Friday, 19 November 2010


If you like to shop, this may be for you.  I have just received £50 worth of Marks & Spencer gift vouchers but I am not going to spend them without doing some forward planning... 

Bargain hunting can be great fun.
It puts a whole new slant on shopping, and in fact on recreation.  We would rather spend time on something that is fun but will make us money or save us money, than on something that is also fun but will cost us money. Because it is soooo satisfying when you uncover a real bargain. 

Seven years ago in January, a friend e mailed me to say that Marks & Spencer had underwear reduced in their sale and her daughter had just got £96 worth of undies for £16. 

If you beome a committed bargain hunter, you will want to plan ahead, and keep a note of what your needs are likely to be for the coming year. 

I did this rigorously when our 3 kids were small and it meant they got to have a lot more than they otherwise would have, on our limited budget.
They were all the same size so we had no hand me downs within the family although we did have a bit of a system with friends of passing on clothes to each others' children.
I kept a book of what things I had been given that were too big for them, such as next year's size school uniforms, and then knew what we needed to buy at a glance and could snap up that bargain with confidence.

Our clothing needs are actually very predictable.  
Our kids would need a minimun of 12 pairs of new socks and underwear each a year, 5 school shirts, 2 school jumpers 2 pairs of school trousers, a school bag and so on.   Add to that another 5 play tee shirts, 2 pairs of play trousers, 2 smart pairs etc.  Once I sat down to think I realised it was really very easy.  The system also meant that everyone always had a smart outfit in their wardrobe that fitted if we got an unexpected invitation.
Once you have the list and you know what you are going to need, just wait and stock up when you see a bargain or until the end of the January or Midusmmer sales.  There is  no need to bother queueing for the expensive bargains on day one of the sales. 
By the time the sales are on, you may have found most of it in the charity shops anyway  but there is always something that has to be bought new, socks and undies being a good example.

Fashion may change but there are a surprising number of things that are fashion proof even if you are a fashionable person.  Socks, underwear and nightwear are good examples. Other relatively fashion proof things are school uniforms and tee shirts.  And actually those are all of the things that we will definitely have to replace regularly anyway.
Tee shirts and school stuff do change a bit fashion-wise - for example over the last few years Tee shirts went from longer length to waist length and are now back at longer length again.  Skirt lengths have done the same in reverse and trouser legs have gone wider and then narrower.

However it didn't change every year and if you buy a certain number of plainer shirts, skirts or trousers for everyday wear you can always buy a few more fashionable items with all that money you have saved!  The plainer ones are more fashion proof - it is this year's must have item that is totally out next year, your plain black tee shirt will still be okay.

As you get better at planning and buying in advance when things are cheap,  there are fewer urgent needs, because you have stocked up at a knock down price.
What's more, because you know what you are likely to need for the future, when you do see a bargain you can buy with confidence.   

This principle applies to all things, not just to clothes.  for instance, cans of tomatoes, ink cartridges, copier paper, spare oil filters for the car,,,

And then you begin to find you are getting better off.  This is one of the things that can give you real leverage.
You don't notice the difference at first, and I can remember wondering if it really did work when we started out15 yearsago.  
Then one day I found myself thinking 'how come we always seem to have so much money?!!'  Our income had not changed and we were not big earners but we had savings - money in the bank. In other words we had an emergency fund and that meant the next time there was an unexpected bill we did not have to borrow money. 
This is called 'The Snowball Effect' by Amy Dacyzyn who wrote The Tightwad Gazzette.   this book has been in print for probably 20 years.  It is phenomenol and quite literally saved our bacon.  If you buy two books about simplicity and getting ahead with money, get this one, and Your Money or Your Life 
by Joe Domnguez and Vikki Robbins.
Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century
The Complete Tightwad Gazette 

The snowball effect works like this: 
  • you predicted your needs and bought cheap.
  • you therefore spend less money and accumulate savings.
  • you don't need to borrow next time there is an unexpected bill.
  • you therefore save on loan interest payments and accumulate more savings
  • you are able to buy something that enables you to save even more money, such as a wood burning stove to burn free wood or a second hand sewing machine to make your own curtains.
  • You make a new friend when you get the free wood from their dead tree.  They get their garden cleared free and don't need to pay for a skip.  You give them some vegetables from your garden to say thanks for the wood.  
  • Next time they go fishing they leave you a fish on the door step. It turns out they don't eat fish anyway so from now on you have a regular supply of fish-for-vegetables thus saving you and them money on the grocery bill. 
In the present climate when we are all worried about money to varying extents, a plan like this can give you that emergency fund, or can help keep your head above water if things are bad.  It also gives you a morale boost because when you have no money you have things put by and can 'shop at home' and choose things out of your stock to treat yourself or the kids with.  

The 'mummy shop'
I used to keep a 'mummy shop' of bargains or things I had made.  If the kids did something that was thrifty or helped with a special job (they all helped a bit in the house in an age appropriate way as a matter of course), I would reward them with something from the mummy shop.    They totally loved it and I had fun finding things to put in it.
If you are a tax payer, money saved is worth more than money earned, because you don't pay tax on it.

So anyway, when my friend e mailed about that Marks & Spencer underwear sale, I was already poised with a list of our needs for the year.  By the time I actually got to Marks & Spencer the undies had gone down in price even more  – everything was £1! 
I e mailed her back and let her know.  By the time SHE got back there, everything was 50p.  Top quality, lovely stuff that had started out way over our budget.  So when it was 50p we bought a second lot for when the first lot wore out.  A bit of planning has saved a lot of money.  And I actually got a five year supply of undies for about £50.

So you can bet I won't be spending those M&S vouchers before Christmas.
Our kids got really good at spending any vouchers they got too.  They used to ask us if they could keep their Christmas money or vouchers until January.  Then they went shopping in the sales and got a lot more for their money.  Not a bad idea for anyone who gets a voucher this Christmas...


  1. Interesting stuff Janet. I am trying to follow your advice. I would be interested to know your views on how to deal with the problem of purchasing Christmas presents on a limited budget. In spite of good intentions like using up the yarn and fabric stash to make gifts, I always weaken and get out the credit card. Then I feel ill.

  2. Hi Margaret.
    you might want to look at my November and December posts for last year for tips about this. we do things like agree with friends that we will all buy something second hand and see who can get the most imaginative gift.
    I will do a post on Christmas and try to stick to my own advice! Janet