With the kids returning to school and summer vacations wrapping up, another big event may now be creeping onto your financial radar: the holidays. While it might seem early to some to start shopping, getting ahead on the gift-giving game can help save you some money—and some stress—in the long run. The sooner you start planning, the less likely you are to spend too much in last-minute desperation. (And, if nothing else, it’s a great way to beat the crowds and do your shopping in relative peace.)
Below are five tips to help you start planning ahead for financially sound festivities.
Establish a Shopping Limit
This sounds obvious, but it’s a first step that can easily be overlooked. Defining the dollar amount you are willing or able to spend on holiday gifts is key to creating a realistic budget. An established spending cap lets you monitor your spending throughout the season—and tells you precisely when it’s time to stop. Plus, setting a limit conquers that last-minute urge to return to the mall for one last gift. Knowing your cap will keep you within your financial limits and may even encourage you to find more creative gift-giving ideas.
Consider a Zero-Interest or Low-Interest Credit Card
One option to help you monitor your spending is to open a zero-interest or very low-interest credit card exclusively for your holiday shopping. This allows you to organize all holiday purchases onto one account so you can keep a close eye on your running total as the season progresses. Once you reach your predetermined shopping limit, take the card out of your wallet. But remember, if you’re going to go the holiday credit card route, you need to have the funds set aside and ready to pay your balance off at the end of the season. The card is meant to be a money-tracking tool—not a pathway to starting the New Year with new debt.
Shop With a Strategy
Make yourself a running list of intended gift recipients and potential gift ideas. Do your online comparison shopping and coupon searching for each of these items before you head to the local mall. Because you’ve given yourself an ample cushion of time, you don’t have to pin all of your plans onto Black Friday or Cyber Monday, either: You can also take advantage of Columbus Day sales and any retailer-specific deals that may come up through the months of October and early November. Another tip: Consider stashing away one or two nice but not-too-expensive “generic” presents to have on hand for unexpected visitors bearing gifts.