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It may seem as though Christmas is still some time away – but in the world of shopping, those final few weeks can simply fly by. As soon as those Hallowe’en displays have been taken down, it’s time for shops across the land to move on to their Christmas promotions. For some, this is a source of annoyance – can’t Christmas just wait until December? Others might instead embrace this change, and decide to do their Christmas shopping a little early.

Of these two courses of action, the latter is almost certainly the more sensible. In these early months, the shops will be a little less busy than they will be on Christmas Eve. With weeks left to go there is still time to miss the rush.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the ways in which we can make our Christmas shopping as painless as possible – by spreading it over a longer period of time. But, more broadly, we’ll examine how the cost of Christmas in general can be slashed.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Budget, budget, budget!

Whilst it’s probably true of almost everything in life, the most effective way to save money at Christmas is through preparation. This means allocating a certain amount of money for the period, and sticking to it.

It’s worth being detailed, here. If you’re overzealous in one area of your expenditure, you’ll likely have to cut back in another. No-one wants to turn up and find that, though the Christmas crackers are made from gold-brushed cashmere, the turkey is the size of a dormouse.

For this reason, you should divide your budget into categories, deciding on exactly how much is warranted for gifts, food and other essentials, and stick within it. This way you’ll be able to see where you’ve overspending and cut back immediately, and avoid spending vast quantities in some areas and avoid having to cut back in others.

Book in advance

During the Christmas period, a few of us host gatherings for our family and friends. Most of us are mere attendees at such gatherings, and that often means having to travel across large distances. In most cases, this means hopping aboard a train.

But trains at Christmas time, as you might expect, are notoriously crowded – and therefore expensive. Travel therefore represents a significant cost during Christmas, and so – if we want to be frugal – we should look for ways to minimise this cost.

Train companies typically offer their tickets for sale twelve weeks before the departure is due to take place. This means that the Christmas trains will already be on sale, which in turn means that it is hugely important to book as soon as possible – this way you’ll keep the cost of travel to an absolute minimum.

The same recommendation can also be made of hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfasts. If you leave it to the last minute, you’ll likely end up paying over the odds. Fortunately, a little foresight can help you to avoid this problem entirely!

Spread the cost

According to a YouGov poll conducted in the run up to last year’s festivities, the average household in Britain spent £821 on Christmas. This year we can expect it to be roughly the same. Such an enormous sum of money is bound to sting if it’s not spread over a longer period of time, which is why shopping early makes such good financial sense.

But even if you don’t feel like shopping early, it’s wise to put aside a certain portion of your pay packet, so that the impact of the season isn’t felt quite so keenly. If you can’t afford to do this, then you’ll need to budget accordingly – and to be resourceful with your shopping decisions!

Allow for delivery

While many larger sites, such as Amazon, will offer free delivery, they won’t do so unconditionally. A lot of the time, you’ll have to wait an extra few days in order to reap the benefits of this saving. Obviously, if you leave your shopping until later, you won’t be have this luxury; you’ll have to instead bite the bullet and opt for the more costly, though speedier delivery. If you’re a member of Amazon prime, this won’t be a problem as you’ll have already paid for speedy delivery.

But one should note that not all of the products sold on Amazon’s website are actually packaged and sold by Amazon. Smaller retailers of niche goods also use the site as a vehicle for their own wares, and those items will incur an extra cost, even for those subscribed to Amazon prime.

Moreover, some presents – particularly made-for-purpose ones – will always necessitate a long wait. Sometimes this wait can last for weeks, and even months. If you’re thinking of buying such a present, it’s best to make the order sooner rather than later – this will help you to avoid the stress of having to wait long into December for that all-important package!

Allow for faulty goods

In an ideal world, all of the goods we buy would work perfectly as soon as we’ve got them out of their packaging. Unfortunately, we don’t (yet) live in such a world, and so some of the gifts we buy for our friends and family will be faulty.

This can lead to a markedly more sombre Christmas day, especially if the gift in question is that long yearned-for games console. The only way to avoid this catastrophe is by ordering early, that way you’ve got time to return it.

If you’re returning a faulty item, it’s important that you don’t waste any time. If you make the trade within four weeks, your item will likely be replaced or refunded without any fuss. Leave it longer, however, and you may have to make do with a repair or partial refund. Legally speaking, for the first six month after the sale, the onus is on the shop to prove that the goods work as intended – but after that, the onus shifts to the customer.

Better to be safe than sorry – get that present ordered sooner rather than later, and you’ll have time to get it back to the shop before the day arrives. Leave it too long, and the result may well be tears.

Why not wait?

We’ve looked at some of the reasons one might want to make haste when it comes to Christmas shopping. With that said, there are a few reasons why one might want to wait a little longer, in order to reap the benefits of those deals that can only be found later on.

Wait until the last minute

Leaving it late is, if we’re to believe the popular stereotype, something that only disorganised people do. If you’re reading this, there stands a strong chance that you’re not one of these people. But leaving it late is not just something done out of laziness – sometimes the best deals are to be had right at the end of the Christmas sales, as some shops try to offload those seasonal items that just aren’t going to sell in January.

Of course, we’re only talking about a very specific sort of item, here – and shopping late is certainly not a tactic that should be relied upon – especially not if you’re looking for something in particular. But if you’re looking for those little presents to fill out the Christmas stockings, then it’s well worth taking a last-minute dash down to your local high street – or shopping centre.

Wait for January Sales

One of the biggest costs of the Christmas period is, perhaps obviously, the gifts. We spend huge amounts every year on gifts in the run-up to Christmas. But the goods we buy are often still available after Christmas – and often at knock-down prices as retailers attempt to clear out their wares in the January sales.

It might seem unduly Scrooge-like to present your loved ones with IOUs rather than with actual gifts – and you certainly wouldn’t want to do this with someone you wanted to make a good impression on, like a new spouse or in-law. But there are some occasions where waiting simply makes sense.

These occasions are usually when the person receiving the gift is someone who actually makes requests of you – usually a close family member, and when the requested gift is something that’s highly likely to fall in price after Christmas. This often – though not always – means cutting-edge consumer electronics. If you all know that you’re going to be getting a new television, or a new games console, then there’s little surprise in wrapping one to use on Christmas Day. Moreover, you’re probably not going to get much use out of them while Christmas is in full swing. For this reason, it’s certainly cheaper to save these inter-family gifts until after the decorations have come down.

You might even consider starting your shopping for next year in those January sales – and thereby cutting down on the stress the season invariably provokes. Your future self will thank you!