You don’t need any more stress. Why not get a head start on your Christmas shopping? Finish your holiday shopping early to save money and to avoid the panic, hassle and headaches of last-minute purchases.
Decorations at the Cambridgeside Galleria. Photo by Paul Keleher.
With the harvest season here, our thoughts jump to the holidays and gift shopping. For most of us, saving money is a top priority as out utility costs rise and our credit limits are lowered. Instead of waiting until Black Friday to battle the crowds and max out our credit cards, why not finish our shopping now? Granted, we live busy lives and it’s hard to make time for things that aren’t immediately staring us in the face, but here are a few money and time saving tips that may hopefully help us in the process of getting our shopping done more proactively and more importantly, with a smaller budget:
How To Finish Your Holiday Shopping Early
Make your own list and check it twice.
It all starts with a holiday list: you’ve made your plans, so keep your resolve and only buy the essential items you have written down on a list. Don’t be lured by colorful displays and sale ads. Stick to the items that you’ve listed and you’re bound to save significantly. Impulse buys add up to more than you think! Do you really need another string of lights or an oversized talking teddy bear? Think twice before you buy and you’ll feel better after the holiday season ends.
Use credit wisely.
I’d rather not use credit to pay for my holiday expenditures. Unfortunately, using credit may be inevitable if we don’t plan ahead. If you find yourself in a position of having to use credit, try these suggestions:
- Have only one credit card designated for holiday shopping and put all others away.
- Set up accounts at an online retailer such as Fingerhut with low monthly payments, then pay off the bill in full when you get your tax return to avoid the high interest charges (we do this every year and we’ve been highly successful with this strategy).
- Use a credit card that must be paid off in 30 days, such as American Express, so you don’t go overboard.
Maxing out your credit cards only leaves you stressed and unhappy by the New Year. The momentary joy of a purchase is simply not worth the long-term pain of paying off debt.
Set up your own “Christmas Club” account.
Do you remember your parents having a “Christmas Club” account at the local bank? In days gone by, folks put a little from every paycheck into a special “Christmas Club” account so they’d have the cash when the holidays rolled in. Although these Christmas Club accounts are less prevalent, you can still set up something similar. Open a high yield savings account like one from EverBank, and resolve to put in $5, $10, $20 or more weekly. Two months before the holidays, get a debit card for this account then use the debit card as your holiday cash. Because you’re dealing with a debit card, there’s no interest to pay; in fact, your “Christmas Club” savings account may have accrued interest throughout the year as you accumulate money in it while awaiting the holidays.
Decorations at the Cambridgeside Galleria. Photo by Paul Keleher.
Shop throughout the year.
I like to shop throughout the year. Whenever I see an 80 percent off rack, I check it out. At the beginning of the summer, I buy sweaters and long-sleeved shirts for $2 to $7 at mainstream retailers such as Kohl’s, JC Penney, Kmart, Target Justice for Girls and The Children’s Place. I get a size larger for the kids and choose classic designs for everyone. A basic crew neck sweater or long sleeve tee is always in style and appreciated. By the holidays, you’ll have stockpile of great gifts without spending a mint or facing all the crowds.
Keep your eyes out for freebies throughout the year.
There are freebie sites out there that help recycle and offer useful merchandise and items. I order online freebies through websites such as Volition and MomsView, which constantly update their lists. I join incentive groups such as BzzAgent to get incentives. Last year, I purchased the Fly Fusion pen for my son for $19.99 as a BzzAgent and saved 60 bucks: this educational item is still something my son enjoys using.
What’s great about these sites is that they also encourage donations of free deodorant, lotion and shampoo for the troops or the needy during the holidays. Through them, I’ve even received items such as socks, CDs, DVDs, golf balls and gift certificates that make excellent stocking stuffers, small gifts, or even tokens for my children’s teachers.
Get your holiday photos out early.
I always get my children’s holiday photos done right after Halloween. Many mainstream photographers such as Olan Mills, Target and Sears, have coupons that expire at the beginning of November — so use them while they’re still good! I’ve used a coupon at Olan Mills that included several photo sheets and holiday cards for $16. With an early start on photos, I got what we needed at great prices with the help of a friendly staff. On top of that, we didn’t have to deal with long lines.
Last year, some procrastination led me to order photos by the end of November, causing our pictures to come in right before the holidays to the tune of $90! This year, my early photos will be in before Thanksgiving at better rates, and as a bonus, will afford me more time to write up my cards.
Collect, clip and use coupons.
When you begin planning for the holidays early enough, you’ll have time to check out your newspapers (particularly the Sunday edition) for coupons: keep your eyes out for sales, discounts and other deals in the coupon and ad sections. I usually begin my shopping in September when the holiday sweaters first come out at anywhere from 30 to 50 percent off. By shopping ahead of the rush, not only do you save a lot, but you also get first choice before everyone else rummages through the racks. I’m usually ready with holiday outfits for everyone on my list by the end of October.
Search for online coupons.
I never go shopping without doing a simple Google search for the latest coupons. If I visit local retailers, I look for printable coupons. When I shop online, I search for coupon codes. On my last shopping trip, I was able to score a free fragrance with my purchase at Bath and Body Works, which will be perfect to give away as a holiday gift!
Photo by Prakhar.
There are numerous online sales during the months between September and November. All those email messages you usually delete may contain the best discounts, so you should at least take a cursory look at them.
From free shipping to free items to 60 percent off purchases, online retailers all compete for your business during the pre-holiday season. So why not take advantage of these months to get the best deals delivered right to your door? A few of my favorites are Eddie Bauer, Chadwick’s, eToys, Talbots and Macy’s. You can get very classy gifts from these major retailers online for much less than by shopping at these stores in person.
Shop at your local retailers.
With all the shopping options we’ve got these days, let’s not overlook our local retailers. When we support them, we improve commerce in our neighborhoods. Keep in mind though that sometimes, local retailers charge more in order to stay in business, but others are also willing to negotiate. If you visit a shop often, local retailers may extend a personal discount to you, as a loyal customer. So peruse local racks and publications to see what you can find.
Where I live, there’s a local cotton shop that discounts the most beautiful organic cotton sweaters and skirts down to prices between $5 and $10; comparable items in department stores run upwards of $50 or more. So whenever I receive a postcard announcing a sale from this store, I usually pay them a visit and stock up on merchandise I can have on hand for the holidays.
Wrap yourself up for the holidays!
Hmmm….not necessarily literally (unless you want to do that for your significant other! 😉 ). Remember that the greatest gift of all is yourself. It’s not how much money you spend but how much you care. I keep in mind that most people really just want to be remembered.
If you’re not crafty, make a simple card with a thoughtful note inside. Offer to spend a day with a friend or family member you don’t see often. Share time with a lonely person in your world, or volunteer at a local community organization for a few hours if you can’t afford to make a donation. We all feel better when we give a piece of ourselves over the holiday season.
When you’re able to plan and shop before Black Friday, you’ll avoid the holiday hullabaloo and have more time to spend with the people you care about. You’ll also have greater control over what you spend and avoid the panic of last-minute shopping. Hopefully, you’ll be able to use some of these ideas to help you sidestep those impulse buys. Here’s to pleasant holiday shopping experiences ahead!