The "good" Black Friday is due November 26 this year, purportedly the busiest shopping day of the season. Many traditional retailers roll out their Christmas sales and set up their Christmas displays to be ready for the influx of shoppers. While this year may or may not live up to retailers' expectations, it's worth preparing for your Christmas shopping right now.
If you are planning on doing everything on the fly, either on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, your chances of overspending will be high.
If Christmas shopping was a military campaign - and in the heat of holiday shopping the differences are fewer than you'd think - your first step would be to tally up your forces and see if they're sufficient. Decide how much you can afford to spend and then make a list of all the people you exchange gifts with. (Find out how to avoid six of the worst vender ploys this holiday shopping season in Sneaky Strategies That Fuel Overspending.)
If you don't have enough to cover everyone, now's the time to quietly suggest no exchange this year, arrange spending limits or look at an alternative gift that doesn't cost money (ideas abound on the internet). You won't be the only one looking to pare down the gift list, so don't be shy.
Once you have a final list, assign a spending limit for each person and stick to it. This is easier than it sounds if you are using cash as opposed to credit. If you are using credit, it might be a good idea to deduct the interest you'll incur paying off the purchases from your spending limits - otherwise you're just cooking your own books.
Look thrice, buy once. Although some popular items do sell out every year, being picky and waiting for a good price generally saves you money. This doesn't mean holding out until the 24th, but you can always keep track of prices for items you want online and through flyers. Simply buy the gift when its price is at a level you consider a good deal rather than rushing out when demand is high and paying full price.
Trying to time every purchase can be tedious, but the pay off can be significant if you even manage to shave 5% of your total purchases (with sales of 10%-20% off, 5% overall is achievable). (Use these tips for a bountiful Yuletide on a Scrooge-like budget. Check out Avoid Overspending This Holiday Season.)
Beware Pyrrhic Victories
It's hard to separate financial, shopping and holiday stress when you're rushing from store to store trying to find a last minute gift. This is why some people buy gifts earlier in the year - the stress of shopping for deals in huge crowds cancels out the benefit of financial savings. The people buying early tend to be organized about it and that helps them avoid the impulse purchases that holiday shoppers are notorious for.
If you're willing to put in the work during the rush, however, you can save money - provided you stick to your plan and your spending limits.