Christmas Shopping – Get a Head Start and Save

Too early to start thinking about the holidays? Not if you want to save on money and stress! Now is the perfect time to get started on that holiday gifts list. Use these tips to get all your shopping done by Thanksgiving so you can enjoy the holiday season and have some money to spare!

You should be making a list of people that you are going to give gifts to and brainstorming gift ideas for each person. Write down the names and then jot down next to each anything that comes to mind that is a possibility. Add to this over the days and weeks, because as you shop, you’ll see things that might work for someone else on your list. Divide your list into four categories; family, friends, acquaintances and charity. Family and friends is self-explanatory. Under the acquaintances heading you include people like children’s teachers, your mail carrier, a neighbor, the secretary or doorman at work, etc.

Giving a gift to charity is part of the holiday spirit! It makes you feel good, and helps out someone less fortunate at the same time. For your charity list, decide which charities you’d like to contribute to this year. Will your church or child’s school have a holiday program to benefit local families? Maybe you are more comfortable giving to a larger organization whose work you admire, such as the Salvation Army or Toys for Tots.

A wonderful charitable giving idea is to send a holiday gift to a soldier, who is far from home, putting his/her life on the line to protect our freedom. At you are able to actually pick an individual from a list to send gifts to. Items that the soldier wants and needs are included. Or, you can give money to an organization such as Operation Gratitude, which sends care packages to our military overseas. (they also need those of you who knit to make scarves to send to our troops – they need 60,000 scarves by Christmas!)

Once you have your four lists made, with multiple ideas for each person, you need to decide what your total holiday budget is going to be. If you start in October, with the aim of finishing by Thanksgiving, you can set aside a portion of each paycheck between now and then to shop with. The choices of gifts that you narrow your ideas list down to will depend in part on how much you’re going to spend.

Now you’re ready to shop! Fall is a popular time for people to hold yard sales and garage sales. Check your local paper on a Friday night and see if there are going to be any good sales near you that weekend. Yard sales can be a source of inexpensive and unusual gifts for that hard-to-buy-for person on your list. Also, fall is the season for church bazaars, fall festivals and crafts fairs – more good places to find unique gifts! Plan to attend these if you can, with gift buying in mind.

Check online circulars for the retail stores near you each week for bargains, and put yourself on their email list to get alerts for sales. (you can always remove yourself from the lists after the holidays) Retailers know that lots of people do their holiday shopping early, so they offer great sales starting as early as September. Make use of layaway plans that the retailer may offer. In this way, you can take advantage of sales and get your shopping done early, even if you don’t have the funds to pay for all of it up front. When shopping in the stores, be sure to save your receipts! Most will be good for 90 days to return an item, so if the gift turns out to be wrong for whatever reason, you can return or exchange it after the holidays. Put all your holiday gift receipts in one large mailing envelope and put it in a safe, out of the way place where it won’t get lost!

Online shopping is a great way to save on time and money when you’re shopping for the holidays. Browse around the retailers that you like, and jot down ideas that you see. Don’t forget to check Ebay and Amazon for the items you are looking for. These sites often have great deals on just what you want, and Amazon offers special shipping deals or free shipping when you order items together. Before you place your order for an online retailer, check with for any coupon codes that may be used for your purchase. It’s a good idea to google “coupon codes for” and then the name of the retailer too. Sometimes they have exclusive coupon codes and shipping deals that can’t be found on ebates.

Again, save receipts! Put the receipt that is emailed to you in a separate folder in your email account, so you can find it easily if there is a problem.

An important tip for online shopping: use a temporary credit card or credit card number to avoid compromising your credit card or bank information. Check with the issuer of your card. Many have a free service where you can obtain an alternate number for your credit card, which is usually good for 24 hours. You use this number instead of your own credit card number, so that by the time any records may be compromised, the number has expired and they can’t use it.

Alternatively, if you have a PayPal account., they offer a virtual Mastercard that you can use with the funds in your account. (if you don’t have a balance in your paypal account, you can add funds to it from your bank for free). The numbers on this virtual credit card are also time-limited to decrease your risk. Or, simply purchase a Visa gift card or a Green Dot debit card, which you can activate online. Put only the amount you’re planning to spend on your card and simply throw it out when you are done shopping and have used the funds.

Keep an eye out at the grocery store or pharmacy for special deals on gift cards. Sometime you can buy several together for a discounted price. These make good gifts for those on the acquaintance list who you don’t know as well. In addition, if you come across a good “generic” gift on sale that could be given to anyone, pick up a few and hold on to them for those awkward times when someone gives you a gift that you weren’t expecting.

If you are crafty or good in the kitchen, homemade items are always appreciated for the holidays. Check this site for gift ideas that you can create at home, and start early. Even most baked goods and candies such as truffles and fudge will freeze well for a month, and save you the rushing around near the holidays.

Apart from food gifts, you can wrap the gifts that you purchase as you go along. Find a place in your house where you’ll store a box with wrapping paper, tags, scissors and tape (I keep mine under my bed). You may want to hold off on the ribbons and add those a day or two ahead of the holiday, because they tend to get crushed. Keep your wrapped and tagged gifts all in one spot, so you won’t forget where you put them! The back corner of a closet or a dry area of the attic or basement will keep them out of your way, but you’ll know where to find them when the holidays roll around.

Finally, keep in mind that there are a few things you may want to wait until closer to the holidays to buy. DVDs and Video games will often release an extended or deluxe version closer to the holidays, so you don’t want to buy a product that will be outdated by a better version by the time you give it.

Get started early and make use of these tips, and you will save on money and stress. By the time Thanksgiving arrives, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the season with your family, without worrying about dashing around in the crowds looking for gifts.

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