An early look at 2018 holiday spending

We're less than 100 days until Christmas. That may be hard to believe as it's still summer-like in much of the country and many stores have just begun to put out their Halloween merchandise.

Despite that, 1 in 7 (14%) shoppers have already finished or nearly finished their holiday shopping, according to a new survey of just-over 1,000 U.S. credit card holders commissioned by CompareCards. That suggests that those shoppers are either really prepared or a lot of people on their shopping lists are getting coffee shop gift cards.

You should probably wait until around Thanksgiving to do most holiday shopping.

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When do people shop?

Nearly 4 in 10 (39%) American credit card holders hold off on their holiday shopping until after Thanksgiving with most of those (35%) starting between Turkey Day and Dec. 15.

Shoppers 53 or younger are more likely to already be done with 18% finished or nearly finished shopping now while that's true of only 4% of those 54 and older. Men are more likely to finish shopping early, according to the survey, but they're also more likely than women to not even start until after Dec. 15. In addition, 17% of higher earners -- those making at least $100,000 annually -- have already completed their gift buying while only 5% of those who make less can say the same.

The fact that men finish their shopping before women surprised CompareCards Chief Industry Analyst Matt Schulz. He noted that the survey dispels the notion that men start "their holiday shopping at the last possible minute and scramble to find whatever they can to put under the tree," but he suspects there's more to it than that.

"Some men are able to wrap up their holiday shopping early simply because they do less of it than their significant others," he said in a statement emailed to The Motley Fool. "I'd suspect that many women carry more of the family burden when it comes to doing the holiday shopping, and it's much easier to buy two or three gifts early than it is to buy 12."

How much are people spending?

While the economy has generally been strong, that does not mean most shoppers are going to spend a lot more than they did last year. Still, 37% of those surveyed said that would increase their holiday shopping budget while 21% intend to spend less.

More than half of Americans (54%) said they will pay their holiday debts off in a month or less and only 8% said it will take them six months or more. In addition, survey respondents were pretty equally divided as to where they intend to shop with 27.1% intending to shop mostly in stores and 26.5% planning to shop mostly online. Nearly half (46.4%) said they will split their dollars between the two.

Be careful, have a budget

No matter when you intend to do your holiday shopping it's imperative that you have a budget for the season that you can actually afford. It's a bad idea to go into debt to purchase presents, travel, celebrate, or whatever else you intend to do during the season.

Once you have a budget, recognize that just getting things done is not the most cost-effective strategy. Black Friday is not always the cheapest day to buy every item nor is Cyber Monday, but the best sales and deals do tend to start around Thanksgiving time. Research the items you intend to buy and when they may be sold at the cheapest prices.

The holiday season requires discipline -- both to not overspend and to make sure you pay roughly the best price possible. It may be too early to start buying most items (though it's probably smart to book travel), but you can certainly begin budgeting and planning.

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