Does Alistair Darling’s 2.5% cut in your daily VAT bill make you feel like spending more money? Of course it doesn’t. 2.5% is neither here nor there when your energy bills are soaring and your job is at risk. And, even if you weren’t worried about your bills, your mortgage and your employment prospects, 2.5% off the price of a non-essential (you don’t get charged VAT on essentials such as food anyway) is just not enough to make a vaguely rational person buy something they hadn’t intended to buy in the first place.
If the price of a new coat falls from £100 to £97.87, do you buy it when you had already decided your old one could last another winter? You don’t. If you were going to buy it anyway, you might be glad of the extra £2.13 – in that anything extra you can squirrel away at the moment, to cover the tax rises that will hit you in the next few years, is a good thing – but that’s about it for the upside of Darling’s big deal announcement.
You can get online vouchers for almost anything
The truth is that if consumer spending does look up in any way this Christmas, it won’t be anything to do with VAT. It’ll be to do with the fact that retailers have taken matters into their own hands, accepted that their margins are going to collapse whatever they do, and slashed prices across the board. Most stores are running early Christmas sales (note Marks & Spencer’s massive one day 20% off sale last week), and those that aren’t slashing prices obviously are doing so behind the scenes – with vouchers you can find online. GAP is the classic here – you can hardly go online without tripping over one of their 30% off vouchers. The ones I have are valid until November 30th but, I’m sure, more will be issued as soon as this batch expires.
There is also a 20% off Woolworth’s voucher knocking about online. Woolworth’s might not make it beyond the next couple of weeks, so don’t be buying gift vouchers for your godchildren there. They may turn out to be unredeemable. But if you are after toys, Christmas tree lights, electrical extensions or a £7 radio (£5.60 with the voucher!), this is the place for you.
Next up, Threshers, which is now offering 40% off vouchers. They’re valid for all wines and champagnes, so used wisely they will cut the cost of your Christmas shopping by a rather more worthwhile amount than the provisions in the pre Budget report. Otherwise anyone spending a few moments online should be able to find vouchers for everything from H&M to Hamleys, Dixons, House of Fraser, WH Smith and even smart stationary shop Smythsons. Visit www.moneysavingexpert.com, www.myvouchercodes.co.uk, www.vouchercodes.com, www.123vouchercodes.co.uk or www.codes.co.uk to see what’s on offer at any one time.
Another three tips for savvy shopping
Do so, says the Daily Telegraph, and you’ll be in good company. In October, 41m visits were made to voucher sites by 8.8m people and that doesn’t even include the visits to www.moneysavingexpert.com – the site estimates that another 5m people have visited its voucher section in the last two months. And even if you can’t find a voucher that suits, that doesn’t mean you should just pay the price asked by any given shop or website. Instead, tactical shoppers are visiting price comparison sites such as www.shopping.com or www.kelkoo.co.uk.
They’re also thinking last season, rather than this season, when it comes to buying designer watches (who knew they had seasons?) and clothes, says the Observer, which points those looking for “swingeing discounts” towards www.koodos.com. Otherwise there is www.lastseason.com (“quality never dates”), where the dedicated can pick up last season’s gear at bargain prices.
Finally, if you don’t want to humour either the government or the retailers this Christmas, you can do what lady columnists across the nation are advising and make your own Christmas presents. I’m not sure I’d advise this one if you still have a job – best focus on keeping that than rushing home to poach pears in Cointreau – but, for those with time on their hands, it’s a cheap way to go, assuming you don’t end up spending too much on ingredients (luxury food goods are subject to VAT…) or packaging. Good websites with lots of ideas for things such as making your own chocolates and endless, pretty ways to wrap up flapjacks and fudge include www.bbc.co.uk/food/christmas, www.santaspostbag.co.uk and www.lovelychristmas.co.uk.
• This article is taken from Merryn Somerset Webb’s weekly Money Sense email.
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• Merryn’s book, Love is Not Enough: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Money , is now out in paperback.