Do a little Christmas shopping each month

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

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The Twelve Months of Christmas

November and December represent the worst months of the year to start your Christmas shopping. The stores throng with customers, the pressure to buy regardless of cost kicks up a notch and it's easy to let a lack of time and increased emotions sway us to spend more than we need to. Bad for us, good for Visa. These tips will help you plan ahead so you can stay sane, save money, and truly savor the holidays.

January is the season to buy whites, such as sheets, towels and other linens. Give luxury items like high thread-count sheets or spa-sized towels with fancy lotions, bath salts or shower gels. For children, wrap up bubble bath and bath toys in a favorite character towel.

February sales include post-Valentine's Day deals. Look for items such as red candles, pillows, and decorative items that can double as Christmas items. Red and white tissue paper wraps Christmas gifts, too. Look also for winter clothing sales as retailers clear out old stock to gear up for spring. Buy a size or two larger for children.

March brings post-St. Patrick Day sales with items that would tickle the fancy of Irish folks on your list, such as a "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" t-shirt or green items that could also work for Christmas, such as tablecloths.

April's tax season offers discounts on office supplies, organizational items and business equipment. A handsome wooden desk set would please a friend with a home office. A paper shredder for home use could be a great gift for anyone.

Young children on your list may enjoy a cuddly stuffed bunny left over from Easter. Just look for plain ones that don't scream "Easter."

May's Mother's Day sales provide reduced-priced presents for women before and after the big day. Focus on jewelry, fragrances, and gift items such as jewelry boxes.

June deals are for Dads and men in general. Check out razors, aftershave and cologne, gadgets, grilling tools, golfing, hunting and fishing gear, and guy-themed books. Many of these will be on sale before and after Father's Day.

July bargains include kids' outdoor games, such as badminton sets and sidewalk chalk and items such as picnic coolers and recreational gear.

August heralds the beginning of the school year. Art supplies, backpacks, and kids' clothing will all be on sale during this month. Again, buy the clothing a little larger. The last of the summer items will be on clearance, too.

September discounts include craft supplies as creative folks gear up for Christmas projects. Even if you're all thumbs, it's a good time to purchase kits, tools and supplies for those who are crafty. A basket of good-quality yarn would be a welcomed gift for a knitter, for instance.

October's tricks can be your treats with spooky items on sale before and after Halloween. Children would enjoy playing dress up with costume props such as masks, hats, boas and fairy wands. After removing any Halloween-related tags and packaging, tuck a few different dress-up items in a reusable pasteboard box or a trunk as a special gift for an imaginative child.

November sales on baskets can provide a bounty of gift containers for you. Just remove any Thanksgiving/autumn accents, cushion the baskets with shredded paper, craft straw or coordinating towels, and load the baskets up with small, associated gifts you can find year round in the clearance bins.

Also, many stores promote deep discounts the day after Thanksgiving. The deeply discounted items are just lures to get you in the store. Use the sales flyers to map out exactly what stores you plan to shop and what you're buying there. Once you buy your treasures, leave; stores want you to linger and buy higher-priced items.

December is one month you should not set foot in a store unless you're truly an intrepid shopper. But the days after Christmas are the perfect time to clean up on holiday decor, candles, wrapping paper and inedible gift items. Be careful about buying fragrances for next year, as time diminishes their potency; however, if you're planning on giving Mom the perfume for Mother's Day, you'll probably be just fine.

All year, keep a Christmas gift list in your wallet to track what you've purchased for whom. Check clearance bins to see for things someone on your list would like.

In addition to keeping the holidays calm and cost-effective, buying presents all year round helps you be more thoughtful of others. You can find gifts they will truly enjoy and use.

Deborah Jeanne Sergeant writes full-time from her home office in Wolcott, N.Y. Her Christmas shopping is about half done.

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