11 May

Fleas, fungi and department stores

All kinds of commercial organisations want your money at Christmas and this can be a parasitic relationship (if they trick you out of your dough) or a symbiotic one (if you work together and both benefit). So it’s important to know about their techniques and timing so that you can avoid being ripped off and can get good value for the money you spend.

The first thing to consider is the shopping cycle:[1]

  • Early in the season, Christmas goods are full price.
  • Midway through the season, Christmas goods that haven’t been selling well may be reduced in price.[2]
  • Late in the season, Christmas goods will be discounted, often to half price.
  • After the season, Christmas goods may be sold at clearance prices and there may be two or even three rounds of these. (50% off may increase to 75% off and even 90% off.)[3]

Bear in mind that the “season” varies with the category: craft items can be discounted early in December (because it’s already too late to make appliqué Santa hats for the whole family), decorations may be discounted in mid‑December (because most people will have loaded themselves to their maximum carrying capacity for tinsel by then) but presents and gift wrap are usually full price right up till Christmas Eve (because lots of people do lots of last-minute present shopping).[4]

Time your shopping accordingly:

  • If you want to buy something that may sell out (like fashionable toys and gadgets), shop early to ensure you get it.
  • If you want to get seasonal goods[5] at the lowest possible price, buy them in the new year (but the range will be limited and most of the plums will be gone, so choose carefully) and then save them till the following Christmas.
  • If you want to walk in the middle of the road, shop mid-season when you may get some bargains but are unlikely to miss out on anything you need.
11 may 2016.jpg
Reduced price (and reduced grammar).

Christmas Day 1970: As we walked to church, Mum and Auntie Margie bantered about who would look after baby Russell. Neither of them were keen church-goers and they were hoping that he would start crying and they’d then have an excuse to leave the service and walk around in the church garden. Auntie Margie won, of course, but Mum put up a good fight.

[1] Which is more like a sine wave than a circle (and not at all like a bicycle).

[2] This can work well for you if you have unconventional taste.

[3] Only once have I seen a 100% discount: one of those mega-service stations on the Hume Highway was giving away Christmas wrapping paper on Boxing Day. (My guess is that they were selling it at full price right up to Christmas Day (“Oh no! We forgot Benjy’s present and we’ll be there in an hour! Do you think he’d like a box of Paddle Pops? And do we have room in the esky?”) and just wanted it out of the way when Christmas was over, to free up space for their usual sunglasses and CDs of trucking songs.)

[4] My colleague Murray deliberately leaves his Christmas shopping to Christmas Eve. He says the crowds are gone, the shop assistants are beginning to relax, and having a limited time and a limited range of stock concentrates the mind wonderfully: would Cousin Magda like some zebra socks? Well, you’ve only got half an hour before the shops close and you’ve still got four presents to buy and the cornflower blue teapot Magda expressed an interest in sold out weeks ago, so she’ll get the zebra socks regardless… and so will the other three people left on your list.

[5] And seasonal bads, too – like appliqué Santa hats.

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