Holiday Shopping in August?Thursday, August 21, 2008

Christmas Day is only four months away. With rising food and fuel costs, budgeting your spending for the holidays – and avoiding debt to pay for gifts – is more important than ever.

“The joy of the season fades when the bills roll in,” said Mechel Glass, director of education for Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS) of Greater Atlanta. “Advance planning can help consumers enjoy the holidays without dreading the debt that can come with it.”

To help people plan appropriately and avoid debt, CCCS asked its clients to share tips on how they are preparing for a debt-free holiday.

Start shopping now. “I’ve been using my tip money from work to pay for gifts, and I’m spreading out buying them so I don’t have a large expense at one time,” says Megan Wilburn of Greenville, S.C. “My goal is to be done buying gifts by Thanksgiving.”

She continues,“another great reason to buy now is that you aren’t rushed. I think often times when we save all the shopping until the end, we spend more because we are in a hurry. We have the mind set that we ‘just need to get something’ so we don’t think it through and spend more. And one more reason to shop now is, if you have a specific gift in mind, you can watch for it to go on sale or watch for coupons to purchase it.”

Many retailers are struggling and many are putting lots of great items on sale to encourage consumers to shop. Use your list and check out the weekly sale papers for deals on things you are planning to buy. In addition to weekly sales papers, use online comparison shopping sites to find the best prices. Sites such as www.pricegrabber.com, www.bizrate.com, and www.mysimon.com compare the prices of multiple retailers on the same item. Be sure to review return policies, as some things you buy in September may not be able to be returned after the holidays.

Make small “changes.” Several clients suggest that when you pay cash for something, save the change. It adds up quickly and provides additional money for holiday shopping.

“Every time you buy a non-essential item, such as a cup of coffee or cigarettes, set aside an equal amount for your holiday purchases,” says Rose Wallace of Canton, Ohio. “If you cant afford the savings portion, don’t buy the item until you can. This will serve two purposes: You will save money and also be made to realize what you are spending money on and how quickly it adds up.”

Make a list and a budget. Make a list of all the people you want to buy gifts for and how much you want to spend on each person. Once you know your total shopping budget, start setting aside money out of each paycheck to cover the expense. If you aren’t likely to put the money in your savings account, see if your employer will provide direct deposit and put it in there before you get your check.

Earn extra money. If you can’t make room in your current budget for holiday spending, there are lots of ways to make a little extra money between now and December. Consider getting a part-time job, or if possible, work overtime at your current job. Set aside any extra money you earn. Hold a yard sale—you will earn money and clean out the house at the same time. Sell used books on Amazon.com or other items on sites like Ebay.

Shop yard sales and thrift shops. You can pick up new and nearly new toys and other items throughout the year and store them for the holidays. You might also find the perfect gift that needs a little repair work and you will have plenty of time to get it just right.

Online shopping. While online shopping represented $29 billion in retail sales last holiday season, there are still great deals to be had. By getting an early start on your holiday shopping, you can take advantage of sales on seasonal items and look for the best prices on items you know you want to buy. You can then order items online or purchase them locally. Before you buy, search for discounts— www.couponcabin.com is a great resource for coupon codes that can save you shipping charges or a percentage off your total purchase.

If you are looking for a collectible item for a favorite aunt or a hard-to-find video game for your nephew, auction sites like Ebay may have just what you are looking for and the competition for sought after items may be less now than in November.