You Need to Start Holiday Shopping Early This Year, Experts Say. Here’s Why, and How to Save

Photo of shoppers outside in a city to accompany story about holiday shopping trends Getty Images
Pedestrians with shopping bags in San Francisco, Sept. 2021. Experts say this year, holiday shoppers should start early to avoid delays and score the best savings.
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It’s going to be another unconventional year for holiday shoppers.

Though it’s only October, experts say it’s not too early to start planning for gifts and supplies you may need this holiday season — if anything, you’re probably right on time.

“With the pandemic disrupting virtually every part of the manufacturing process and supply chain, as well as creating worker shortages, retailers will be strapped this year when it comes to restocking and sending out orders,” says Kristin McGrath, a shopping and trends expert at RetailMeNot, a shopping news and cash back site. 

And there may also be more shoppers competing for what stock is available. Retail sales are predicted to increase by 7-9% over last year, according to Deloitte’s annual holiday retail forecast, while e-commerce sales will jump by 11-15%. As a result, it can pay to start shopping early.

To help you get ahead of the crowds, here are some tips from experts to help you save on holiday shopping while keeping your wallet and bank account happy.

Start Budgeting Early

First and foremost: It’s important to make a budget you can stick to. This rings true any time of year, but especially as we head into the holiday season, which often brings additional expenses.

“Think about where you can make a few adjustments in your current budget to make room for holiday expenses,” says Andrea Woroch, a consumer finance expert. As a start, she recommends going through your purchases over the past months, or cancelling unnecessary subscription services.

And with deals already rolling out, make sure you not only work out the right budget, but also have a plan to make it last through the season. “Retailers have already begun promoting holiday sales and there’s a big push to shop earlier than ever to avoid the potential supply chain disruptions,” Woroch points out. But “the earlier you start shopping, the more opportunity you have to spend, and that can spell trouble for a lot of people’s budgets.”

Woroch suggests using a budgeting app like Santa’s Bag to manage your holiday gift list and track purchases all in one place. You can get a snapshot of how much you’ve spent on holiday purchases from now through Christmas, compared to what you set as your budget.

Shop With the Right Cash Back Card Credit Card

As you start to plan your holiday shopping, consider whether you have the right credit card in your wallet to maximize each purchase.

One easy way to do this is with a cash back credit card that earns a flat rate on every purchase — such as the Citi® Double Cash Card or Chase Freedom Unlimited®. With flat rewards, you can guarantee rewards no matter where you shop. These cards can earn anywhere from 1.5% to 2% cash back on every purchase, adding value not only during the holidays but on your regular everyday spending, too. 

With any card you choose, just make sure you have a plan in place to pay the balance down when your statement is due. These cards carry very high APRs, so any rewards you earn will quickly be wiped out if you accrue interest. But with responsible use, earning a little bit of cash back on your spending can really add up over time, and help you earn big savings over the course of the holiday shopping season.

Shop Online Cash Back and Savings Offers

Credit cards aren’t the only way to earn cash back. 

There are many cash back services like Rakuten and RetailMeNot, which offer bonus opportunities to earn cash back when you click through to shop online. RetailMeNot is even hosting its own national retail holiday, Cash Back Day, on Nov. 4 and 5. We also like browser extensions like Honey, which will automatically add any  ongoing promotions your purchase qualifies for at time of checkout.

Woroch suggests always shopping online. There are typically more opportunities to save, and in many cases you can avoid shipping delays and costs. “With the option to choose same-day curbside pickup, online shopping gives you a better chance of saving money,” she says. “You can quickly comparison shop, look for coupons, and even earn cash back.”

Banks and credit card issuers, including American Express, Chase, and Bank of America, also often have partnerships with major retailers, which can also lead to more savings in your pocket. Check your bank or issuer’s mobile app and look out for targeted emails with offers you qualify for. If you are targeted for one of the eligible offers, you’ll need to spend a certain amount with the retailer and will later receive a portion back, or rewards points that you can later use for travel.

Between credit card targeted offers and potential cash back services, you have the potential to save even more money year-round. You can combine these savvy strategies together to earn significant savings on top of the deals retailers are already advertising.

Research Price Fluctuations

It’s easy to get swept up in the Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and other big name deals floating around this time of year. But “don’t assume the sale price is the best price,” says Woroch. Instead, compare prices across sites and look for coupons to bring your price down even further. If you already know you want to buy a specific item, start browsing prices now so you can spot a good deal when it appears.

Pro Tip

Keep an eye out for communications from your favorite retailers — and if there’s a big-ticket item you have your eye on, be ready to purchase the second their sale goes live.

“Knowing what a potential gift costs before the holiday sales rush begins will help you make better buying decisions. Since retailers constantly fluctuate prices, it could be hard to know when a gift is at its best or lowest price. Doing the research in advance will give you a benchmark to base that off of,” Woroch says.

She recommends sites like that aggregate coupons by store names so you can check to see if the store you’re shopping at has any deals available.

If you’re an Amazon shopper, Woroch recommends downloading the Amazon Best Price Tool from Cently. It’s a browser extension that not only aggregates coupons, but will also send you an alert when something you’re eyeing on Amazon is available from another third-party seller for less. “Since there are thousands of third-party sellers on Amazon who sell the same items, it can be hard to find the cheapest option,” she points out. “This tool solves the problem, alerting you when there’s a better-priced option for sale on the site.”

McGrath suggests a price history tool called CamelCamelCamel. Similar to the Amazon Best Price Tool above, you can use it to research items and see what prices over time and see whether a price is actually low, or simply what the retailer offers every other week.”

McGrath also cautions shoppers to not necessarily take a discount at face value. “Retailers are good at advertising huge percentage discounts — think 80% off,” she says. “But if that percentage is taken from a high ‘original’ price that isn’t typically offered, the savings are less impressive.”

Be Ready to Buy When You Find a Deal

All of these tools will help you be better prepared when the right deal falls within your budget. And when it does, you’ll probably want to press “buy” sooner rather than later.

While retailers will start rolling out holiday deals throughout October, especially on popular gifts like home goods, clothing, small appliances, toys, and electronics, “Black Friday will likely still bring the hype with best-of-the-year pricing on popular doorbusters like TVs, earbuds and other consumer electronics,” says McGrath. 

But if you wait until the busiest shopping day of the year, don’t be surprised if you miss out on in-demand gifts. She adds: “Shoppers should expect the supply behind these doorbuster prices to be small, and items to sell out quickly.”

For the best chances of avoiding issues with stock or shipping delays, keep an eye out for early sales in the coming weeks. You may pay a bit more than on Black Friday, but there’s a better chance you can avoid additional supply chain issues that may occur come late November and early December. Plus, with so many other ways to save shopping online, you may be able to score just as good of a deal as you would later on.

All in all, McGrath reminds shoppers: “This year, getting a must-have item on time can be considered a deal.”

Editorial Independence

As with all of our credit card reviews, our analysis is not influenced by any partnerships or advertising relationships.