The Early Bird’s Guide to Holiday Shopping: 7 Stress-Reducing Tips
Life + Leisure

The Early Bird’s Guide to Holiday Shopping: 7 Stress-Reducing Tips

REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn

There’s one easy way to avoid the stress that comes with battling the holiday shopping crowds: finish before the crowds even get started. 

As retailers continue to move up the start dates of their promotions, you can benefit now from many of the same discounts offered during the holidays.

More than a quarter of shoppers now plan to do most of their shopping before the beginning of November, and nearly half say they’ll be mostly done before Thanksgiving, according to MarketTrack.

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There are lots of reasons to get started (and potentially even finished) with your holiday shopping earlier. You’ll face fewer crowds, have a better selection to choose from, and will be able to get help from sales clerks if you need them. Shopping early can be beneficial to shoppers worried about cost, since they can spread out the expense of buying presents. Plus, you’re less likely to blow you budget on panic purchases because you’re running short on time as the holidays loom.

This year the typical shopper plans to spend more than $1,100, according to PwC. That’s a 10 percent increase over last year and the highest level since the Great Recession.

Another big reward for shopping early is getting to sit back and relax when the holidays finally arrive, rather than stressing that you haven’t yet finished buying the items on your list.

Still, you do risk missing out on the best sales of the season. “If you’re absolutely set on shopping before Black Friday, you just have to do more research,” says Ben Dealnews. “You have to do more Googling to know what items should be selling for, set up more price alerts, and be more discriminating in your purchases.”

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No matter when you start shopping, you’ll need a budget and a game plan. Take advantage of the extra time to research the items that you’re buying and make sure you’re getting the best possible deal. Read on for seven tips that all early bird holiday shoppers need to know.

1. Check Black Friday deals ahead of time.

Compare the prices you’re seeing early to what you’d find on Black Friday by checking the circulars, which are already popping up at BFAds.net. “There are times when you can buy an item on sale, combined with a coupon and beat the Black Friday prices,” says Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org.

If the prices are going to be lower on Black Friday, you can at least make an informed decision about whether it’s worth paying more to get the purchase done ahead of time.

2. Know when to shop.

For the past few years, the biggest stores have advertised Black Friday-like sales starting as early as the beginning of November. The best pre-Black Friday deals, however, are generally found the week before Thanksgiving. Be sure to comparison shop and use apps like RedLaser and Coupon Sherpa to make sure that you’re getting the best possible deal and have access to any potential coupons before you make the purchase.

If you can’t wait that long, you may find some decent deals on Veteran’s Day (November 11) and the following weekend. This is particularly a good time to stock up on home goods and linens.

Related: Too Many Stores, Not Enough Shoppers: Malls Facing Huge Losses

Sign up for the email lists of your favorite retailers. Retailers no longer post the best coupons and codes on social media, reserving those for consumers who are willing to give up their email address for access to such info. Once you’re finished shopping, you can unsubscribe from the list.

3. Check the return policy.

Since you’re shopping early, there will likely be a longer period of time between the day that you actually purchase the gift and the day that you finally give it. “You don’t want to buy Christmas gifts in early November from a store that only has a 3-day return policy,” says Kyle James, founder of Rather-Be-Shopping.com. “The receiver of the gift won’t be able to return them, or might have to opt for store credit instead of cash. Just be aware of the store’s return policy and plan your purchases accordingly.”

4. Take advantage of price protection.

Shopping early does involve some risk, since the item may go on sale later in the holiday season. Protect yourself by shopping with a credit card that offers price protection and will refund some or all of the difference in the event of a price drop within a certain period. Different cards have different rules for the amount they’ll reimburse and for how many days a purchase is eligible, so check if you qualify.

Some retailers will also give you a price adjustment if you show them a receipt proving that you paid more for an item that has since gone on sale. Those adjustments, however, are typically only available for a week or two after the purchase, while the credit card benefit may extend for 30 to 90 days.

5. Don’t pay for shipping.

As retailers become more competitive online, it’s becoming increasingly common for them to offer free shipping, especially for anything that doesn’t have to be sent via rush delivery. Target and Best Buy are already running their free shipping promotions for the holidays.

Related: Are Cash-Back Shopping Sites Legit?

If you there is a shipping charge, do a quick search online for coupon codes that waive that fee before checkout. Otherwise, see whether there’s an option for free in-store pickup.

6. Stay organized.

One of the potential pitfalls of finishing all your shopping early is that you’ll overspend because you’ve forgotten which items you already bought or where you stored them by the time the holidays actually roll around. Set aside a portion of one room or closet where you can put all gifts and label them if you’re  not wrapping them right away so that you can easily find presents and know to whom you intended to give them.

7. Don’t forget the extras.

Thanks to retail Christmas creep, it’s easy to find all your holiday extras — things like wrapping paper, decorations and Secret Santa gifts — now in stores rather than waiting for the holidays to hit. Those items can sneak up on you and bust your budget, so factor them into your spending plan.

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