When The Holidays Creep Up On Us

photo courtesy of morguefile

Is there a sweet spot between giving yourself enough time to anticipate upcoming holidays and simply starting the festivities too early?

In our house, we have a tendency to prepare for holidays (um, ok and practically everything else) at the very last minute..we are the ones who will be rushing from dollar store to craft store next Monday afternoon, frantically searching for tails and swords, in a desperate effort to prepare for Halloween.

So, it kind of freaks me out a bit that some retailers actually began their Christmas kickoff in July. According to them, this was simply to ensure that their systems could *handle* the anticipated rush and to test special features like free shipping, etc…

Being part of the last-minute club, I’ve been oblivious to ”Christmas Creep”  a phenomenon where retailers begin their holiday season earlier and earlier.

It turns out, retailers have created advantages for both the early worms and the late-bloomers, you just need to figure out how to take advantage of both. So, before grabbing that early sale item, however, it’s important to ask whether it’s really such a good deal. It’s possible you could save more by waiting and still enjoy a good selection. Andrea Woroch, a consumer and money-saving expert for Kinoli Inc. offers a brief Q&A to help you shop wisely this holiday season.

1. Is Black Friday Always Best?
The really good lost-leader deals are often limited to a small number of customers. These offers are simply there to lure shoppers into the stores, where you’ll hopefully overspend in a Black Friday frenzy. If you’re going to shop the day after Christmas, consider ShopSmart’s 5 Tips to Bag the Best Black Friday Bargains, and abstain from purchasing an extra sweater just because the price looks good.

2. How Late Can I Shop Online?
Procrastinating consumers have figured out that Free Shipping Day is the best way to get great prices without having to pay for delivery. Scheduled in it’s fourth year for Friday, Dec. 16, this one-day event allows consumers to shop from more than an anticipated 2,000 e-retailers and receive free shipping with delivery by Christmas.

3. What’s the Thriftiest Form of Payment?
If you’re going to hit the brick-and-mortar stores, it’s easier to stick to a budget if you only pay with cash. Even debit cards make it easy to overspend, a fact that likely won’t hit you until the monthly statement arrives. Having to part with actual greenbacks makes it much more real.

4. What Do I Do About Hard-To-Buy-For People?
Begin shopping early to find the right present so you don’t just grab any old thing at the last minute. Summer art festivals are one great place to shop for those who have everything. Christmas ornaments also make a good gift, and the selection and prices are much better early in the season.

5. How Can I Best Use Credit Cards?
If you’re going to go the credit card route, use the one with the most favorable terms. Keep an eye on how much you’ve charged so you don’t get socked with a fee and higher interest rate for exceeding your credit limit.

Also keep track of how much you’ve charged. It’s so simple to just swipe and go, without thinking about the final bill. If you know the balance, it’s a lot easier to plan how you’re going to pay off the final total come January.

6. Do I Really Have to Make a List?
Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard it before, but nothing will keep costs lower than planning exactly who should be on your list and what you’re going to buy them. Keep an eye and ear cocked throughout the year for gift ideas and add them to the list. Of course, it’s better if you can knock some gifts out early by shopping throughout the year, but that advice is rarely well received.

7. What About Layaway?
Walmart revived their layaway program after five years, and that’s a really good thing. You’ll pay a small initiation fee to start-up an account, but you’ll also be able to pay-as-you-go, avoiding nasty interest rates on credit card charges.

Nor are layaway programs limited to brick-and-mortar stores. Kmart has initiated an online program that allows you to lock in early low prices on thousands of items, including everything from clothes to televisions.

When Do You Begin Your Holiday Shopping?

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