The secret to saving money on holiday shopping: do it early!

I’m a shopper. I love shopping, particularly during the holidays. There’s something about the sights and sounds and smells of the holidays. And, yes, I’m a male. The fact is I’m the shopper and my wife hates shopping. The sights, sounds, and smells of the holiday create for her a sensory overload and usually lead to a headache. So I end up doing most of the holiday shopping alone or with my mom, who is also a big holiday shopper.

The fact is, it’s somewhat of a blessing to have an aversion to holiday shopping like my wife. You save money. The holiday spirit for me is a recipe to spend money. You get caught up in the moment and lose track of reality a little bit…sometimes a lot. It’s just so easy to buy one more thing; easy to lose track of what has been spent on whom; easy to forget about your budget with an attitude of “it’s ok, it’s Christmas after all” or “it’s such a great deal how can I pass it up?”

So what am I suggesting, that you DON’T SHOP during the holidays? That’s blasphemy! Well, that’s exactly what I’m suggesting. Instead of doing your shopping after Thanksgiving, get your holiday shopping done BEFORE the holidays.

Now, I realize this advice may come a little too late. For many, the holidays being after Halloween. Certainly retailers want to extend the holiday shopping season so it starts a soon as possible. The sooner you enter that alternate reality the better from their perspective. However, while the holiday shopping season has kind of already begun, it doesn’t go into full swing until Black Friday. There’s time left! One week left!

Why is shopping before the holidays effective?

If you’re serious about spending within your holiday budget this year GET YOUR SHOPPING DONE NOW! By doing your shopping before Black Friday you’ll be able to keep a rational frame of mind. Here are some ways getting your shopping done early will save you money:

You avoid emotional buying

How many of you make a clear list of what to buy your loved ones within your budget and then go out and buy those things and only those things? This rarely happens because, despite good intentions, you inevitably come across an item that just cries out to you “so-and-so would love this” or “that’s such a great deal I’ll buy it for so-and-so.” This emotional buying will happen much less before the holidays hit full swing. I don’t know what it is, but when my wife and I have done much of our shopping before the holidays it just feels so much more stable. We buy what we intend to buy and nothing more.

You avoid the notion of the ultimate deal

The idea of the ultimate deal is really an illusion. People justify spending over their budget just because they are getting a great deal. Sure, there are some incredible deals during the holidays and if you’ve been waiting to buy a certain gadget or gift and have the budget for it, go ahead and take advantage of these deals. However, be careful to differentiate between those items that you really want and those items that you think you want because it’s such a great deal.

You avoid purchases due to competition or scarcity

Retailers love to create a sense of scarcity. Take the Wii for example. It seems like the Wii was hard to find in stores for 2 years. You can’t tell me that Nintendo couldn’t ramp up production to meet demand. Nintendo instead purposefully released only a certain amount of Wiis at a time so that there was scarcity. This was an effective ploy because people would snatch up Wiis without even thinking.

Retail promotions work the same way creating a sense of urgency. There’s a sense that you NEED to purchase right now. If you don’t, someone else might and you’ll lose your chance.

Getting your shopping done early largely removes this sense of competition and scarcity. You can more easily make rational decisions based on what gifts people truly want in spite of sales and promotions.

But what if I feel like shopping is a part of my holiday tradtion?

For many people shopping probably DOES feel like a holiday tradition. How can the holidays be the same without that last minute shopping on Christmas Eve? One way to solve this problem is to create new traditions. Instead of going on a last-minute splurge, try taking the family ice skating. Go to a holiday movie. See what local musical performances are happening.

If you still feel you can’t stay away from the stores, go ahead and go with a friend or family member but leave your wallet or purse at home. For some people you can get 95% of the excitement and holiday spirit just by being in the festive shopping atmosphere. You can vicariously experience the fun of shopping when your friend makes a purchase. A large part of the fun of holiday shopping is simply social anyway. It’s about being with friends and family, having a bite to eat or a cup of hot chocolate for a break. You can experience these without spending money on more “stuff.”

Why I avoid Black Friday like the plague

I few years back I wrote about my experience participating in the Black Friday hoopla. To make a long story short I spent a miserable morning at around 3:15AM standing in the freezing cold in a line that wrapped all the way around Best Buy only to find that the item I wanted was gone by the time I got in the store.

Black Friday is just not worth it. Most of the really incredible deals are there to obviously get people into the store. What they don’t mention in the ads is that they will often have a very small supply of the super-deal items in stock so they sell out almost instantly. Do yourself a favor and sleep in.

You have one week left before the craziness begins

If you’re able to get your shopping done in the next week, do it! If not, I wish you the best and hope you fare well during the holiday craziness. It’s the rare person who can survive the emotional thrill-ride that is holiday shopping. Hopefully you’re like my wife and it gives you a headache. If not, we’ll see you on the other side.

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