Believe it or not, ‘tis nearly the season to be jolly. While holiday shopping traditionally kicked off in late-November with Black Friday deals, it’s now starting earlier than ever before.

And we largely have COVID-19 to thank for that. In an attempt to thin crowds and avoid potentially dangerous last-minute mass gatherings in stores, many retailers aim to start stocking holiday merchandise and running seasonal sales long before the traditional festive window.

A National Retail Federation survey showed that, in 2020, as many as 42% of shoppers started making holiday purchases sooner than they normally do. And 2021 is primed to be no different. This year, we’ll likely see a push from retailers to get buying as early as October.

The good news… and the catch

What does this all mean for you? Well, it’s mainly positive news. For one, a longer holiday shopping window means you have more options available to you for an extended period of time.

Here are just some of the other benefits:

  • More time to carefully consider purchases
  • More opportunities to take advantage of deals and save
  • No need to bear the stress of last-minute shopping
  • Lower risk of shipping delays or online orders not arriving in time
  • Lower risk of items selling out before you can buy them

There is another side to the coin, though. A lengthier shopping timeline also means more opportunities to overspend. And as we all know, we’re already at risk of shelling out more than we can afford over the festive season (in 2020, for example, consumers said they expected to spend an average of $997.79 on gifts, decorations, and other holiday purchases).

So how do you make the most of an earlier start to retail promotions while still safeguarding your finances? Here are some tips to help you spend strategically this jolly season.

How to avoid overspending this (longer) holiday shopping season

1. Build a dedicated holiday spending plan

The best way to guarantee you don’t spend more than you have is to create a holiday budget. Factor in your income, monthly expenses, and savings contributions to calculate how much you have available to you for seasonal purchases after bills are paid. Remember that this amount will need to be split between gifts and other holiday expenses, like decorations, food, and travel.

It can help to get quite granular with your plan. Once you have a list of everyone you’ll be buying presents for, write down the maximum you intend to spend on each individual (it’ll likely differ based on the relationship), and jot down specific gift ideas that are within budget. Then commit to sticking to your per-person limits, and don’t buy any presents that aren’t on your original list.

2. Avoid buying on credit

Over 40% of American shoppers said credit cards would be their main form of payment for holiday buys in 2020. That’s a whole lot of people who entered the new year with new high-interest debt. Try not to be one of them this year. Spend smart by only spending what you have immediately available to you in your bank account. You could even withdraw your entire holiday budget and pledge to only use cash – that way you can keep a much closer eye on how much you’re actually handing over.

3. Decide on big-ticket buys in advance and watch closely for deals

With holiday sales starting earlier, you have much more time to hunt for deals and save up for big purchases. You don’t need to respond reactively to ads or buy on impulse. Rather, you can proactively plan your shopping list long in advance and then purchase items when it makes most sense – when they’re on special and you’ve set aside enough cash. Don’t wait until Black Friday or Cyber Monday for incredible deals either. Watch out for them every day – subscribe to brands’ newsletters and follow their social media accounts so that you’re kept in the loop.

4. Compare prices before you buy

As there’s now no rush to buy holiday goods, make it a rule to never purchase an item without first doing a price comparison. Use the extra time on your hands to do research and contrast costs across stores. It’s likely you’ll find the same item at a better price elsewhere and save lots in the process. When buying electronics, you might also want to compare the latest releases with last year’s versions – older models might have similar features, but set you back a whole lot less.

5. Make use of digital tools

On the topic of price comparison, there are several apps out there that’ll help you do this effortlessly – ShopSavvy, which includes a barcode scanner, is one good example. Similarly, there are many digital tools you can use to hunt for deals and coupon codes that you can apply on online checkout. You might also want to download a holiday budgeting app like Santa’s Bag – you can use it to plan your gift list, set spending limits per person, and monitor whether you’re under or over budget.

6. Use cash-back cards and rewards points

While you’re swiping, you might as well get rewarded for it. If you must buy with a credit card, try to make sure you use one that unlocks perks and discounts, but bear in mind that there are also several debit cards that offer cash-back rewards, so you can get money back for every dollar spent without going into debt. If you’ve already collected a bunch of rewards points, now might be a good time to use them to save when spending is at its highest.

7. Factor in delivery fees

When you’re shopping online, remember to always add shipping costs to the price of your purchases to get an accurate idea of what you’re spending. The item itself might be within budget, but delivery fees could easily push it over – and it all adds up over time. Rather than losing out to transport costs, watch out for free-shipping promotions or choose to buy online and pick up in-store. The click-and-collect model has been embraced by many more retailers since the onset of COVID-19, and it’s just one other way you can save during this year’s extended holiday shopping window.

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