How to Win in the Sales Season

Edment’s stocktaking sale shop window, Melbourne, c. 1940.
Photo by Lyle Fowler (1891-1969) Harold Paynting Collection, State Library of Victoria

It’s sales season again – that time of year when it seems everyone is trying to get their hands in your wallet. Preferably to empty it, leaving you (and their competitors) with nothing.

But you can win the sales season, “all” it takes is a bit of research and planning. Know what you want, and develop a strategy for getting it.

Winning Sales Season

The first thing to do is apply your professional face, and think of yourself as a Purchasing Agent. Someone whose job it is to make good purchasing decisions that:

  • Maximise value and minimise waste.
  • Consider the costs incurred by purchasing (e.g., delivery and interest charges).
  • Evaluate the time and effort required to maintain the purchases.

Define the Win

Think about what it means to you to “win” this sales season. Depending on your needs, that might be:

  • Buy your Christmas gifts, paper and cards for $500,
  • Set up your new season’s capsule wardrobe for $750, or
  • Replace your polyester quilts with duck down for $1,000.

This is your goal, and if you achieve it, you’ve won!

That sounds a bit easy, and buying stuff is incredibly easy. The hard part is restricting yourself to what’s on your list – no more, and no less. That’s why you need a plan.

Start With Your Vision, Mission, Virtues and Goals

Refresh your memory about your ideal future and the wider issues you’re concerned about. For example:

  • Your vision of a long happy life, enjoying healthy outdoor activities with your family.
  • Your mission to prioritise your family’s long-term interests by pursuing environmental sustainability.
  • Your virtues of Health, Contribution and Frugality.
  • Your goal of a vacation to walk the Camino de Santiago.

You’ve already committed to this version of your ideal future, this is just a little reminder that there may be something more important right now than whatever the deal on offer is. 

Research Your Shop

Researching is best done when you have plenty of time to think about the specifications you need.

For example, if you want a new television, it’s useful to know what features you want. Like the type of display, its focal length, the resolution, refresh rate, the number of HDMI ports, connectivity to online services like Netflix and whether you’ll need to upgrade your sound system at the same time.

Visiting a physical store will allow you to compare and short-list different brands and models as well as do some purchase and delivery price comparison before you buy. 

Doubly so for clothes, bedding and other home furnishings – you’ll probably be happier if you confirm the colours and textures are the ones you want.

Refine Your Shopping List

With your research complete, you can now write a very specific shopping list, for example:

  • Black and red Christmas wrap, red foil labels and silver ribbon; $15 from X shop.
  • Pastel pink or coral chiffon ruched sleeveless party dress (to go with gold heels); $210 from Y shop.
  • Z Brand machine washable Queen size quilt, cotton cover, 80% down/20% feather, $475.

A very specific list like this reminds you what it is you want. If it turns out you can’t get it, you have enough information to substitute without further research. For example:

  • Different labels or ribbon to match your black and red Christmas theme.
  • A turquoise dress to match your gold shoes.
  • A different brand of quilt with the same features you want.


There are only 24 hours in a day, and depending on where you’re shopping, possibly even less. It may not be possible to get everything you want, so you need to think about what’s the most important.

That might be particular items, the biggest savings or items that are located the furthest away. You might choose to shop locally in the morning, and online at an earlier timezone in the afternoon (or vice versa).

It might also be helpful to allocate a time-frame, so that if you can’t get something you want in an hour, you move onto the next thing on your list.

Prepare for Traps

On and off-line shops will try to make you buy more than you want, and stop you from leaving.

Make some time to think about the tricks they might use, and how you will deal with them:

Courage and Cheerfulness
Vector conversion by Ericmetro [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
  • Markdowns are not always as good as they seem. Compare prices so you know what’s a good deal, and can decide whether the extra cost is worth the time you could save.
  • Sometimes goods are mislabelled, or other shoppers mix them up. Double check the sizes and discounting before buying, and check the returns policy to make sure you can return sale items.
  • Don’t panic about missing out. Consider joining VIP programmes for early access to sales.
  • If you wouldn’t buy one of something, two or more at a discount is not a good deal. Similarly, if a sign limits you to X number, don’t buy more than is on your list unless you know you can use them.
  • When you get tired (or cranky) – take a break, sit somewhere quiet and ask yourself whether you should continue or quit.
  • Stay focused on your shopping list.

This is only a few suggestions, any internet search will probably generate even more. 

Keep Calm

In the end, it’s not the end of the world if you can’t buy a bunch of stuff at a discount. And if it’s not stuff you’d consider buying full price, why are you thinking about buying it on sale?

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