Key takeaways

  • A recent survey from Bankrate showed that half of all holiday shoppers (50 percent) planned to start shopping before the holidays by Halloween this year, with 12 percent starting in September and another 12 percent beginning in August of 2023.
  • There are myriad benefits that come with shopping early, including the potential to shop around for deals and spread out the cost of gifts over several months.
  • Early shoppers also have time to sign up for a cash back credit card or rewards card that gives them something back for each dollar they spend.

With only a few months until the holiday season officially begins, you may be wondering if now is the right time to start checking off your holiday shopping list. If you feel like you’re ready to dive in, you’re certainly not alone. In fact, a September 2023 survey from Bankrate showed that 50 percent of holiday shoppers have already started buying their holiday gifts (or plan to do so by Halloween on Oct. 31).

Breaking down this data further, 12 percent of shoppers began working on their holiday lists back in August, while another 12 percent started in September and 26 percent began or plan to in October. The remaining 50 percent plan to begin in November (37 percent) or December (13 percent).

While the 50 percent who get in the holiday shopping spirit before Halloween may appear comically ahead of the rush, there are a number of benefits that come with shopping for seasonal gifts and supplies with a few months to spare. Here’s a rundown of the early shopping perks to consider, as well as the ways holiday shopping might look a little different in 2023.

How holiday shopping looks different in 2023

The good news about holiday shopping in 2023 is that the supply chain issues caused by COVID-19 are mostly behind us. This year, fewer stores will find themselves out of stock on popular holiday gifts, with no idea when they’ll be able to access more inventory. Instead, consumers should be able to find everything they want and need available for shipping or in-store pickup — particularly if they don’t wait until the last minute to buy gifts.

However, the elephant in the room these days is inflation, which is finally cooling down after running at its hottest pace since the early 1980s. Given this, only 33 percent of holiday shoppers say inflation will change the way they shop in 2023 compared to 40 percent last year, according to Bankrate data.

That said, due to the increased costs of practically everything caused by this inflation, 25 percent of respondents in the Bankrate survey said they were stressed over costs this year, while another 23 percent said they thought holiday shopping would strain their budgets. Another 13 percent said they expect to feel pressured to spend more than they can truly afford this holiday season.

The pros of starting your holiday shopping early

There are plenty of perks that come with getting started early. Some of the biggest advantages of shopping for the holidays as early as possible include:

  • Having time to shop for deals: Shopping early gives you time to compare prices for items and shop around for deals, whereas waiting until the last minute leaves you stuck paying whatever prices are offered at the time.
  • Having time to pick up a new credit card: When you start early, you’ll still have time to sign up for a rewards credit card or cash back credit card and earn a credit card sign-up bonus that can be used to fund your holiday shopping. You may also be able to get a new card with a 0 percent APR on purchases for a limited time. Doing so allows you to pay down your holiday shopping bill, interest-free, for anywhere from 12 to 21 months.
  • Paying for gifts as you go: Shopping early means you can spread the pain of your holiday shopping bills over several months. This is likely better for your budget and cash flow than it would be to pay for all gifts you need within a single month or pay period.

How to be a smart holiday shopper

Shopping early lets you use the long lead time to your advantage, and there are steps you can take to save big while you look for gifts. According to recent Bankrate data, 41 percent of consumers polled plan to use more coupons, discounts or sales this year, while 20 percent plan to purchase gifts from cheaper retailers or less expensive brands overall.

Another strategy to consider is stacking discounts, or combining multiple savings strategies on the same purchase, such as using a rewards credit card, an online shopping portal and a store coupon all at once. As long as you can pay in full and avoid interest, paying with a credit card is a smart way to earn rewards and access other perks such as purchase protection and extended warranty coverage. Credit cards offer much better fraud protections than debit cards, too.

Also remember that, in addition to the excellent deals you can find in stores, shopping for holiday gifts online can be another great way to save. Shopping online also makes it considerably easier to compare prices and deals with several retailers all at once. This could be why 39 percent of shoppers are planning to do most of their holiday gift shopping online in 2023, compared to 23 percent who do most of their shopping in person.

Finally, don’t forget about redeeming any credit card rewards you’ve already accumulated. Whether it’s for cash back, travel, gift cards or merchandise, there are plenty of ways that rewards points and miles can help offset your holiday expenses.

The bottom line

Holiday shopping can be a significant expense, but with several months remaining until Christmas, you have time on your side. Use it wisely. Make a good gift list, and check it twice.

Sock some money away, comparison shop for the best deals and take advantage of credit card rewards and gift cards — these represent real money, even if they’re sometimes out of sight, out of mind.