Halloween is just over and things are already creepy. In fact, Christmas Creep actually began in July, when major retailers began testing out their holiday processes to ensure no unsightly crashes when things got busy. These sales also helped them observe the effectiveness of special deals, like free shipping. We asked Andrea Woroch, consumer and money-saving expert for Kinoli Inc, for her advice on how to how to beat Christmas creep.
Sam's Club began offering Christmas gift cards in August and Pier 1 kicked off the season in July with an email featuring a giant snowman enticing shoppers to "Preview holiday fun before it even gets to our stores."
On the plus side, early birds love getting a jump on gift shopping. They appreciated Target's "Cyber Monday" week in late September and look forward to beating procrastinating consumers to the best deals.
Before grabbing that early sale item, however, it's important to ask whether it's really such a good deal. It's possible you could save more by waiting and still enjoy a good selection.
Here's a brief Q&A to help you shop wisely this holiday season.
1. Is Black Friday Always Best?
The really good lost-leader deals are often limited to a small number of customers. These offers are simply there to lure shoppers into the stores, where you'll hopefully overspend in a Black Friday frenzy. If you're going to shop the day after Christmas, consider ShopSmart's 5 Tips to Bag the Best Black Friday Bargains, and abstain from purchasing an extra sweater just because the price looks good.
2. How Late Can I Shop Online?
Procrastinating consumers have figured out that Free Shipping Day is the best way to get great prices without having to pay for delivery. Scheduled in it's fourth year for Friday, Dec. 16, this one-day event allows consumers to shop from more than an anticipated 2,000 e-retailers and receive free shipping with delivery by Christmas.
3. What's the Thriftiest Form of Payment?
If you're going to hit the brick-and-mortar stores, it's easier to stick to a budget if you only pay with cash. Even debit cards make it easy to overspend, a fact that likely won't hit you until the monthly statement arrives. Having to part with actual greenbacks makes it much more real.
4. What Do I Do About Hard-to-buy-for People?
Begin shopping early to find the right present so you don't just grab any old thing at the last minute. Summer art festivals are one great place to shop for those who have everything. Christmas ornaments also make a good gift, and the selection and prices are much better early in the season.
5. How Can I Best Use Credit Cards?
If you're going to go the credit card route, use the one with the most favorable terms. Keep an eye on how much you've charged so you don't get socked with a fee and higher interest rate for exceeding your credit limit.
Also keep track of how much you've charged. It's so simple to just swipe and go, without thinking about the final bill. If you know the balance, it's a lot easier to plan how you're going to pay off the final total come January.
6. Do I Really Have to Make a List?
Yeah, yeah, you've heard it before, but nothing will keep costs lower than planning exactly who should be on your list and what you're going to buy them. Keep an eye and ear cocked throughout the year for gift ideas and add them to the list. Of course, it's better if you can knock some gifts out early by shopping throughout the year, but that advice is rarely well received.
7. What About Layaway?
Walmart revived their layaway program after five years, and that's a really good thing. You'll pay a small initiation fee to start-up an account, but you'll also be able to pay-as-you-go, avoiding nasty interest rates on credit card charges.
Nor are layaway programs limited to brick-and-mortar stores. Kmart has initiated an online program that allows you to lock in early low prices on thousands of items, including everything from clothes to televisions.