It may be annoying to see Christmas displays in stores before Halloween, but that does not mean that early shopping for Christmas presents is a bad idea. On the contrary — there are several advantages to doing your holiday shopping before the holiday "sales" start popping up. You can save money without having to fight the crowds.
If you'd like to avoid the usual holiday hordes, you have no time to waste, because many Americans have the same idea this year. According to a recent survey by OpenX and The Harris Poll, 50% of U.S. consumers already began their holiday shopping efforts in September or earlier, and almost 40% planned to start in October through Thanksgiving. Start shopping early and lower your overall holiday stress with these four simple steps.
- Gather Ideas – Keep a list of gift ideas going throughout the entire year. Gift inspiration will often pop up over the course of the year, only to be forgotten by the time the holidays approach. Odds are that phone you carry around can be used to enter gift ideas whenever and wherever they occur.
Take the time to get gift idea suggestions early in the year. This has the added value of your recipient forgetting all about the suggestion by the holidays.
- Set a Budget – Go over the gift ideas and compare them with your gift budget. (If you do not have a gift budget, set one as soon as possible.) By doing so, you can set target sale price ranges for all the gifts on your list. If an item never gets down to an affordable sale price, there is time to substitute a different gift idea that you can afford. Americans in the OpenX survey expect to spend a total of $862 on holiday gifts this year, a 5% increase over last year's holiday spend. However, that doesn't mean you need to keep up with the Joneses and spend more, too.
- Research Prices – If you don't know the regular price of your planned gifts, you cannot tell what constitutes a good sale price. Check with multiple retailers for both in-store and online pricing. If they are seasonal items, take seasonal pricing into account and look for off-season bargains. Readjust your target prices and rearrange your budget if you find that your price estimates were too optimistic. Don't get taken in by sales signs that don't offer genuine reductions or end up charging more to your card than you can comfortably pay off. Any late or missed payments could hurt your credit. You can check your credit score and read your credit report for free within minutes by joining MoneyTips.
- Monitor Sales – Once you have done your homework, the hard part is over. Now you simply monitor sales at retailers and look for a sale price that is at least as low as your target price. When you see a bargain, pounce on it. Resist the temptation to look for increasingly better deals throughout the year.
If you have favorite retailers, look for online-only deals with those stores and suppliers. Follow them on social media and sign up for any e-mail notifications or loyalty programs that they offer. You are likely to come across special time-dependent deals that can save you plenty as long as you are aware that they exist.
There is one circumstance where it may make sense to wait until the holidays — big-ticket items such as televisions that tend to go on sale on Black Friday or Cyber Monday. You have to decide whether the reward of an extremely low price is worth the risk of the vendor selling out before you can buy one, or the hassle of dealing with overloaded websites or a horde of amped-up buyers. You don't want to wind up on the news fighting over the last 65" Vizio!
The real message is this: keep a bargain mentality year-round. Get feedback all year about what would make good holiday gifts, and watch for sales throughout the year on those items. A little organization and foresight can save you lots of money on last-minute pricing (and last-minute shipping), and also save you from having to join the panicked masses stumbling around the mall on the last possible shopping day looking for last-minute inspiration.
If you want to do the ultimate bit of holiday shopping, wait for the January post-holiday sales and stock up on sale items that will make useful presents throughout the year or even as stocking stuffers for the next holiday. All you must do is hide them from your spouse and kids for months. That shouldn't be a problem, right?
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