It’s that dreaded time of year again, when many feel the need to trudge around the shops in the freezing cold, with heavy bags pulling shoulders out of their sockets. With a little hidden Christmas shopping magic (and internet access), a raft of techniques can slash both costs and time.

Before I start my 10 top techniques, a quick warning. Too many list every lusted-for item, gifts for all, and a corking meal, but only afterwards consider “how will I pay for it?”. That’s a recipe for ending up disappointed or broke.

Instead, while it’s less romantic, ask: “What can I afford to spend on Christmas?” Then work out how to have the best one possible within that budget. Christmas is one day, don’t ruin the whole of the new year for it.

1. Hidden bargains on eBay.
The giant website is full of new or used goodies that make perfect lower-cost Christmas presents. But eBay’s so big now, a mass of bidders drive prices up. Yet there’s a way to grab things below the standard value by finding items which are in less demand.

My own eBay Local Deals Mapper at www.moneysavingexpert.com/ebaylocal searches ‘pick up only’ deals near you. As this often means fewer bids, there are bargains to be had.

A different approach is taken by Fat Fingers and Goof Bid, which trawl eBay for all possible spelling mistake combinations. Wrongly-spelled products attract fewer bids because people miss them.

2. Use a shopbot.  A shopbot – or shopping robot – is a site that does a price comparison for you,  from games to gadgets, books to perfume. So instead of just using Amazon, you search a range of e-tailers to find the cheaper price in the same time. Top shopbots include Book Brain (for books), Twenga and Foundem.

How good the different sites are depends on what you’re searching.  To help, MegaShopBot picks the best shopbots for you, depending on what you choose to scan.           

3.  Bag 5% off all Christmas and January sales shopping

Cashback credit cards PAY YOU every time you spend on them. So, provided you set up a direct debit to ALWAYS repay the card in full, and thus avoid the usual 20% APR interest, you’re quids in.

Right now, both Capital One and Amex’s Everyday pay a huge 5% back on the first £2,000 of spending in the first three months. So grab one and you’ll have this high cashback for the crucial Christmas and January sales periods.      

4.   Take a peek at web outlets

You’ll likely have heard of outlet stores, usually in big retail parks, selling last year’s lines at up to 90%-off discounts. Over the last year, this trend has moved to the web. A host of online outlets now give the same discounts, but without the trek. Some have their own websites, others do it via eBay.

Examples include M&S, House of Fraser and Net A Porter. A full list of online outlets can be found here

5.  Amazon’s 70% off hidden bargain basements

Amazon has become almost the ubiquitous place to do your online shopping. Its range and selection is mammoth.  Yet there’s a trick you can use by manipulating its URLs (web addresses), which enables you to build section pages organised purely by the biggest discounts, such as TVs discounted by more than 50% or toys by more than 90%.  

I’ve a tool which builds pages for you at www.moneysavingexpert.com/amazontool. Put in what you’re looking for and how big a discount you want, and it builds the page instantly.

 

6.  Uncover hidden BIG brand flash sales

Many branded and designer goods e-tailers run membership clubs that give the illusion you’re being let in on an exclusive retail secret to bag luxury brands for a fraction of the high street price. You register free, they send alerts for two- to five-day online flash sales, usually starting at the crack of dawn.

If you’re so inclined, you can pick up designer brands like Gucci and Prada as well as mid-range brands such as French Connection and Ted Baker for up to 70% off the retail cost. Provided you price compare there can be bargains – sites include Brandalley.co.uk, Cocosa.com and Venteprivee.com.

7.   Give a chick or a can of worms… for charity

Feel the need to give, but don’t want to waste cash on tat? There are some wonderful and weird charity gifts allowing you to contribute to good causes. How about a can of worms (a wormery can help fertilise wasteland) for £7 from Christian Aid (Presentaid.org), a kid goat for £19 from World Vision (musthavegifts.org), a health check for £6 from Oxfamunwrapped.com or blankets for five babies for £15 from Unicef (shop.unicef.org.uk/inspired-gifts/intro/). Other charities raising funds this way include the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (rnlishop.org.uk), Sightsavers (giftofsight.co.uk), and WWF (wwf.org.uk).

8.  Tesco’s Christmas DOUBLE exchange

Until 5 December, Tesco’s running its Christmas exchange, letting you double the value of Clubcard vouchers in-store and online on selected departments – far better than just using your vouchers to save on shopping.  Crucially at this time of year, these include toys and bikes, frozen food, Christmas trees, lights and decorations and Finest wine and champagne.

 
Better still, you can use Tesco Clubcard Rewards (brochure via tesco.com/clubcard/deals) to sometimes get up to four times the value. There’s also a way to reclaim old lost or unused vouchers  – some have got £100s back. Step-by-step help at www.moneysavingexpert.com/tesco.

9.  More money back using cashback websites

Once you’ve found the cheapest store, see if you can get paid cashback on top. A number of sites get paid by online shops for sending traffic, then give you a cut. The top cashback sites are Quidco.com and Topcashback.co.uk.

10.  Plan to pounce on the BIGGEST discounts

With Christmas shopping, like good comedy, timing is everything. Make your Christmas list now and then look out for codes, vouchers and sales (I put all the best in my free weekly email at www.mse.me/tips) to get the goods cheaper, then pounce and pop them in a Christmas cupboard. 

New supermarket ‘is it really a bargain?’ tracker

There’s a new way to chart supermarket’s price changes over the last year, to see if a special offer’s really a bargain. Sign up to Mysupermarket.com and search for a product, then scroll down for a chart of the big supermarkets’ average price for that item.

Tesco Wine code
Tesco Wine’s giving 500 bonus Clubcard points on ANY spend until 31 Dec. The points are worth up to £20 when spent on items in the Clubcard Reward Brochure. See www.moneysavingexpert.com/wine