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10 Holiday Shopping Tips to Help You Start Saving Now

Posted on 10/2/2014 12:16 EST

Are we already thinking about the upcoming holiday shopping season? Halloween is still weeks away and the back-to-school rush has barely abated. And yet, this is the moment to start prepping for the annual spending extravaganza. In fact, the earlier, the better. Rest assured that retailers are revving up the gears and setting their sights on Black Friday, traditionally the single biggest shopping day of the year. In the not-too-distant future, Christmas decor will be hanging from store rafters and Toys R Us will send out its Great Big Toy Book.

Here are 10 tips for getting your budget in order, your money saved up, and your planning in place to ensure a smooth holiday shopping season.

1. Make a Budget.

Sit with your spouse, significant other, or anyone with whom you expect to hit the stores for a "state of the union" about holiday expenses. This may not sound like fun, but it will alleviate a lot of stress if you know in advance how much you will spend on what. Make your holiday budget all-inclusive: gifts and holiday cards for everyone on your list, wrapping paper and stamps, decorations, food and drinks for parties and during shopping excursions, visits to Santa, and whatever requires a cash outlay during the holiday season. Don't budget for more money than you have or know you can save by the deadline. This is critical to limiting holiday-induced anxiety.

2. Save Now.

Like, immediately. There are still two months to go and for anyone paid weekly that means eight paychecks before Black Friday. Fix a budget now and stash some cash for the big day. Given the magnitude of many holiday discounts, $30 per paycheck stretches pretty far. Pro tip: To ensure the savings intended for Black Friday are actually used for that, set up a targeted bank account. Many employers let employees divvy up their take-home into multiple accounts.

3. Save Up Gift Cards.

Any form of cash-like assets can be put towards a Black Friday budget, so get in the habit of saving up gift cards for Black Friday sales. Dig out old gift cards that may still hold a few dollars and take them when you shop; every little bit helps.

4. Pay with Cash.

Once you've decided on a holiday budget, stick to it. Credit cards are the enemy here -- they tempt you to spend now and worry later. Be firm and reject the siren call of credit when hitting the holiday sales. Pay for this year's goodies with cash, check, or debit card so you don't spend more than you have. Steel yourself to walk away from holiday sales once you've hit your holiday budget limit.

5. Purge to Make Room for New.

Everyone has something to get rid of and there's still time to try selling it. In some parts of the country it's warm enough well into fall to host a garage sale. Alternatively, post your sale items to Craigslist or with a local buy/sell/trade group via social media. You'll make room for the flood of new gifts while padding the holiday budget with a spot of extra cash.

6. Make a List and Check It Twice.

Holiday spending, especially on Black Friday, can easily turn into a cash-flow catastrophe. Seemingly everything is on sale everywhere, luring too many of us to spend, spend, and spend. Making a list of recipients and the amount you're willing to spend -- sticking to it -- can help stanch the outflow. Have a plan of action ready even before the Black Friday ads start rolling out.

7. Clip and Save.

No need to go coupon crazy here, but if you spot a coupon for something on your list, use it now. The same goes for store cash. Kohl's, for example, runs Kohl's Cash promotions fairly often. If you have Kohl's Cash on hand, spend it now on something for the holidays.

8. Shop Early.

Big discounts once confined to the Friday after Thanksgiving are increasingly leaking into the entire month. Some retailers now offer a few "Black Friday" deals in advance. In the past, Amazon has released Black Friday deals with lower prices a week early, and Walmart has hosted a "Super Saturday" sale in early November featuring Black Friday-like deals. We expect no less this year and anticipate other retailers will follow suit. If an item on your list is advertised for less than your budget allotted, grab it. You'll save money and get a running start on your shopping.

9. Sign Up for Alerts.

Want to be among the first to glimpse those coveted Black Friday ads? There's little time for browsing once the crowds descend, so sign up for retailers' email lists, "like" them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter for an early look-see. With all that information at your fingertips you'll know what items to target long before Black Friday arrives. Another tip from the pros: Sign up for a Google Alert for the search query "Black Friday". In no time your inbox will fill up with Black Friday ads and related coverage.

10. Track Your Budget.

Even if you shop early be sure to keep your budget up to date. Print it out or store it on your smartphone and always carry it with you. Mark down how much you're spending and where and regularly check your progress against the plan. Accountability goes a long way towards keeping your finances straight during the holiday shopping season.

by Raechel Conover (Google+ Profile)

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