Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Shopping earlier in the year may be the best way to celebrate the New Year without Christmas debt. According to the Wall Street Journal about 13 percent of Americans start their Christmas shopping in July. A 2012 online Harris Interactive poll found more than one in 10 adults had started shopping before July. In addition, 17 percent of those polled were looking forward to saving money with the Christmas in July sales that have become popular in the U.S.

Shopping early allows consumers to wait until the exact item they want is on sale, instead of purchasing goods that stores decide to discount during the pre-Christmas rush. Getting a head start on the holiday rush may be the best way to stretch your Christmas-shopping budget.

If you don’t want to join the early birds, here are four more ways you can save.

Buy a Tree That’s Evergreen

It’s difficult to avoid overspending on holiday decorating when colorful, trendy decorations hit store aisles each year. You can be frugal and still be in the Christmas spirit if you go classic and use decorations you already have. Save by purchasing a realistic artificial tree instead of buying a costly fresh tree each year and disposing of it after a few weeks. High-quality replicas such as artificial Christmas trees at are lifelike and will last year after year.

Pay Cash

Pay for holiday shopping purchases in cash and save hundreds of dollars in interest charges and late fees. This will help you stay within a realistic budget. Shopping with large denomination bills can help curtail impulse buys that you don’t need. Think twice about purchasing just a few more inexpensive stocking stuffers if you have to break a $100 bill. By the end of the Christmas shopping season, those little savings add up. Kiplinger’s personal finance editor, Janet Bodnar, suggests keeping a daily tally of your credit-card charges in order to monitor spending. Credit card expenses can quickly get out of hand during the holidays if you don’t pay attention.

Be Creative

No glitter glue or origami skills needed! Stretch your imagination a little and save big money on purchased gifts. If your family is taking a big trip in the spring, buy the kids maps and books about your destination instead of more toys and stuff they don’t need. Rather than purchase four separate gifts for your brother, his wife and their two kids, give them a board game and a gift card to their favorite pizza joint so they can have a family night. Gifts that encourage people to spend time together are often less expensive and most appreciated.

Shop with a List

Making a list (and checking it twice) will help you stay on track and avoid impulse purchases. Temptations are everywhere during the holiday shopping season. You can spend all day at the mall and come home with empty pockets, but only a gift or two to show for your effort. Making a list of the gifts you need will keep you focused as you maneuver through a storm of sales, and it will also mean fewer trips around town. Keep the list with you at all times to decrease the chances of overbuying and make sure no one gets left out.

Christmas shopping doesn’t have to be a financial stressor. If you find yourself swimming in holiday debt at the beginning of every new year, it’s time to for adjustments. It’s never too late to start saving ahead for your Christmas expenditures. Even spare change can add up quickly, and it’s never too early to start shopping for this year’s Christmas bargains.