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Holiday Gift Guide

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Tips for early bird holiday shoppers

Getting a head start on holiday shopping has its advantages. Holiday shoppers who begin their quests for the perfect gifts at the onset of the season or before the shopping season even begins often find the financial sting of holiday shopping is easier to manage when spread out over time, and starting early can save shoppers the hassle of navigating their ways through crowded stores and packed parking lots.

But even holiday shoppers who hit the stores extra early should do so with a plan in hand, which can help shoppers save money while still finding the right gifts.

* Establish and stick to a budget. Just because you may be starting your holiday shopping early does not mean you should throw financial caution to the wind. Establish a budget so holiday shopping won't find you facing significant debt, which is just as difficult to deal with in late fall as it is once the holidays have come and gone. If necessary, speak to family members before establishing your budget so you can all agree on holiday spending limits. Once you have established your holiday shopping budget, stick to it and avoid the temptation of overspending just because you're starting early.

* Take your time. Arguably the greatest luxury of getting a head start on holiday shopping is the ability to take your time so you don't  end up making expensive impulse purchases. Such purchases may be your only option if you wait until the last minute to start shopping, but starting early enables you to take your time and comparison shop so you can find the best deal. If you find a great gift in a store but want to find it for less money, shopping early allows you to shop around at another store or online to see if it's more affordable elsewhere. Make the most of this extra time, and you're liable to save a substantial amount of money over the course of the season.

* Take advantage of early bird offers. Many online retailers want consumers to begin their holiday shopping early, so they offer incentives to shoppers who beat the holiday rush. Such retailers may waive shipping and handling charges or wrap gifts free of charge for shoppers who begin their holiday shopping early in the season. These offers typically disappear once the season hits full swing, so early bird shoppers should take advantage of such offers whenever possible.

* Get creative. Starting early may allow some holiday shoppers to skip the process of shopping altogether. Creative men and women with unique skills such as woodworking or making pottery may be able to create their own holiday gifts. Homemade gifts will likely take more time to create, but starting early allows you to go at your own pace while still ensuring your special gift will be ready to go come the holidays.