Is early holiday shopping a good idea

It's just a matter of minutes before retailers start decking the halls for Christmas. While some of us are still reeling from the summer heat, others are already racing off to prepare for holiday festivities. In fact, 22 percent of consumers start their holiday shopping in October. Credit counselors are often asked whether those shopping early are good planners or just looking for an excuse to spend. The answer: it depends.

Shopping early can be convenient. You’re less likely to run into crowds and you can spread your holiday budget out over several months. However, if you don’t have a spending plan, early shopping can lead to debt. After all, the more time you have to shop, the more time you have to spend. The key is to have a plan.

Know what you can afford.  With 12 weeks until Christmas, there is plenty of time to plan.  Set money aside each week so that you have money available to pay those larger bills. Or, ‘pay as you go’ to avoid relying on credit.

Know what it all costs. When preparing your holiday spending plan, realize that the holidays involve many more expenses than just gifts. In fact, studies show that consumers budget more than $500 for non-gift expenses such as travel, entertaining and decorations. Don’t forget the incidentals such as gift wrap, shipping, greeting cards, postage, charitable donations and babysitting.

Know who’s on your gift list. The good news is that, the number of people who planned to make additional purchases for themselves declined last year.  The bad news is that there is still plenty to tempt you into making impulse purchases.  Proper planning could help you stick to your gift list. Also try using your holiday spirit on other activities, ones that don’t cost a lot such as gift wrapping for a local charity, decorating, baking, or caroling.

Finally, when you finish shopping—stop! Sometimes it’s hard to resist the “one extra little gift,” however, even small items can add up to be budget-breakers. Remember, there’s more to the holiday season than shopping.

You might also enjoy reading:

How to avoid a huge end-of-the year holiday bill

Tips for a frugal, yet festive holiday

Should you be shopping this holiday season?

Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.