Holiday shoppers know how frenzied late November and the month of December can be, and they also know that keeping costs low when holiday shopping is a process that takes place well before the final checkout stage of a retail excursion.
With a long month of shopping ahead, make sure to do the following three things now and ensure your savings account remains in tact this season.
1. Start Crafting Now
The best cheap holiday gift ideas are the ones that are handcrafted. Not only do DIY holiday projects make for highly personalized and unique gifts, they also drastically cut down on commercial shopping costs per person.
Begin with a gender-neutral DIY project for family and friends, such as a business card holder. Saving money on DIY holiday shopping is simple as long as you don't get carried away with too many projects. Either choose a unisex fabric like faux leather, or limit fabric to a single printed version for women, and plain wool or corduroy for men.
With a busy work schedule and potential travel plans to coordinate, however, it's important not to make the DIY gifting mistake of waiting until the last minute, like the weekend before Christmas Day.
To take advantage of as much precious time as possible, and ensure that presents are executed with careful assembly, start crafting gifts before the holidays even start.
2. Begin Claiming Credit Card Points
The Survey of Consumer Payment Choice, an analysis conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston in 2012, found that 60 percent of consumers have rewards credit cards. Rewards points are given to cardholders for each eligible purchase, and can be redeemed for goods like electronics, plane tickets, and gift cards — but it's the latter that can turn an expensive present into a cheap holiday gift.
Gift cards earned through credit card rewards go a long way when it comes to holiday shopping, as you're essentially using free money. However, not all companies distribute gift cards the same way.
For instance, some card companies might send gift cards via email, so consumers have access to them almost instantly. However others, like my own PenFed Platinum Rewards Card, send gift cards via snail mail, which can take up to 10 business days to ship.
If you're one of the many Black Friday shoppers awaiting great holiday deals, or you simply want to give the actual gift card to a loved one, it's important to allow enough time to have credit card companies ship physical gift cards to you before the holidays.
3. Coordinate Gift Shipments Now
One of the easiest ways to save money on Christmas shopping is to save on baggage costs when traveling and shipping costs when making online purchases. According to the National Retail Federation, 56 percent of consumers plan to shop online this holiday season.
With so many purchases made on retailers' online stores, you can take savings a step further by shipping directly to the location of your family's holiday gathering. Simply send an email or make a phone call ahead of time to relatives explaining that holiday packages are already on their way, and to kindly set them aside for you to wrap upon arrival.
Not only does this approach let you use popular free shipping incentives more effectively, it also saves money on airline baggage costs (which could cost up to $100), resulting in a less cumbersome holiday travel experience.
In the midst of the holiday shopping season, the smartest shoppers know that early birds make out with the most savings at the end of the year. Knowing how to save money on the holidays also leaves you more relaxed — and ideally, debt-free — compared to those whose procrastination results in higher credit card debt and empty bank accounts.