Christmas in July

by Shauna Sonoda

As the mercury hits 100 degrees this summer, your thoughts will automatically turn to popsicles, running in sprinklers and lazy days by the beach. Now is a great time to think about Christmas. You can shave vast amounts of money off your January bills by doing some advance planning, rather than waiting until November when the retailers really sock it to you. All you need is a box, a good hiding place (attic, closet or basement) and some patience.

Basically, the idea is to find things that are cheap or free all year around. By stockpiling these items, you will be ready for Christmas (or birthdays) without hassle or worry and at a fraction of the cost.

Here are a few tips for getting the stuff cheap or free (the best deals are for kid's items, but it can work for adult stuff as well):

  1. Shop a year in advance. Winter sweaters and long pants go on sale in February. Shorts and t- shirts go on sale in July. Buy one size larger than the child is now. The trick here is not to buy trendy or character items that might be "out" by next year. I have found that stores like Target will have some tremendous markdowns on out of season apparel.

  2. Shop the day after a holiday. Holidays such as Valentines Day, Christmas, Halloween and Easter generally mark everything down 50% the next day in order to clear their shelves. This is a great time to stock up on candy, books and stuffed animals. Kids won't care if there is a Frankenstien on their candy instead of a Santa. It's the candy they are interested in. After Christmas is a great time to stock up on Christmas videos, tapes, books, jewelry, etc. Kids enjoy this stuff all year.

  3. Make a point to make a quick cruise past all the clearance shelves every time you go into a store. You never know what they might be trying to clear out.

  4. Look in the Sunday coupon supplements for free and cents off candy coupons. Many cents off candy coupons can be doubled, making the item free. Great stocking stuffers!

  5. Get a credit card from Toys R Us. The trick here is to pay off your balance each month or the card is not worth it, but you will get 1% of your total purchase back in Geoffrey Dollars (store credit).

    If you save the credits all year, you will be able to buy some nice stuff. The credits will stretch even farther if you buy stuff with a coupon from their coupon book.

  6. Look for bargain turkeys. Typically stores will offer a buy one, get one free sale on Thanksgiving turkeys. If you are totally sick of eating turkey by Christmas, you can freeze it until Easter, or donate it to a needy family.

  7. Look for premiums. Many companies will send toys and clothes in exchange for a few UPC symbols. Soda companies and cereal companies are usually the best source.

  8. Make jams and jellies in summer when fruit is cheap. Makes great hostess or "emergency" gifts.

With a little bit of patience and effort, you will not only have some great gifts to give during the holidays, but you will be giving yourself peace of mind when the credit card bill comes in January.

True or False

Debt is preventing me from taking a vacation this year or the vacation I'd like to take this year! Tell us: Yes, debt is affecting my vacation plans! or No, we're going exactly where we want to go but we'd love to learn make our trip as inexpensive as possible!

About the author: I became a bargain hunter when my daughter was born and I became a stay-at-home mom. Money was tight because my husband was trying to start a business on a shoestring budget and our only income was from a daycare that I ran from our home. When my son was born two years later, daycare was no longer a possibility and money had to stretch even farther. We accumulated some pretty heavy debt during that period, but I was determined to pay it off as soon as possible.

Being frugal was not a choice, it was a matter of survival at this point and tips like this were invaluable. When our business finally got going, I kept up our frugal practices and was able to pay off our debts. Now I find that shopping year round alleviates a lot of holiday stress and I have done it ever since.

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