It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

By Julie Ann

“Wait, what?” You’re probably thinking. “Christmas! It’s August and I’m still sitting by the pool, trying to keep cool and barely even thinking about back-to-school shopping.”
It’s true that retailers are already plotting sale strategies for Christmas, and if you want to maximize your Christmastime savings, you should be too. Here are a few helpful tips that will help you get a head start on Christmas shopping, reduce stress and save cash when December rolls around.
Make a List – Check it Twice
Santa really has a good strategy in place here with this tactic. Take a few minutes to calculate a holiday budget, note everyone you want to buy for, and then how much you will spend on each person. Be sure to budget for a few unexpected expenses, as well as any charitable giving.
Writing everything down forces you to consider where each penny is going. That piece of paper is like your conscience. Once Black Friday rolls around, be sure to stick to the list and budget, and don’t give in to the pressure of impulsive spending.
Once you have your list in place, check it again. Did you budget $175 for a bracelet for Mom? Then ask yourself: would she actually be happier with a hand-decorated picture frame with that amazing photograph your dad took of you both at the Grand Canyon on Spring Break.? Remember, it is not the cost of the gift but the thought behind it.
Shop Now
With a firm spending plan in place, you can start your holiday shopping immediately. Are you planning on buying a board game for your nephew? Then keep an eye on weekly department and toy store circulars for the games to go on sale, and then buy. If you are going for a little higher-dollar item, see if you can take advantage of a store’s layaway program that will allow you to pay for an item in installments (but only if it’s interest free). Don’t do layaway? Create your own by setting aside cash each week. You can also keep your eyes open for coupons, online auctions, clearance sales and product closeouts.
Many stores are already putting out items such as wrapping paper, decorations and other holiday items that may be on sale earlier in the season. By completing the majority of your shopping by the first of November, you can enjoy the season stress-free, avoiding higher prices, crowds and the chaos of last-minute shopping.
Be Creative
If you are really in a crunch for cash and are going the homemade gift route, it will also pay off if you begin your crafting now. If you are anything like me, craft projects can take months to finish. The earlier you start, the more likely you will finish by Christmas, and you won’t have to pull any all-night crafting sessions. I speak from experience; it’s embarrassing to give a half-finished present on Christmas morning, and ask for it back, so you can complete it. Plus, if you aren’t especially crafty, this will give you time for do-overs and maybe get that extra help.
Plan an Alternative
I think one of the biggest misconceptions about Christmas is that there is a requirement to give gifts and participate in all the traditional hoopla and commercialism. Whether for moral or financial reasons, consider discussing a Christmas-lite or even forgoing presents this year. Plan just to spend some time together, playing board games, chatting or volunteering at a local charity. Two years ago my family planned Christmas early. We all pitched in a fairly minimal amount of money for a beach house rental on the Gulf of Mexico and spent a few days at Christmas walking along the beach. We had a great time. There were no presents, no tree and no decorations but it was definitely one of my favorite Christmas memories.
Celebrate Jesus Daily
Finally, the best reason to think about Christmas in August is to remember that it’s not about Christmas at all – it’s about Jesus coming to this earth, to live like us and die for our sins. This is definitely something we should focus on in all seasons of the year!

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