. That way you will get a better fit, as you’ll have a full stomach and will be retaining some fluid. Shoes and boots are best bought at the end of the day when you’ve had time to walk around and your feet have spread somewhat.

7 Refresh yourself. Plan breaks for lunch, mid-morning and mid-afternoon coffee, and if you can, take a small bottle of water and a snack in your bag so you don’t slump from those dehydrated or low blood-sugar moments.

8 Know where to look. Pick a theme – go to the shops you’d love to shop at but normally can’t afford, or the shops where you’re always lucky, or the shops where you can stock up on basics. When I lived in London, I’d hit South Molton Street and New Bond Street for the former, Liberty’s ground and fashion floors for the middle category and M&S for the basics. Don’t waste time riffling through stores where you’ve never found a damn thing that fits.

9 Shop alone. I know that sounds a bit miserable, but sales shopping, with pushing, shoving crowds, is irritating enough if you’re in the shops where you want to be. If you’re hanging around while your best friend or your other half debates the finer points of the latest iPod while you want to look at shoes, you’ll make yourself homicidal.

10 Know when to stop. Stop if you’re tired, fed-up, nothing looks right, you’re having a fat day, you’re having a bad hair day etc. Nothing will work and you may end up spending money you regret. Remember, there’s always another day…

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