Everyone has different strategies for saving money on holiday shopping, and for some members of my family, starting early is a favorite. On Nov. 5, I got an email I’ve come to expect over the years. The subject line said, “Christmas lists— yes, already.”
I often tease my brother and sister-in-law about how early they like to plan things — I’m actually a little surprised they haven’t yet asked us to solidify plans for Christmas Day — but financially, it’s quite logical. When you have more time to prepare for something (for example, holiday travel or shopping), it’s more likely you can find a good deal or set aside money to absorb the cost.
The average American will spend about $805 on holiday shopping this year, the National Retail Federation estimates, and if you wait until after Thanksgiving to start buying gifts, you’re cramming a lot of spending into a short time. I initially rolled my eyes when I got that Christmas list email, but I’m actually happy to have more time to shop around for my siblings’ gifts.
Starting shopping early lets me spread out the cost of Christmas gifts and keep my credit card balances low. Even though I pay off my credit card balances every billing cycle, doing more shopping than usual runs up my balances closer to my credit card limits, which is bad for my credit score. I try to avoid that, and I keep an eye on it by checking my credit score regularly. You can get a free credit report summary, which includes two credit scores, every 30 days on Credit.com and see how your credit card spending affects your scores.
While I personally think starting shopping early helps me manage my budget better, search for deals and minimize the stress surrounding the holidays, I understand it’s not how everyone likes to approach this time of year. My husband’s family, for example, likes to write Christmas lists together after they’ve finished Thanksgiving dinner, so sending out lists early would replace a fun tradition. Some people really don’t like thinking about the holidays until after Thanksgiving has happened. I know a handful of people who love waiting out in the cold in the wee hours of Black Friday and do the bulk of their holiday shopping in one crazy day of spending. And some people will always procrastinate, no matter what. (Black Friday has traditionally been the biggest shopping day of the season, and the Saturday before Christmas is regularly the biggest shopping day in December, according to MasterCard).
At the very least, sending out wish lists early helps remind people to plan ahead for holiday spending. Making and sticking to a budget is important if you want to avoid overspending in the last few weeks of the year or starting 2016 in credit card debt. If you want to give your family and yourself time to spread out the cost of holiday gifts and scope out sales, consider putting together a list before it’s crunch time.
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