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NEW YORK — If you were aghast at how much you spent on holiday gifts when the credit card bills arrived last January, now is the time to start thinking about how to avoid a repeat performance. Even though it feels painfully early to start thinking about the holidays, starting now will give you plenty of time to budget, build a shopping fund and do a little early shopping so after New Years you’ll hardly have a bill to pay. Trae Bodge, Smart Shopping Expert for Gift Card Granny, shares tactics for what we should be doing now to avoid debt later.

What to do NOW to Avoid Holiday Debt:

Look Back
It’s an ideal time to set a budget for your holiday shopping. Make a loose list of what you bought and spent last year, and then evaluate your current financial situation. Can you spend the same, spend more, or do you need to cut back? If you need to cut back, look at groups you exchange gifts with, like family or co-workers, and suggest a different scenario, like drawing names, a White Elephant exchange, or with family, maybe the adults only give gifts to the kids. The other people in your group will appreciate the suggestion!

Reign in Spending on Kids
A big contributor to holiday debt is how much parents spend on their kids. Rather than give them a mountain of gifts, try something different. I recently discovered, which is a digital savings platform for kids. Kids get their own FDIC-insured account that links to your bank account, and you, family members and friends can contribute to a specific goal, like horseback riding lessons or a used car. Goalsetter teaches kids about saving vs. spending and gives them something they really want instead of a pile of things they may never use.

Set Deal Alerts
To avoid a mad dash in December – and potentially overspending because you’re in a rush – start shopping now. As you build your gift list, set deal alerts with a site like, so you’ll receive alerts when your items go on sale. Slickdeals also has a community of 11 million users who are constantly sharing, vetting and voting on deals, so you know these deals are legit.

Shop Now for Hot Gifts
Hot gifts, especially specific toys, like Hatchimals and LOL Surprise, might sell out before there are sales available. To avoid paying full price – and avoid a disappointed kid if the items sell out – create your own sale by shopping with a discounted gift card from GiftCardGranny, who I work for. You can purchase a discounted gift card and shop with it, saving yourself between 2-30% on average.

Get the Best Deal on Amazon
You can find so many amazing gifts on Amazon (and shop in your pj’s!). But it’s hard to tell whether or not you are getting the best price. There’s a nifty tool called Ranktracer, which provides pricing data for thousands of products sold on Amazon, including tons of Holiday items. This tool will give you a sense of whether you should buy now or wait, and if there’s a coupon that can be applied to your purchase.

Extra tip: Get creative
Starting early can also give you time to make some of your gifts, which can be a huge money saver. Also, the act of hand-making knitted items, ornaments and other DIY gifts, will be so much more pleasant if you’re not frantically throwing things together at the last minute!