Bagging Christmas bargains

Picture the scene. It’s late November. You are busy refurbishing your home. Everything is in disarray, even finding two matching killer heeled shoes in the morning is a mammoth task.

As you walk home from work one evening the strains of “Winter Wonderland” suddenly intrude on your reverie. In seconds, you are hit by a wave (of tidal proportions! ) of unrelenting panic.

It’s just weeks until Christmas and you have not even thought of buying Christmas presents. The forlorn images of family and friends flash before you with outstretched hands. Where are their presents?

Then, out of the blue a fairy godmother in the form of TK Maxx, the designer brands-for-less retailer at Prospect Hill, invites you to take part in a shopping challenge. Could you do most of your Christmas shopping in the store in under an hour on a €350 budget they ask?

“Yes,” this reporter hurriedly agrees. And so the race agains the clock began on Friday night as the shop, which has more than 50,000 items in stock and receives 10,000 new pieces, styles and colours weekly, began to wind down after its late night opening.

The 32,000 square feet store operates a unique “off-price” concept which originated in the United States. It sells designer and high street brands of womenswear, menswear, homeware, gifts and accessories at up to 60 per cent less than the recommended retail price. The company says its “no frills” or “fancy extras” approach means “incredible” savings can be passed on to the customer.

With its “big labels, small prices” byword ringing in my ears I headed straight for the “Gifts for her” section. I had five women to buy for and was determined in these recessionary times to get maximum value for my budget. For under €10 there was a party eyelash extension gift set for €6.99, perfect for a young relation keen on pampering her peepers this yuletide. A boxed set of mouthwatering cupcakes at €9.99 looked fit to eat until you looked closer and discovered this was a hand and nail care collection. A scentsational pink boxed candles set at €8.99 was perfect for a pregnant friend, its scent was of baby powder.

Still embracing “Beat the Budget” prices a cute pink bubble bath machine (€9.99 ) does exactly as it says guaranteeing bountiful bathtime bubbles as you soak away your worries. This was a must!

From €10 to €20 I was spoilt for choice and tried to decide between women’s leather gloves from €16.99 (RRP €79.99 ) and a designer purse at €22.99. I chose both - some lucky person on my list would love them. When you are on a trolley dash there is little time for deliberation.

Men can be notoriously difficult to buy for so where should I begin? From designerwear to gadgets and gizmos TK Maxx has all yule need to pass the perfect parcel this festive season. For under €10 there is a wide choice of stocking fillers;- earphones (from €5.99 ), MP3 speakers (from €6.99 ) and slippers to ward off winter chills (from €9.99 ). Gift boxed wallet and belt sets (from €22.99 ) were ideal for the man about town.

A French Connection blue check shirt was a steal for €23.99 (I got that too ) while a rocket style alarm clock (€12.99 ) which promised (or threatened! ) to launch you out of bed was a good choice for a teenager too fond of slumber.

Dads or fathers-in-law would thank you for a lovely cashmere sweater from €49.99 (RRP €249.99. ), a stylish designer cardigan from €34.99 or a winter coat from €39.99. As I reached for the cashmere sweater and cardi I became aware of the silence, save for my clicking heels and frantic trolley pushing, and rapidly realised my hour was almost up. I had not even got to the women’s fashions. I was nowhere near completion of my challenge and I still had some of my allowance left.

With no time to mop a fevered brow or still a racing heart I ran to the children’s department. Action figures from €5.99, guitars, drums and keyboards from €12.99 (RRP €49.99 ), a Bob the Builder painting pack (€12.99 ) and kitchen and work benches from €26.99 beckoned. Should I get these? And as a Fianna Fail politician adept at hedging his bets might well say, “Yes, no, maybe”. I was now under severe time pressure, was without a calculator and was struggling due to my Mickey Mouse like grasp of mathematics (“Arithmetic is being able to count up to 20 without taking off your shoes,” said Walt Disney’s 82-year-old cartoon character. )

I’d forgotten to visit the homeware section so I abandoned my trolley and ran upstairs. Two of the cutest fine bone china mugs with pictures of pigs on the front (at €2.99 and €5.99 each ) appealed to this scribe with the rural leanings. There was time to get an ivory lamp, a pretty ribboned white cake stand which would add elegance to any afternoon tea party and a black furry beanbag at €46.99. A few other items were sneaked in too.

A Calvin Klein Obsession perfume and body lotion gift set at €39.95 and more fragranced candles and a microwavable bedtime Snuggle Buddy followed. As I rushed to the paypoint I spotted some Christmas crackers. These added further festive spirit to my trolley. I got some chocolate, too, as an endorphin raising measure, of course, and held my breath as the checkout operator added up the total. €349.68. I had done all my Christmas shopping in less than an hour and come in under budget by 32 cent. Move over Brian Cowen!

* TK Maxx will hold a Christmas shopping extravaganza from 6pm to 9pm tonight (Thursday ). The store’s team of little helpers with be on hand offering warm festive drinks and cinnamon cookies.

Its Christmas Butlers will gladly push shoppers’ trolleys and an entertainer will keep children entertained with demonstrations of the coolest Christmas toys. Gift advisors will ensure loved ones open the presents they deserve on Christmas morning.

Fancy dining in style? The store’s expert table dresser will show you quick and easy ways to spruce up your Christmas table while a special gift wrapping team will wrap purchases.

TK Maxx offers the following tips:-

Bagging a bargain

* Enter the store with an open mind. Your treasure hunt begins here.

* Be organised. Get a trolley or basket and prepare to load up when you spot something you love. “When it’s gone, it’s gone”.

* Make light work of the rails. Use signage to find the department, category (eg, dresses ) and size you want

* Mix it up. Deliveries arrive daily, sometimes even twice a day and no two stores have the same offers. Everything goes from the delivery lorry straight to the rails.

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