The Bankrate promise
At Bankrate we strive to help you make smarter financial decisions. While we adhere to strict , this post may contain references to products from our partners. Here's an explanation for . The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.
Regardless of the current date on the calendar, make no mistake: The holiday shopping season is already underway. Every year, retailers seem to push out holiday merchandise and promotions earlier than ever before — and shoppers are following suit. According to Bankrate data, 50 percent of holiday shoppers plan to begin shopping for the winter holidays before October 31.
Some consumers feel this dilutes the spirit of the season. But the good news about merchants fast-tracking holiday deals is that doing so helps shoppers take advantage of early-season deals, in addition to avoiding worries like shipping delays, stolen packages and out-of-stock items.
Read on to learn why you should start your shopping early, how to avoid delivery delays, ways to maximize holiday rewards on your credit cards and the importance of sticking to your budget this holiday season.
Holiday shopping statistics
- In 2022, U.S. shoppers spent $936.3 billion on the holiday season, up 5.3 percent from 2021. (National Retail Federation)
- 30 percent of holiday shoppers say they will start shopping earlier to save money. (Bankrate)
- 23 percent of holiday shoppers say the spending will strain their budgets. (Bankrate)
- 84 percent of shoppers believe the prices of holiday-related products have gone up. (Inmar Intelligence)
- 87 percent of consumers look for promotions, rebates and coupons when deciding what to buy during the holidays. (Inmar Intelligence)
- 53 percent of holiday shoppers expect to pay for at least some of their holiday purchases with a credit card. (Bankrate)
- 33 percent of holiday shoppers say inflation will change the way they shop in 2023. (Bankrate)
Why you should start your holiday shopping early
The experts agree: It can pay to get a head start on holiday shopping before the Christmas rush.
“We know that, while inflation may have slowed down a bit, American consumers are still struggling with higher inflation and higher prices than we would otherwise like to see,” says Sean Salter, associate professor of Finance at Middle Tennessee State University. “Starting holiday shopping earlier in the year gives consumers more time and more opportunity to seek out the best deals on must-have items. Thinking ahead and being strategic can help you maximize your holiday shopping budget and get the most bang for your buck.”
Rob Weisberg, president of Incentives and Loyalty Division for Inmar Intelligence, a data and technology company that surveys consumers, explains that shopping ahead of time provides a range of benefits — from ensuring product availability to reducing stress and avoiding potential disruptions.
“It allows for a more relaxed and enjoyable holiday season while minimizing the impact of external uncertainties on shopping experiences,” he says. “The ongoing global supply chain disruptions and shortages caused by various factors like the pandemic, labor shortfalls and transportation challenges might lead to delays in manufacturing and shipping. Additionally, popular items tend to sell out quickly as the holidays approach. Starting your gift hunting early increases your chances of finding the products you want in stock.”
Avoid shipping delays
With the rise of online shopping, more and more people are ordering their presents online. In fact, according to Bankrate’s Early Holiday Shopping Survey, 39 percent of holiday shoppers expect to make most of their purchases online this year. That number is even higher among respondents of a recent Bazaarvoice poll, which found that 72 percent plan on holiday shopping online in 2023.
Due in large part to this increase in e-commerce ordering, the US Postal Service accepted 11.7 billion mailpieces and packages between November 26 and December 30, 2022 — and with that many items being shipped during this short window, delays are often inevitable.
Shopping early reduces the odds these delays will disrupt your holiday giving. “The earlier you shop, the more likely your items will arrive on time,” notes Steven Kibbel, a certified financial planner. His recommendations for ensuring your shipped gifts arrive on time include:
- Track your packages. Use tracking numbers to monitor your shipments, where possible.
- Choose reliable retailers. Shop from stores and brands known for timely deliveries.
- Consider in-store pickup. Many retailers offer in-store curbside pickup options, and using them for especially sensitive purchases reduces the risk of disruption.
- Insure valuable items. Purchase optional shipping insurance on any merchandise that is valuable or irreplaceable for peace of mind.
“In addition, if you are purchasing gifts that may need to be returned or exchanged, familiarize yourself with the retailer’s return policies and deadlines. And be aware of the order cut-off deadlines provided by retailers for guaranteed holiday delivery. These dates are often communicated on the retailer’s website or during the checkout process,” adds Weisberg.
Shop the sales that are starting early
As we’ve seen, a growing number of stores are now starting their sales earlier than Black Friday, the traditional start to the holiday shopping season. As further proof of holiday shopping creep, Amazon will again hold its second Prime Day sale — the Prime Big Deals Days sale — on October 10 and 11.
Fortunately for retailers, many shoppers prefer the early rollout of holiday deals and promotions at stores.
“Retailers know that consumers are facing multiple pressures in 2023. They are positioning themselves to meet their own sales targets by beginning holiday sales early,” Salter continues. “Retailing professionals realize the financial limitations consumers face and are offering more and earlier bargains as a way to lock in those critical holiday sales.”
As a consumer, it means that when you start shopping early, you can shop sales that are not traditionally holiday-based, such as Labor Day sales. To capitalize on these advance Christmas shopping deals, roughly 41 percent of holiday shoppers will seek out more coupons, discounts and sales to save money, per Bankrate’s Early Holiday Shopping Survey.
“Keep an eye on coupons this season, which will drive purchases — especially amid soaring prices,” advises Weisberg, who adds that nearly a third of shoppers increased their coupon usage in 2022, with 54 percent doing so because of financial pressures, per Inmar Intelligence data. “Also, consider sharing your location data so you can receive convenient, personalized offers, discounts, rebates or coupons on your phone. And to get the best deals, shop in-store and online equally over the holidays if you can.”
Take advantage of credit card rewards
The holidays are a great time to redeem your credit card rewards points. Using that plastic at checkout, for example, can help you earn valuable cash back on your card. If you are traveling later in the year, you can also use a travel card for your holiday shopping in order to earn points toward future flights and trips.
Indeed, it’s smart to pay attention to credit card reward offers and promotions just before and during the holiday season. Choosing the right rewards card and paying attention to the cash back rate it offers on individual categories can help maximize your savings.
Bankrate’s take: 19 percent of holiday shoppers will use credit card rewards to offset costs to save money. (Source: Early Holiday Shopping Survey)
“Be sure to use the right card. Some credit cards offer higher rewards for certain categories,” suggests Kibbel. “Be aware that many credit card companies have shopping portals that offer additional points or cash back, too.”
Weisberg cites American Express as an example of a credit card that has offered additional rewards points for doing your holiday shopping at major department stores, including Bloomingdale’s, JCPenney and Macy’s.
Lastly, be aware that while you can likely use your credit card to purchase gift cards, “your credit card company might not pay the rewards points in full or at all for gift card purchases,” cautions Salter. Take the time to learn the ins and outs of your card’s rewards rate before beginning your holiday shopping.
Ditch the last-minute stress
The holidays are an anxious time for many people. Case in point: Bankrate’s data found that 25 percent of holiday shoppers say they’re stressed about the cost of holiday shopping.
“There’s a lot of holiday buying hysteria as we get closer to the traditional holiday shopping season. There is time pressure to get all of the buying done before the big day, and there’s inevitably a lot of competition for the most popular gift items,” Salter says. “Amid all that frenzy, it can be really easy to overspend on gift-giving.”
This stress is all the more reason to get shopping out of the way earlier. Once you’ve made your list, checked it twice and shopped the early holiday sales, you can sit back and focus on enjoying the holiday season.
Stick to your budget
If you’re among the 27 percent of holiday shoppers that have money specifically budgeted for seasonal purchases, you’re in luck. Shopping early makes it easier to stick to your budget by giving you extra time to shop various sales and find the best deals.
Creating and abiding by a holiday budget also helps keep you from going into debt.
“Sticking to a list makes it easier for shoppers to stay on track with their budgets. What’s more, knowing exactly what you need to buy reduces decision fatigue at the store,” Weisberg points out. “By setting a shopping budget and knowing what you want to purchase ahead of time, you can confidently pick up the items on your list without feeling overwhelmed by choices in the aisles or online.”
Starting your budget process earlier in the year can also help conserve money you can put toward a holiday fund, taking some pressure off your household’s overall financial plan, Salter adds.
“It’s best to track spending carefully by keeping a record of all purchases you make to ensure you stay within your budget,” recommends Kibbel.
To guide your budgeting this holiday season, look back on how much you spent last year and adjust accordingly. While holiday budgeting can be a year-round endeavor, starting midyear still gives you time to bank some extra funds ahead of November and December.
The bottom line
It’s easy to go off the rails and overspend during the last few weeks of the year, especially if you want to impress recipients with holiday gifts that stand out. But while you can certainly capitalize on early bird shopping deals or maximize coupons and credit card rewards, it’s also important to set realistic limits based on what you can afford.
“Remember that it’s not a financially healthy decision to wreck your household’s finances for the sake of lavish gift-giving during the holidays. A very thoughtfully selected gift that is purchased on a budget can be as or more meaningful than a more expensive item,” Salter suggests.