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shopping_homespunRISMEDIA, September 24, 2009—(MCT)-Each year, the holiday shopping season seems to get under way earlier. First Thanksgiving, then Halloween. While holiday season shopping may not be on your mind at the moment, planning gift-giving and other holiday spending this early gives you time to: 

Save cash: Start saving now to pay cash for the holidays. Besides gifts, spending categories include gift wrap, decorations, food, greeting cards and travel. Keep total holiday spending to 1.5% of your gross income, less if you’re deep in debt. That’s about $1,000 for the average American household. Divide your spending estimate by the four months left, and set aside that amount each month.

Find gifts: Every holiday season has its hot item, whether it be the Tickle Me Elmo doll or the Nintendo Wii. Shopping now means you won’t have to pay a desperation premium for an item in short supply in December. And retailers generally are maintaining smaller inventories, making it less likely the item you want will be on the shelf when you need it.

Change traditions: If you usually buy for everyone in your extended family, this might be a good year to revise the rules. Perhaps you buy for children only or draw names for gift-giving. Suggesting this change early gives everyone time to adjust shopping plans.

Buy stuff on sale: Smart shoppers know they should zig when others zag. Stretching the holiday season gives you more time to capitalize on sale prices and out-of-season merchandise.

Compare prices: Prices vary widely on the same item, but who has the time to comparison shop in the holiday bustle? You have that time now, so take advantage of it.

Save on shipping: Some of the best prices are online- Internet or catalog shopping saves on gas and perhaps on state sales tax. But if you wait until the last minute, you’ll have to pay for rush shipping. Starting now gives you time for packages to arrive via the cheapest shipping method.

Try new tactics: Learn about shopping online through rebate portals to get cash back and record purchases at PriceProtectr.com, which will e-mail you if the item’s price drops in the retailer’s price-protection period. Then, you can claim a refund. Always do a quick Internet search for coupon codes used at online checkout. You’re likely to get a discount or free shipping.

Avoid layaway fees: Layaway rarely makes sense. You could save the money yourself and buy the item when you have enough. Starting now allows time to do so. Sears/Kmart/Lands’ End shoppers can save money with a Christmas Club savings card. It pays a 3% bonus up to $100, though you’d have to stash $3,333 on the card to get the full C-note.

Get creative: Clichéd but true, some of the most meaningful gifts are those you make yourself. Start work now. 

(c) 2009, The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. 

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