Procrastination not only leads to a very stressful holiday season, it can also make for a very expensive one. That's why it's time to start planning for the holidays now. Yes, Halloween costumes have barely hit the shelves, but by starting in September, you're less likely to be in debt by January.
Each month until January, I'll give you a list of ways you can prep now, save later. In September, it's all about planning so when you start making those purchases you get the best deals and the most value.
Create a Budget: Many of us have no idea how much we spend around the holidays. We just know it's a lot! The only way to truly be in control of your spending is to set a budget and keep track of what you spend. Factor in gifts, decorations, meals, parties, hostess gifts and all other expenses you may incur. You can use Google Docs to easily create a budgeting template.
Make a Gift Log: Unless you know who you'll be giving gifts to, it's hard to create an accurate budget. Make a list of all the people you want to buy for, how much you would like to spend, and leave an area where you can jot down gift ideas as they come to you. I keep a holiday notebook that I add to every year. It goes back more than 20 years and is great because at any time I can look at past years and see what I gave and how much I spent. It helps a lot when planning.
Start Setting Money Aside: Tuck away a portion of each paycheck into a holiday fund. If you're paid every two weeks, you'll have about eight pay periods to save up. That way, come December, your whole paycheck won't disappear in one trip to the mall. How much you set aside will depend on how much you determined you'd need in your budget.
Assess Your Credit Card Rewards: Now is the time to get familiar with your credit card rewards and cash back opportunities. From October to December, Chase Freedom offers 5% cash back at Amazon, Zappos and select department stores. If you are a card holder, it could make sense to plan your holiday gift shopping around that offer. And the last quarter of the year can be a great time to sign up. Many cards have introductory bonuses when you spend a certain amount in the first couple of months, which will be easier to reach with holiday spending.
Sign Up for Newsletters from Your Favorite Retailers: You probably have a good idea where you'll be shopping this year so make sure you're signed up for store newsletters and following on social media. This way you will be alerted to all of their holiday promotions. Some even thank you for signing up with a coupon code, so it's a good time to rack up these offers for all of your holiday shopping. Save 10% on your next purchase when you sign up for emails from Chico's. Get 20% off when you sign up for the Crazy 8 newsletter. Or, 15% off when you sign up for The Mighty Leaf Tea.
Buy One Gift: I know it might sound crazy, but it will feel amazing to buy one holiday gift in September and check it off your list. Plus, it will get you excited about your four-month plan to stay out of holiday debt in January. Take advantage of back to school and summer closeout sales to find a very budget-friendly gift. You might be so blown away by the sales, you'll want to get more than one gift!