Prepare now to save big on holiday shopping

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How to Prepare Your Holiday Shopping Budget

As the official start of fall nears (yes, already), it may be tempting to kick back with your favorite pumpkin spice latte and get in some semblance of a break before the craziness of the holiday season begins. However, savvy shoppers know September is a good time to get up and get moving. According to the National Retail Federation's 2014 Consumer Spending Survey, 40 percent of people start their shopping before Halloween, with most reporting they do so to spread out their holiday spending.

Those people have the right idea. If you start your holiday shopping now, you'll save time and money, plus avoid the last-minute rush of the holiday crowds. While everyone else is running around, likely blowing through their budget, you can kick back with a peppermint latte, rest, and reflect on how much you saved (holiday music optional). Here are some tips on how to do just that:

Budget

The first thing you should do is set a budget. Create a list of items you'll want to purchase, including gifts for family, friends, colleagues and teachers; apparel for parties and holiday photos; holiday décor; wrapping supplies and shipping fees; holiday cards and invitations and any necessary holiday travel. The more comprehensive your list, the better, because you don't want to have to come up with extra funds to cover items you've forgotten.

Once you've done that, determine how much you want to spend on each person, and then re-evaluate to see where you can cut costs. Perhaps you speak with your siblings and make arrangements to purchase gifts only for the nieces and nephews; maybe you share an experience like a dinner out with friends in lieu of sharing gifts.

Most importantly, stick to your budget. Since you're starting early, you have plenty of time to put good thought into your purchases so you can buy something meaningful to give. And remember that being thoughtful doesn't have to mean spending a ton of money.

Do Your Research

Now that you've determined your budget, you need to lay the groundwork to reap the biggest savings. Sign up for store email and text message alerts so you can receive exclusive deals and get a jump on upcoming sales. Ask a sales associate about upcoming promotions, including free online shipping or free ship-to-store options. Visit your favorite online coupon site to find extra savings and look into discounts for military members, senior citizens, students and teachers. Research price-match and return policies. Finally, consider signing up for rewards programs for member-only discounts, rewards dollars and free shipping.

Shop Sales at Your Leisure

Now that you've done your research, you can start shopping. Since you're starting early, stores are more likely to have the exact item you're looking for because inventory will be higher. Plus, get the perks of shopping the Columbus Day and Veteran's Day sales without the stress of missing out on what you want because it's in someone else's cart (a common occurrence during the popular and much-hyped Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales). And even if that does happen, you have plenty of time to wait for stock to be replenished or to place a backorder. Yes, you can shop online and avoid holiday crowds any time of year, but you won't get the same security if you wait until the last minute.

Leave Room for Mistakes

Speaking of security, shopping early is like an insurance policy. If your purchase gets lost in the mail, you will have time to rectify the situation before the holidays. If something is broken, wrong or not what you expected, you can go through the return process and rectify the situation.

Read the Fine Print

Shopping ahead does come with its challenges. Perhaps some big-ticket items are worth purchasing during Black Friday or Cyber Monday sales (most electronics fall into this category). This period is where you return to doing good research. Look at historical data and figure out how to score the best deal – you have time on your side, after all.

Perhaps the biggest challenge when purchasing your holiday gifts early is keeping them a secret. Wrap them, hide them and keep your mouth shut. Just don't forget to bring them out when the time comes! Happy hunting – may you score the best deals, save a good chunk of change and relax during the holiday season!

Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report

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Prepare now to save big on holiday shopping

SKIP THE GYM

Gym or yoga studio memberships can become insanely costly. Giving up the expense, though, doesn’t mean you have to give up your workout routine. Check out FitnessBlender.com for workouts that you can do at home via YouTube.

(Photo: Getty)

GO ALL NATURAL

Many people spend a ton of money on personal care. Although getting manicures, pedicures, massages and haircuts can be a relaxing way to feel pampered, these things are sucking up money that could be spent on travel. Besides, when you are backpacking through South America or sleeping in European hostels, you won’t have access to all of your usual comforts. Why not stop now?

(Photo: Getty)

COOK AT HOME

How about embracing cooking as a new hobby? You will simultaneously be eating healthier, saving money on take-out and maybe even exercising your creative side. Following food blogs is a great, inexpensive way to find recipes and inspiration. One of my favorites, BrokeAssGourmet.com, factors cost into the equation too.

(Photo: Getty)
FOREGO SUBSCRIPTIONS

Services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO and others end up tacking extra costs onto your monthly bills. Even Kindle, while it may be convenient for when you are traveling, can make buying books and apps all too easy. Consider using your local library to check out books as well as DVDs. Most offer an extensive collection that will help you save over the course of the year.

(Photo: Getty)

PICK UP AN EXTRA SHIFT

If it seems impossible for you to give up some things, or if you’re still in need of extra cash, look for a job where you can make some money without a huge commitment. Babysitting and nanny services connect caretakers with clients and aren’t just for people looking for full-timework. Catering companies are another great option since they always need servers and usually schedule staff on a week-to-week basis.

(Photo: Getty)

BUDGET WITH MINT

No, this Mint won’t print more money for you to spend on a trip to Bali, but it will help you keep track of your spending. The app allows you to create a budget and set specific savings goals, making it easier to hold yourself accountable for saving that extra cash.

(Photo: Getty)

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