Do you tell yourself that you’re going to start — and finish — your holiday shopping early each year, only to find yourself fighting off panicked crowds at the mall three days before Christmas? Are you paying for rush shipping on last-minute online orders instead of getting your gifts shipped for free?
With a little planning at the start of the season, you actually can have a low-stress shopping experience, and avoid overspending, too. Here’s what you need to do now — yes, when fall has just begun — to make your December more enjoyable.
Click through to find out all the easy ways you can save for holiday shopping.
The Move: Make a List, Check It Twice
Make a physical list of people you need to buy gifts for right now. Don’t keep this information all in your head; you don’t want to forget about someone important at the last minute. The physical list — either on a sheet of paper or in a spreadsheet — will help guide you through the holiday season and help you keep tabs on what you have and haven’t bought.
How does your list compare to the national average? In 2017, the average number of holiday gifts expected to be purchased by U.S. consumers was 14.7 gifts.
The Savings Tip: Don't Overdo It
The holidays are a time of giving and thanks. Showing people your gratitude through gift giving is a nice gesture, but it’s rarely expected. Don’t try to buy everyone at the office a gift plus all 10 of your nieces and nephews. Instead, be realistic when making your list and only give what you can truly afford. Follow this gift-giving guide for acquaintances for help.
The Move: Make a Budget
Making a budget is imperative to the success of your timely holiday shopping. Track your spending to ensure you’re not overspending. If you haven’t made a budget to follow before, use a budget template to get started.
The Savings Tip: Space It Out
The average American spent an estimated $430 on holiday gift buying in 2017, according to a Deloitte holiday survey. Can you afford to spend $430 at once a few days before Christmas? Or would you rather spend that money in increments over the next three months?
Try this easy equation for your budget now: If you plan on spending $430 on 15 presents, think about how much you’ll need to save each week between now and Christmas. Putting aside $36 a week is so much easier. Better yet — keep the money in a special savings account so it’s not accessible for everyday use.
The Move: Remember Shipping Deadlines
Write down holiday shipping deadlines as soon as possible. Planning this step now will help you set up the perfect shopping game plan.
- Tuesday, Dec. 18: UPS 3 Day Select packages picked up on this day will be scheduled for delivery on Christmas Eve.
- Friday, Dec. 21: The last day customers can ship UPS Next Day Air packages for delivery on Christmas Eve.
- Monday, Dec. 17: Last day to ship FedEx Home Delivery packages for Christmas Day delivery.
- Tuesday, Dec. 25: You can ship on Christmas morning using FedEx’s SameDay, SameDay City Priority or SameDay City Standard shipping options.
- The online retail giant has not yet posted its holiday shipping deadlines for 2018. Last year it did offer same-day delivery if you made a purchase of at least $35 before 9:30 a.m. on Christmas Eve.
- In 2017, the Postal Service estimated that if you wanted your packages delivered by Dec. 24 then you needed to send out first-class mail the Friday before Christmas.
The Savings Tip: Be Mindful of Shipping Rates
Steep shipping prices can be avoided if your gifts are shipped at least a week before Christmas.
Don’t get suckered in by the attractive 80-percent-off online sales that fill your timelines on Dec. 23, especially if it means having to pay through the nose for one- or two-day delivery. Instead, build shipping costs into your budget, and don’t procrastinate.
In Case You Need It: Best Delivery Services for Last-Minute Christmas Gifts
The Move: Start Shopping Now
Retailers are starting their holiday sales earlier and earlier in the season — just make sure you don’t fall for deals that aren’t worth it. Take advantage of the extra time and sales and get your Christmas shopping done early.
According to the National Retail Federation, only 12 percent of consumers had finished their holiday shopping by Dec. 12, which left 126 million people shopping on Super Saturday, the last Saturday before Christmas. Don’t put yourself at the mercy of the relentless Super Saturday shoppers as you all vie for scraps.
The Savings Tip: Think Off-Season
Buy out-of-season items to save money and get ahead of the shopping curve. October is a great time to buy summer clothes, bathing suits, outdoor furniture and last year’s iPhone models since the new models were just announced.
The Move: Ask People What They Really Want
Save money and time by skipping the guessing game. Sure, you might be able to recall that one thing your cousin mentioned she wanted back in January, but your guesses might be off, and that’s a waste for everybody. Instead, just be upfront with those closest to you and ask what’s on their wish lists.
Related: Why I Don’t Let Santa Spoil My Kids
The Savings Tip: Do a Quick Price Comparison
With your master list of names and the gifts they really want in hand, start some online research and price checking. Be mindful of falling victim to buyer’s fatigue by checking every coupon book, savings app, online store and promotional email to find the best deals. Do a quick search of the item you are looking for and then click on the shopping tab to compare prices with ease.
The Move: Don't Wait For the Best Deals
Inaction now will lead to stress later. With a limited budget, the temptation is to always look for the very best deal. Remember, however, that the best deals might not pop up until the very last minute, giving you no time to ship items or relax and enjoy the holiday season. Part of being a successful holiday shopper is acknowledging trade-offs. With the right mindset and strategy in place, you’ll be able to afford everything you want this holiday season.
The Savings Tip: Full Price Might Be the Right Price
Stick to your budget — if it gives you permission to pay full price for a gift then, by all means, do it. Proper budgeting can help you achieve the life you want.
The Move: Be Lazy
Avoid any stress that usually comes with Christmas shopping and just buy everyone on your list a gift card. Don’t think of your gift card as a cop out, though. Gift cards can be purchased at variable amounts, allowing you to easily stay within your budget. Plus, you can still be creative with gift card presents. They can be purchased online from almost any retailer, even small boutiques. Shop from home at any time of day and introduce someone to your favorite shop or restaurant.
The Savings Tip: Buy Discounted Cards
Costco sells gift cards at a 20 to 30 percent discount. For example, you can purchase four $15 Krispy Kreme gift cards for $44.99. That’s a 25 percent discount. Other great places to buy discounted gift cards are sites like eBates, Raise and GiftCards.com.
Your Game Plan
To recap: Make a budget and a list of who you need to buy for. Ask people what they really want. Start shopping now and don’t always wait for the best deals. Always remember shipping deadlines and when in doubt, be lazy and buy gift cards.
It’s never too early to start making your holiday game plan, but now is really the time to begin in earnest. Open your notepad app on your phone and get started. Just imagine how nice it will feel spending those frosty holidays snuggled up at home with family instead of driving to crowded malls and overspending on expedited shipping.
More on Holiday Shopping
- 30 Gift-Giving Ideas for Tight Budgets
- Save $20,000 This Year With These 20 Hacks
- Tipping Etiquette You Don’t Know About But Should This Holiday
About the Author
Priscilla joined GOBankingRates as a summer intern in 2018 after graduating with her BA in Journalism from California State University, Long Beach. Priscilla has worked as an Opinion editor at The Hornet, reporter at The Daily 49er, Art Director at DIG Magazine and interned with The Giving Spirit as a project manager. Read more.