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In 2012, Americans’ daily spending averaged $119 the weekend before Christmas – the highest three-day average for the holiday season and the year — proving that a lot of people wait until the last minute to finish their holiday shopping. But waiting until the 11th hour is far from ideal. You won’t have time to comparison shop online, you’ll miss out on some of the best sales of the year, and you’ll probably end up paying full price.
The best way to save money this holiday season is to start early, and we have tips to help you get organized and done well before the final weekend.
1. Set a budget
Set a gift budget — a limit on the total you’re going to spend — before you start shopping. Otherwise, having all that extra time to browse may cause you to spend more than you wanted. Once you have a budget, make purchases in cash over the next few months so you won’t be tempted to reach for the plastic.
2. Make a list
I am always overzealous in my Christmas shopping. If I could, I would send a gift (or at least a card) to everyone I’ve ever met. To combat my holiday generosity, I narrow down the list of people I’m giving gifts to. Then I decide how much I want to spend on each person within the limits of my budget. For example, I usually get smaller gifts for co-workers and more expensive gifts for my family. Finally, I double-check to make sure it all fits into my budget. This way, I don’t forget anyone and I don’t overspend.
3. Pre-order for a discount
If you want to buy a gift that isn’t out yet – like a book, movie or video game – you might get a discount by pre-ordering. For example, I pre-ordered “Dog Shaming” (the companion book to the popular website) for $9 on Amazon. When it’s released, the book will retail for $15 on the site. So I saved $6 and knocked a gift off my list.
4. Shop clearance bins
If you’re not sure what to buy someone, start browsing clearance bins. You can usually find a clearance section year-round at most national chains. Clothing retailers typically hold clearance sales at the end of seasons.
5. Plan a Secret Santa
With Secret Santa, you put names into a hat and everyone draws one name. That way everyone gets a gift (anonymously) and everyone has to buy only one. It is a great way to save money and make the holiday more special, but it’s also something you have to plan in advance. Luckily, you’re starting early this year.
6. DIY small gifts
Homemade gifts feel more special, and they’re usually cheaper than store-bought options. For example, last year I saw scarves for $24 each that I thought would make great gifts. Instead of buying them, I knitted them myself for $7 each. I wouldn’t have been able to pull it off if I hadn’t started my holiday shopping early.
7. Take advantage of holiday sales
You’re well aware of Black Friday, but, according to Dealnews, it’s not the best holiday shopping day for major discounts. Thanksgiving — the day before Black Friday — is. Dealnews says:
Thanksgiving Day in both 2011 and 2012 saw the highest percentage of Editors’ Choice deals throughout the season, with a combined average of 36 percent. Thanksgiving Day even beat out Black Friday itself, which clocked in at 32.5 percent Editors’ Choice. Perhaps more surprising though is that even the Sunday before Cyber Monday topped Black Friday, albeit by a very small margin: 33 percent of all deals were Editors’ Choice. That Sunday also thoroughly crushed Cyber Monday, the latter of which saw the lowest percentage of Editors’ Choice deals of the four days, coming in at 27.5 percent.
However, Dealnews points out, you need to track the prices of the items on your list because they might not be among the merchandise that sees the best deals during that shopping week.
8. Buy cheaper gift cards
If you’re planning on buying gift cards this year, don’t wait until the last minute and pick them up at the store. You can save money by shopping at gift card resellers online. Check out Cardpool and GiftCardRescue.
Karen Datko contributed to this report.