Christmas in October?

Sandra explains why it’s money-smart to start your holiday shopping now.

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Photo: pryzmat/iStockphoto.com

One of my Facebook friends posted a photo from her Costco visit last week, with the caption: “Are you kidding me?”

The pic was a huge display of holiday decorations.

Conventionally, retailers have waited until after Halloween to trot out their Christmas paraphernalia. But, as my friend discovered, November 1st is no longer “go day” for eager holiday shoppers.

Last year, nearly 40 percent of people polled by the U.S. National Retail Federation had started their holiday shopping before the end of October. And far from being shopaholics, these folks went in early with a money-saving action plan. The sooner they started, was the thinking, the better their ability to hunt for bargains.

When our parents planned for Christmas, the shopping landscape was different. Retailers held fewer sales, and often the better deals popped up closer to December 25th so they crammed their shopping into a short few weeks leading up to Santa Day.

Now, however, retailers are in strong competition with each other, and they offer deals frequently, all year long. Which means you can start snagging deals right now.

Better still: The sooner you start crossing to-dos off your holiday shopping list, the milder the financial hit. Say you’ve budgeted $500 for all of your gift-buying. Spreading that out through October, November and December will stress your wallet much less than spending that entire $500 in December. This is the basic concept of cash flow: You don’t want to spend more than your paycheque brings in. And spreading out your spending over three months makes that more doable — and helps you avoid a huge credit card bill come January.

If you just can’t get into the holiday shopping mood this soon, here’s another strategy: Open a separate savings account, and start socking away a few dollars a day towards your holiday bills. Although you won’t earn much interest, the account will keep your money safely accumulating, and you can watch it grow. Not disciplined about saving? Ask your bank to set up an automatic transfer from your main account so that $20, $50, $100 or more is stashed away in that holiday savings account every time you get paid. It’s as easy as making a call to your financial institution.

I’m a big fan of greeting the new year without a lot of new debt — so I do a combination of saving and early shopping.

What’s your plan to make it through the holidays in fine financial form? Share your money-saving ideas here.

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