Take advantage of cash back, free delivery and deal sites, writes Tina LeonardYou could do your shopping online in your pyjamas, saving on parking or bus fare
Yes, we all have less to spend this Christmas, but be a bit savvy and you can at least get more bang for your buck.
Get a 'daily deal'
On one day in mid-December last year, almost 2,500 people logged on to 'daily deal' site GrabOne and spent €55 on a voucher for a Yankee Candle Christmas hamper that normally costs €160.
Over 1,000 others waited until January and spent €117 on a voucher for a tablet PC that normally costs over €258 from Pigsback. These were two of the biggest single sales over the last 12 months across all the daily deal sites.
In the first few weeks of November this year, an average 5,752 vouchers were sold each day, which is up from the annual average so far and an indication that there are plenty of savvy Christmas shoppers out there.
So if you haven't already joined the crowds buying vouchers or services at an average 60pc discount, you can go direct to one of the many deal sites or sign up to mydealpage.com to find them all in one place.
Get cash back for free
This hasn't taken off in the same way as the daily deals. But if you shop online anyway, why not go to your chosen trader via fatcheese.ie and for your trouble you'll get money back. The cash you receive, which is paid to your bank or PayPal account, may take up to six weeks to get there, so you mightn't have it by Christmas, buy you will get a nice surprise in the new year.
Use the site to get 6pc back on purchases from Asos, for example, or 5pc from Monsoon. How about getting even more off your daily deal voucher with a 10pc cash-back offer from Living Social and 5pc from Groupon?
And when it comes to the Christmas food, if you're thinking of making your life easier and shopping online from Tesco or Superquinn, do it from fatcheese and get €10 back on your first Tesco order and €5 back on your first Superquinn order. On each subsequent order you'll get 50c back.
Get free delivery
You could do your shopping online in your pyjamas on the sofa, saving on parking or bus fare and not even have to pay for delivery costs. That's because you should look around for retailers offering free delivery or other incentives.
Many do at this time of year, among them Easons.com, which has free delivery on orders over €10, and Debenhams.ie, which is offering free delivery on any purchase until their Christmas shopping deadlines of December 17 and 18.
And if you sometimes source your purchases from the UK but get frustrated by not being able to avail of free UK delivery (or indeed any delivery to Ireland), fret no more.
For €3.50 a go (with the first two 'stays' for free) you can use the parcelmotel.com service. You use their address for delivery, then when the product arrives to their central location, they text you saying it's ready for pick-up at your local bank of Parcel Motel lockers.
You can go anytime and open the locker with the pin code you were provided to get your parcel.
The great part is that while you can use their Republic of Ireland address if you want, you can choose instead to use their address in Antrim, and so avail of UK delivery deals.
With an expected 10,000 subscriptions to the service by Christmas, this unique service is really taking off.
Shop at the airport
If you're heading through Cork or Dublin airports in the run-up to Christmas, use their shop-and-collect service to buy fragrances, potions and lotions at between 20pc and 30pc cheaper than on the main street.
But even if you don't have the time to be browsing before boarding or if a friend is travelling but not you, you're in luck.
You can buy online at theloop.ie, get the savings, then pick up at the airport either before you depart or collect on your return home.
In fact, theloop.ie is so sure they have the cheapest prices, they will refund you double the difference if you have purchased something and then find it cheaper elsewhere. All you have to do is keep your eyes open and tell them within 21 days of purchase.
Don't buy at full price
You could practically set yourself the challenge of only buying your Christmas presents at a discount this year. That's because many stores, including the big ones such as Debenhams and Brown Thomas, have had or are planning big pre-Christmas sales.
Keep an ear open for store announcements or sign up to get shop newsletters so that you're in the know.
And it's not just the big guns; Irish eco site purchase.ie has a 5pc discount code you can enter at the till, for example, and remember to ask in your town about any shop local initiatives and Christmas discount plans.
Two things you must know when shopping this Christmas:
1. Ask what the returns policy is
You're entitled to change your mind (within at least seven days) and get a refund for online purchases, but when it comes to those on-street purchases, it is entirely up to the retailer whether you can return a jumper that doesn't fit or an unwanted present or not.
So for anything you are buying this Christmas, check if the shop will accept unwanted returns and within what time frame.
2. Know the expiry date on vouchers
If it's not written on the gift voucher, then make sure you ask. If you are buying a voucher that is, in fact, a pre-paid card (used by some shopping centres), check for charges made to the card if unused after 12 or 16 months, for example.
And if you get one, don't stick it in a drawer; instead, stick it on the fridge so you'll remember to use it before it expires or before the place closes down. Ouch!