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Over the years, Christmas shopping has become one big, expensive commercial splurge that starts the day after Thanksgiving and continues right up until Christmas Eve. For many people, this has resulted in a great deal of stress as they put gifts on credit cards and scramble to buy last-minute presents.

Instead of waiting until Black Friday to get your Christmas shopping underway, start now. It may not be Halloween yet, but October is a great time to get a jump on your holiday shopping—and avoid the stresses and expenses of last-minute purchases.

Planning Ahead

Many people are feeling the budget pinch that comes with these tough economic times. Planning ahead for your holiday shopping can actually ease your budget crunch.

Figure out how much you plan to spend this season and divide that number by three. Plan to buy one-third of your holiday gifts each month leading up to Christmas - October, November and December. (Financial planning tip for next year: Start in September and spend one-fourth of your budget each month leading up to Christmas.) Spreading out the expense and working it into your budget in smaller increments, can prove to be a huge budget saver.

Not only that, but when you have more time, you also have more time to comparison shop. You have the luxury of ensuring that you are getting the best prices on merchandise.

Make a List

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Create a list of gifts you plan to buy for friends and family. If you can’t think of anything specific, at least decide on a dollar amount. Having this list can help you look for bargains. When you start your holiday shopping early, you have more time to find good deals. Many retailers have been holding weekly sales for months now. Look through sales fliers, finding clues as to where the deals are for items on your list. Purchasing items on sale, and on your list, can help you avoid wasting your money.

Plus, you’ll have more variety to choose from when you start early. Waiting until the last minute means that your selection, in terms of merchandise and prices, is limited. The California Society of CPAs points that “waiting until the last days often means you can’t be as selective and you’re more likely to pay full price or simply grab something expensive out of desperation.”

Limit Impulse Purchases

Planning ahead also helps you limit your impulse purchases. Impulse buying accounts for a huge percentage of purchases that we make.

A list can help you avoid the impulse to spend by keeping you focused on your plan. Keep track of when you have bought a gift for someone on your list, so that you don’t end up with duplicates. If you find the perfect gift for someone but you already got a present for them, consider saving it as a birthday present.

It may not be crunch time, but now is the perfect time to start your holiday shopping. If you plan ahead and start now, there is a very good chance that you will save time—and your sanity. You can even save your holiday budget.

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