Charity at Christmas - snap up bargains & help good causes! #MyCharityChallenge

I love charity shops no matter what time of year but as a regular shopper in this kind of store I have learned that there are peak times when some fabulous bargains can be snapped up helping your purse and some great causes.

The run-up to Christmas is one of these times. It's a bit like Spring- most people have a clear out. We all want new outfits, new tableware, new toys and gadgets and the charity shops reap the benefit as we make room for the new stuff.

Pop into any charity shop at the moment and you will be dazzled by an array of sparkly clothes, beautiful party shoes and glamorous coats and jackets. One person's trash is another person's treasure the saying goes and in the past few weeks I have picked up children's ski-wear (in case that snow arrives) a fake fur jacket still with the shop labels on (the jacket is still on sale full price in said shop!) two sparkly jumpers and a lovely on-trend parka.

This week I was challenged to investigate my local Salvation Army shop in Hemel Hempstead to see if I could pick up some Christmas bargains. Armed with £15 worth of vouchers I hoped to pick up something for the children to wear at their school Christmas parties and something for me to wear at a festive night out with the girls in our local pub.

The shop in Hemel Hempstead is quite new but I have already found it to be stuffed with good quality clothing, shoes, bags, toys and nick-nacks. I confess during a pre-challenge visit I already picked up two lovely fine-knitted jumpers with a bit of a sparkle ideal for pre-Christmas nights out when teamed with smart jeans and heels. £10 the two! My friend has dibs on borrowing one of them which she wished she'd spotted first.

So how did I do with my vouchers? I dropped in on a day when the shop was having a sale! And with prices already low I came out with a huge bag stuffed with lovely clothes.

I did spend a couple of pounds of my own but for under £20 I bought:

A White Stuff jersey cotton dress (for me- Christmas day outfit)
A Dorothy Perkins satin blouse with jewelled cuffs (also for me - pub party sorted!)
A snuggly cream knitted jumper (for me for Yuletide ice skating and carol singing)
A black and cream lined tunic dress. Wait, I'll think of why this relates to Christmas eventually but it was soooo lovely I had to have it.
A sparkly pink top for my 8-year-old's Christmas disco
A smart shirt for Christmas Day for my 15-year-old
A striped T-shirt for my stripe-mad 9-year-old to wear to his Christmas disco.
A FatFace T-shirt for my 6-year-old- not very Christmassy but looks as good as new and a bargain at 50p!

Can you believe that? There were other bargains there too - Fisher Price toys in immaculate condition, a lovely Thomas the Tank Engine camera, Salvation Army Christmas cards, jewellery, lots of lovely clean cuddly toys, books, DVD's, CD's and bits and pieces which would make great stocking fillers, secret Santa gifts or table presents.

I love the idea that by shopping in charity shops you are not only saving money and being environmentally friendly but also helping out people less fortunate than yourself.

We are not wealthy but there are people a lot worse off than us - the money you spend in the Salvation Army shops for instance helps vulnerable people across the UK. Your pounds and pennies support homelessness and addiction support services, help care for older people, help at emergency incidents, support adult victims of human trafficking in England and Wales and a family tracing service.
£9 could bring a homeless person in from the cold, £19 could go towards a Christmas box for a family in need and £28 could help give FIVE older people a Christmas lunch and friendship.

So I challenge YOU this Christmas. Step through the doors of your local charity shop and along with your bargains get a free warm and fuzzy feeling knowing you are embodying the true spirit of Christmas. Extra points if you take a bag of your unwanted clothes or other things to donate before shopping there!

If every household in Britain spent just £5 in a charity shop this Christmas it would mean a staggering £130 million would go to good causes.

Check out what other people are finding in their local charity shops and upload pictures of your bargains to twitter using the hashtag #MyCharityChallenge.

Disclaimer: I was given a £15 voucher to spend in any Salvation Army charity shop. Views and opinions remain honest and my own.