Do you find yourself dreading the holidays a bit more each year? Does the prospect of crowds, long lines, and packed parking lots make your eyes glaze over? Does it take until December 24th of the following year to recover from your holiday splurge? If so, maybe it's time to tame the holidays by getting started early. Here are nine money-saving ways to prepare for the holidays now.
1. Build Your Budget
Using last year's spending as your guide, establish limits for gift-giving this year. Flexibility is essential; don't get too caught up in the per-person dollar amount. A few dollars more or less can help you take advantage of great deals and find the perfect gift (just make sure to not exceed your total spending maximum). (See also: Avoid These 5 Common Holiday Budget Pitfalls)
2. Stash More Cash
Add a few extra bucks to your holiday fund by skipping lunches out once or twice a week, or replacing your morning coffee run with a home brew. The extra cash will come in handy — and just may help you have a credit-card free Christmas.
If you haven't set up a holiday fund yet, it's not too late. Sign up for a Christmas club account at your local credit union or simply make automatic deposits to an existing savings account.
3. Choose Your Credit
Plan on charging some or all your gifts? Make sure your credit limit can handle it. Pay down excessive balances now so that you can absorb new charges without putting your monthly budget at risk or incurring late-payment penalties. Also, get the most out of your seasonal swiping by using only the best credit cards that offer shopping benefits and cash back.
4. Make Your Lists
Making your gift lists now reduces deadline pressure later, and helps avoid impulse purchases that wreck so many holiday budgets. When making your list, focus less on what people need right now and more on what they'll need or want when the holidays roll around — then, let the bargain-hunting begin.
5. Make Your Gifts
If your DIY gifts are of the non-food variety, now is the perfect time to get crafting. Explore our very own fresh and frugal homemade gift ideas, or get inspired by the countless projects featured on Pinterest. Once your creative juices are flowing, comb your local thrift store or craft center for bargain-priced supplies.
6. Hunt for Great Deals Online
There are great deals online year-round. Start scouting for bargains now or trying to find that obscure, out-of-print, out-of-stock, or antique item. By the time the holidays arrive, you'll have the perfect gift (for the perfect price) — wrapped and ready.
7. Shop Strategically
By shopping early, you not only beat the holiday rush, but you can also take advantage of seasonal discounts and avoid the heavy hit to your finances that often makes credit card use a tempting option.
Instead of planning all-day trips to the mall, make casual holiday shopping part of your weekly routine. Stick to the items on your gift list, pick up fun stocking stuffers, and look for a few inexpensive, non-specific gifts you can have ready for unexpected guests.
8. Don't Forget the Extras
Wrapping paper, gift bags, tissue paper, bows, tape, and holiday greeting cards are just a few of the extras that can eat into your holiday bottom-line. Stock up on the basics like tape and tissue paper now while demand is low. And instead of using expensive seasonal paper this year, explore some creative and more affordable gift-wrapping ideas.
9. Give Back
Holiday parties can be fun, but why not blend your celebration with a charitable activity? Start planning now. You can coordinate a group outing to serve food at a local homeless shelter, organize a Toys for Tots toy drive where you work, or plan a book drive for Books Through Bars or the Prison Book Program.