It’s beginning to look at lot like … the holidays?

While some of us are still enjoying our pumpkin spice lattes and football games, others can’t wait to embrace the holiday spirit. And though it may seem a bit early to break out the eggnog, there are several financial benefits to at least starting to plan ahead for the holidays. One major reason: you might even end up spending less. A survey by American Research Group found that early-bird shoppers planned to spend nearly $450 less than those who waited.

Here are 5 ways to get a jump on holiday shopping (and give your budget a break) while the leaves are still falling.

1. Set a budget

The best way to avoid a holiday hangover (at least a financial one) is to set your budget early. It’s way too easy to get carried away at the mall and overbuy if you don’t know how much you have to spend. One recent survey found that consumers added almost $1,000 to their debt over the holidays. But by creating a comprehensive budget, you’ll ensure you don’t forget about all those “last-minute” expenses that seem to crop up, from stamps for holiday cards to gift wrap to stocking stuffers.

2. Make a gift guide

The key to not overbuying at the holidays? It’s all about the list. If you don’t know who you’re buying for or have an idea of what they might want, you’ll likely end up wasting either time or money or both. Last-minute panic buying can result in overspending, out of guilt or desperation. (Also note that one of the most common last-minute items is gift cards, and while universally adored, they can also add up quickly. More on smart gift card buying below!) Your gift guide should include the name of the person, proposed gift ideas, and a ballpark price to help keep your budget in mind.

3. Seek out sales

A common error many shoppers make is finding something on sale and then overcompensating for their savings. Say you decide to spend $50 on your mom, but you find a sweater she’d love on sale for $25. Many shoppers would then buy 2 or buy another item to make up the difference. But don’t! You’ve just gotten her exactly what she wants, so stop there and congratulate yourself on the great deal. The extra $25 can be reallocated to another gift that might end up costing more than you thought or saved for a future expense.

4. Buy gift cards 

Buy them strategically. Check out a site like or, where you can purchase them at a discount. You can give them to others or (even smarter) use them for your own shopping.

5. Don’t forget you 

One of the top holiday budget busters? Buying for yourself. Since nearly half of shoppers buy for themselves, it’s smart to build a few personal items into your budget. Or, put away the goods you bought for yourself and vow to only keep them if you receive a commensurate amount of cash or end up saving enough budgeted money to cover it. If a close family member asks for ideas, tell them you’ve done their shopping for them (and oh, you also got them a great deal!).

Starting your holiday planning as you finish off your Halloween candy can be the secret to a low-stress, financially freeing December. And while you’re at it, see if you can save even more by bundling your home and auto policies.

DIY hacks | For your finances


about Cathie

Cathie Ericson writes about personal finance, real estate, health, lifestyle, and business topics. When she's not writing she loves to read, hike, and run. Find her @CathieEricson.