So here are my tips for coming out on top and gaining the sense of smugness that only comes from grabbing a bag full of bargains (and not killing yourself in the process)...
How tempting is it, when doing the Christmas shopping, to buy yourself one or two little treats? Well don't do it, because almost everything will be reduced come opening time on December 26th. Instead, make a note of anything you have got your eye on, so you'll know exactly where to head when the rush begins.
Click and collect - and browse for more
Better still, on the morning of your epic retail adventure, check and see if any of the shops you're planning to go to have a click and collect service – then once you get there, you can browse for extras, safe in the knowledge what you really wanted is being reserved for you to take home when you're done.
Do you really, really like it - not just the price?
Do go to the sales with a VERY level head. Yes, your eyes will be on stalks at all those '75% OFF!!' tickets – but everything you pick up, consider whether you really like it. Would you have considered saving up for it if it hadn't been reduced?
£40 spent on some jeans that used to be £120 is still not a bargain if they're destined to live their life at the bottom of your drawer, rather than on your bottom.
Never, ever go with small children
Do not, I repeat, DO NOT go sales shopping with children. Well, definitely not small children anyway. They will ruin it for you by: telling you they need a drink/snack/wee at 10 minute intervals (anything to gain your attention again); hiding among racks of clothes, giving you a heart attack when you can't see them; and, if you're not watching closely, accidentally stealing something and setting off the alarms.
Highlights for husbands
I don't mean to make sweeping statements here, but certainly among my circle of male friends, sales shopping is right up there with unblocking toilets in the popularity stakes. If the man in your life is similar, and if you really do need his input, then go to the shops very early, do your reccy, and have him come meet you for the edited highlights two hours later. This is a potential marriage saver.
Click from home
If the thought of the sales makes you quake with fear, do the sensible thing and shop from home. Free delivery is also often a double plus. Yes, there is a higher risk of ending up with stuff that doesn't fit, but a potential quick trip to the post office to send returns might well be a risk worth taking if you can't stand the crowds.
What's more, shopping online sometimes means even more savings – websites like KidStart offer members money back for their children on online shopping from loads of major stores like John Lewis and House of Fraser.
Dress for some serious shopping
If you're braving it and going in for the long haul, kit yourself out – in fact, get your military head on. Wear sensible shoes and a lightweight but warm coat you won't mind putting on and taking off, over and over again, as you go between minus freezing outside temperatures and near tropical department stores. Take snacks and a bottle of water (you don't want a cafe stop to slow you down or diminish your funds).
Take something to put the loot in. No, a rucksack might not make you very popular among the hoards, but your hands and arms will thank you for it.
Think long term as you rifle through all that gear, because you could save yourself a fortune in the future. The great thing about the January sales is they offer clothes for all seasons, so do pick up summer bargains, too. And while it might seem ridiculous, even with the massive discount, to buy an age 2 jacket for your three month old, it'll still be a cute jacket in two years' time, and you'll have paid a fraction of the price.
Prepare to play hide and seek
Be wary of the stashers. Think you can't find that divine top in your size? Check the back of the rail, or even the floor, because it's not unknown for wily women to hide what they MIGHT want to come back for later. HA! Busted.
Stash those receipts
Finally, carefully stash the receipt after each purchase, don't just absent-mindedly chuck it in your handbag because you might well need it later. Some shops don't open fitting rooms during the first few days of the sales, while others might have queues going from lingerie right round to home furnishings, so you'll be tempted to risk it at try clothes on at home.
You can check up on your rights when sales shopping here.
Happy shopping all! See you on the other side...
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