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Ready, Set, Go: Strategic Advice for Early Holiday Shoppers

by Martha C. White /  / Updated 

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The Halloween candy is still on the shelves, but Americans are already shopping for the holidays.

Walmart’s holiday layaway program has been going on for nearly two months already (it started Aug. 28 — two weeks earlier than last year), and Kmart kicked off its holiday layaway plan on Sept. 10, right after Labor Day. “We're helping our members get a step ahead of the busy holiday season,” Kmart chief marketing officer Kelly Cook said in a statement.

Surveys show that plenty of shoppers are just fine having snowmen and stockings alongside the spiders and spooks: According to the National Retail Federation, about 40 percent start their seasonal shopping before Halloween.

A survey for CreditCards.com conducted in the first week of September found that 14 percent of people had already started their holiday shopping. Roughly the same number said they planned to finish their shopping earlier this year, and 2 percent said they’d already completed theirs.

If you’re one of the many Americans who wants to get a jump on this year’s holiday shopping, savings experts have advice about what you should scoop up now and what you should hold off on buying to get the best deals.

What to grab now

“There are some things that are worth buying in October that won’t be cheaper in November,” said Louis Ramirez, senior features writer with DealNews.com. One example: “Anything denim,” for example. “The reason for that is right now we’re seeing deals of 40 to 60 percent off. Come November, you might see similar deals but there will be requirements like a $100 minimum for shipping.”

Related: You're Already Done With Your Holiday Shopping? How Aggravating!

Most experts say that prices in many outdoor categories — camping gear, grills and barbecue accessories and patio furniture, to name a few — are at rock-bottom now, since it’s the end of the season. Similarly, you can expect big markdowns on clothing like shorts, swimsuits and flip-flops as stores make space for sweaters and scarves.

Toys are a tricky category. They don’t hit their lowest prices until pretty close to Christmas, but popular or “must-have” playthings can sell out long before then. The lowest average price for toys on Amazon.com last year was Dec. 10, said Traci Gregorski, vice president of marketing at Market Track.

What to buy later

Black Friday still rules for discounts if you’re looking for electronics. “Laptops, TVs and game consoles … it’s probably better to hold off until there are deeper discounts,” said Kendal Perez, spokeswoman for CouponSherpa.com.

Ramirez concurred when it comes to TVs, with one exception: 55-inch models — a popular size — are as cheap now as they’re going to get, he said. “The deals on these have bottomed out… they’re not going to get any cheaper than that in November.” Bigger-ticket sets with larger screens and 4K displays will get cheaper around Black Friday, he said, along with sets below the 55-inch mark.

The lowest average online price for both TVs and tablets on Amazon was on Black Friday, Gregorski said.

If you can hold off on holiday decorating, you’ll get a better deal. “Wait for Christmas decorations. All the Christmas home stuff will go on sale as you get closer to the holiday,” said Randy Allen, senior lecturer of management and consultant in residence at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. Perez added that the first two weeks of December is a good time to score bargains on trees, décor and the like.

Other things to keep in mind

Stores are all for earlier shopping so they can beat their competitors to your wallet. But they’re also betting that they can entice you with other goodies — things that probably weren’t in your budget — later in the season, too.

“It does look like retailers are training shoppers to look for deals earlier by pulling the deals forward,” Gregorski said. So set a budget for the season now, and stick to it to avoid sticker shock come January.

Related: Holiday Shopping Projected to Rise, But Seasonal Hiring is Flat

Getting a jump on your holiday shopping early also can mean missing out on the fierce price competition that goes on around Black Friday, Ramirez cautioned.

“Another thing to look out for is price matching,” he said. “In November they’re more aggressive about it. Come November everyone will price-match Amazon. … You might not see that right now.”

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