There are a little more than 17 weeks until Christmas, fewer than 16 weeks until Hanukkah and about 14 weeks until Black Friday.
That means you have less than 120 days to prepare for the 2014 winter holidays. Do I hear a collective groan?
Summer is just winding down, but I’ve already seen holiday countdowns on the Internet. It may seem crazy early, but retailers are even now prepping for holiday shopping season. And if you have your finances’ best interests in mind, maybe you should be, too.
Here are five money-saving strategies to help prevent major debt accumulation (and stress) by the time January 2015 rolls around:
1. Make a shopping list
Before you head out to any Labor Day sales, make a list of every person you plan to purchase a gift for this holiday season. Once you have that list complete, go through it and decide how much money you can reasonably allocate toward each gift.
The more information your shopping list has, the better. If your child has already asked about a specific toy or you’ve known what to get your sibling since you saw it on a shelf back in April, make note of it. If you go into a store with a budget and a plan to purchase very specific items, you’ll be less likely to get caught up in impulse buys or stress out trying to find that perfect gift amidst a hectic shopping mall crowd.
2. Decide ahead of time how you will pay for gifts
If you’ll be swiping a credit card for your purchases, deciding what cards to use ahead of time can help keep your budget in line. If you want to charge as many purchases as possible to rack up rewards points or miles for next year’s summer vacation, limit your spending to that card rather than spreading your charges out among numerous cards. Paying with several cards and even occasionally with cash makes it much harder to keep track of your spending. To avoid over-charging and deviating from your original plan, designate one or two low-interest credit cards and a debit card to be strictly used for holiday shopping.
3. Make a debt repayment plan now
If you charge your holiday purchases and can pay the credit card bill off immediately at the end of the month, fantastic. That’s your best option. However, if you’re comfortable spending a little more than you can afford each month for the perfect gifts knowing that you can repay the debt over two or three months, make a holiday debt repayment plan before you even begin racking up charges.
By comparing your shopping list to the amount you’ll be able to put toward your credit card bills each month, you can estimate how much you’ll be in debt once everything is purchased. Once you have a ballpark number, use a debt repayment calculator to determine how long that debt will be a burden based on the monthly payments you can make.
This prior knowledge also gives you the opportunity to make other daily spending adjustments — such as reducing daily Starbucks purchases to only once or twice a week — to compensate for holiday spending or help you save extra money to put toward higher monthly payments later.
4. Utilize coupons and online shopping deals
Just because you may feel pressure to begin early holiday shopping does not mean you have to go out and buy every gift on your list in the next two weeks from the first place you find it. Take your time to shop around and compare prices, especially online.
Mobile commerce, free shipping and in-store pickup promotions are all expected to play a big role in holiday shopping this year, according to PracticalEcommerce. Before you set foot in a store, check the web to see if you can find your object of desire for a cheaper price. It also won’t hurt to take advantage of pre-holiday retail sale times, such as back-to-school and Labor Day — to start looking for good deals.
Also, be sure to check promotional flyers and compare prices between stores during sales times. Many stores will match competitor’s offers if you show proof of a lower offered price. Some promotional flyers also include exclusive coupons, so don’t breeze over those glossy pages too quickly.