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How to buy better in the Boxing Day sales

Tips on how to make more sustainable choices when you hit the sales this Boxing Day – and how to avoid buyer's remorse.

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Last updated: 20 December 2021
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Checked for accuracy by our qualified fact-checkers and verifiers. Find out more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Need to know

  • Aussies are expected to spend a record $21 billion in stores and online across the country during the Boxing Day sales
  • Doing your research before you buy can help you get quality goods that will go the distance, saving both the environment and your pocket
  • Before you buy, think about whether you really need it – and if the item can be recycled or repurposed in the future

Many of us relish the thrill of a Boxing Day sale. Partly, it's the excitement of finding the deal-of-the-century on the thing you've had your eye on all year, and which Santa neglected to bring you (eye roll). The other part is a sense of retail adrenaline. It's almost a competitive sport, where you stalk your prey, then pounce before the hoards have a chance to whip out their pay wave.

There's no denying the pulse-quickening fun of a good sale. But try to remain calm and steadfast in your pursuit of a good deal

There's no denying the pulse-quickening fun of a good sale. But amid all the rummaging through bargain bins and chaos under fluorescent lights, try to remain calm and steadfast in your pursuit of a good deal. There's nothing worse than coming home with a mountain of unneeded, snap-decision purchases, which inevitably result in a heap of clutter, buyer's remorse and environmental anxiety.

So this year, before you hit the shops, be they virtual or bricks-and-mortar, take a deep breath, meditate on what you really need, and stick to these rules for smarter shopping.

1. If it costs the earth, it's not a bargain

Before you tap to pay for that stylish-looking new washing machine that almost seems to promise to fold your clothes and put them away for you, adjust to your analytical setting and look at its green credentials. How energy efficient is it and how much water does it use? It may be a bargain now, but if it's going to cost you more in power in the long run, as well as take a toll on the environment, then it's not worth the upfront saving. 

Look to the stars

Energy star ratings are a good way to check how efficient a machine is, but bear in mind that they don't tell the whole story. CHOICE whitegoods expert Ashley Iredale tests the energy efficiency of all the washing machines that come into our labs, and says the score we give them often doesn't match the rating on the label. 

Check if the model you're interested in has an eco-setting, and look into whether the claims are valid or just greenwashing

"Under the star rating system, a washing machine must achieve a minimum performance standard," he says. "But this is only when used on a very specific setting, which may be different from the one that you actually use when you get the machine home. 

"We test energy efficiency using the settings we think Australians are most commonly going to use."

Just how valid are those eco-claims?

Similarly, check if the model you're interested in has an eco-setting, and look into whether the claims are valid or just greenwashing – as not all eco-settings are equal

In many of our appliance reviews, we give scores for aspects of product performance such as energy efficiency, water efficiency and running costs to help you make better decisions at the checkout and avoid underwhelming models.

Find out more about washing machine energy star ratings.

2. Buy only what you need

You may be seduced by a new appliance in the latest finish that's temptingly on sale. But if you have a perfectly good version at home, albeit with last season's features, you're not making a wise decision for your wallet or the planet.

Ashley says, "Recycled paper parachutes may be cheap, but they're no bargain, and neither are discounted products or features that you don't need.

"Don't be tempted to impulse-buy in the sales because, no matter how big the discount, unless it's a product you were going to buy anyway, you're not saving money – you're actually spending money you didn't need to. And irrespective of any discounts, don't pay a premium for fancy features you'll never use or aren't worth the extra cash."

Try to picture the landfill

A good way to put purchases into perspective is to consider how many fridges (for example) you buy in a lifetime, then consider everyone doing the same. Then imagine all the other household items you'll replace in your lifetime – and consider everyone doing the same again. 

Before you commit, think about your old machine: can it be recycled or given a new life in a new home?

Once you've processed that vast quantity, imagine what they all look like, piled up in landfill. It's difficult to fathom the amount of waste we all produce, but small steps, such as only buying what you really need, when you need it, can make a difference. So, before you commit, think about your old machine: can it be recycled or given a new life in a new home? If the answer is yes, you'll feel better about your new purchase.

Don't forget to dispose of your old items thoughtfully

Ashley says: "The good news is, old appliances are mostly recyclable – metals and plastics can be salvaged and made into new products, so it's important to dispose of them properly (so, no dumping on the side of the road, obviously!)

"Look for a retailer that will take it away for recycling when they deliver your new one, hopefully for no extra cost. Alternatively, you can sell your old appliances to a scrap metal dealer – you won't get much for them, but you can be confident their materials will be salvaged rather than going into landfill."

3. Do your research

As tempting as a hefty saving may be, especially when helped along by a persuasive salesperson, it falls flat if you spend your money on a dud. A cheap appliance will ultimately cost you more than its price tag when you consider that some models are cheaper to replace than find parts for if something breaks.

CHOICE Best Brand

At CHOICE, we've named Australia's top brands for performance, reliability and customer satisfaction. CHOICE Best Brand helps guide you when choosing a product – with the knowledge that not only has the brand performed well overall in our lab testing throughout the years, but it's also well regarded by CHOICE members for customer satisfaction and reliability.

You can also think about those appliances you've owned that have gone the distance over the years – and make sure you sidestep a lemon by checking our reviews and signing up to receive our free 'Products to Avoid' guide.

4. Make a list – and stick to it

To resist spontaneous consumption when the sales arrive, a good idea is to make a list of what you need and stick to it. 

Look at the sales like an obstacle course that tests your resolve. There will be temptations from every corner, such as big percentage discounts on covetable brands, but stay strong and get in and out with what you came for. When the hype settles, you'll thank yourself for avoiding purchases that lead to regret. For more, check out our top 10 tips for shopping in the sales.

5. Seize the opportunity to make some eco-swaps

The Boxing Day sales present a great opportunity to make some better product decisions when it comes to pursuing a more sustainable life. Although we'd all like to choose reusable and compostable items, rather than single-use or non-degradable versions destined for landfill, sometimes making the change can be costly. 

The Boxing Day sales present a great opportunity to make some better product decisions when it comes to pursuing a more sustainable life

Look for discounts on such products in the sales and use the excuse of a cheaper price to make the switch on everything from period underpants to nappies, drinking straws and kitchen containers. 

A good idea is to bookmark websites that sell the eco-products you're after or sign up to their newsletter, so you remember which items you need most. Check out these easy zero-waste swaps for everyday items to get started.  

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Buying locally made clothing from independent businesses, or thinking twice before you buy that new jacket from a chain store, will help you avoid sales regret (and possibly more landfill too).

6. Shop local and independent stores where possible

As consumers, we have great power to demand more sustainable products and to support those who produce with integrity. Naturally, come the Boxing Day sales, the breathtaking discounts will be found at big chain stores with big buying power. But it's the small businesses, which may not be able to afford enormous price drops, where we should prefer to spend our Christmas money. 

Buying locally made products leaves less of an environmental footprint, and often such wares are made more sustainably. Also, your money goes into uplifting your local community or, if you're on holiday elsewhere, sustaining local areas and their residents.

7. Try before you buy

We're all guilty of neglecting to do this. We've all gasped at the staggering discounts of clothes and other products at the Boxing Day sales, and – not wanting to face the dressing room queues – simply gathered up armfuls of stuff and dumped it on the counter in front of a cashier. 

Every year, Australians buy an average of 27kg of new clothes and throw 23kg away

We tell ourselves that we'll sell it or give it to someone as a gift, should it turn out that this season's flocked lemon flares don't suit us. But then they languish, unworn, in our wardrobes until they get balled up into a bag for an op shop or, worse, landfill. Before you buy, remember – every year, Australians buy an average of 27kg of new clothes and throw 23kg away.

So, this year, think twice, nay, three times. Ask yourself – do you really need it? Is it good quality, so that it may find a new home once you tire of it? And, last but not least, has it been made ethically? 

Fast fashion is a first-class problem in our first world, but ultimately it affects those in the developing world who make it even more – not to mention the planet, which affects us all. So choose carefully and try before you buy to make sure you really value the purchase.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.