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This holiday season, some retailers are holding early bird sales ahead of the Black Friday shopping weekend. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

From gifts to flights, it’s best to buy early this holiday season

Jordan Mangi Nov 4, 2022
This holiday season, some retailers are holding early bird sales ahead of the Black Friday shopping weekend. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

This holiday season is looking a bit scary, and not just because the average household spent $100 on Halloween this year and national spending was projected to hit a record-high $10.6 billion.

With wage growth not keeping up with rising inflation right now, money is tight. According to a National Retail Federation survey, 43% of consumers say they don’t earn enough to cover the cost of gifts and other holiday items this year. 

As always, lower income people are feeling the heat of inflation more than others, and fall and winter holiday spending is slated to be no different. Households making over $150,000 plan to spend 20% more than last year, while those making under $75,000 will spend a little less than last year, despite higher costs due to inflation.

So how to maximize a limited pool of holiday cash? There’s always the tried and true “make a budget and stick to it” method, but this year is a bit different because businesses and consumers are feeling nervous about a possible coming recession.

For example, the holiday sale season that comes the weekend after Thanksgiving is a historically popular time to buy, but with supply chain worries and general economic stress, some retailers like Target and Amazon are holding early-bird sales.

“People are planning to spend less during the actual Black Friday, Cyber Monday and holiday season because of inflation,” said Andrea Woroch, a budgeting expert. “Even though people don’t want to spend more, the more sales you have, the more you get people out to shop, the more they’re going to end up spending.”

While spreading out that spending over a few months might help with budgeting, Woroch also warned against falling into the trap of buying just because there’s a good deal.

This year, another important piece of the Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa gifting puzzle is ensuring items are available and arrive in time for the holidays.

“Will there be inventory to sell this year? Yes,” said Thomas O’Connor, a supply chain expert with Gartner. “Will it be the right inventory? That’s a whole other question, that’s what we just don’t know.”

Although supply chain delays have eased since last year, there are still inventory gaps. Some products, O’Connor said, will continue to increase in price because of raw material costs or supply constraints. Categories with a glut of inventory, like fashion apparel and consumer electronics, may see more discounts, he said. Focusing your gifting in those discounted categories could help save some cash.

Above all, O’Connor emphasized buying the most important items as early as possible, to avoid any supply chain mishaps.

“What do you really need to get your kid? What are they relying on Santa bringing and putting into stocking? That stuff you still buy early,” he said. “But things that are more discretionary, it’s worthwhile holding off and seeing what those big sales look like.”

Beyond that, one of the biggest mistakes people make during the holiday season is just focusing on gifts, said Woroch. Budgeting for additional holiday expenses is also important, which can include things as small as gift wrap and big as travel. 

As a rule of thumb, it’s best to book flights as early as possible, especially as holidays are the busiest times to fly, said airline consultant Robert Mann. But the difference this year is that there are simply fewer seats. The shortage was caused by early retirements, route cuts, and a lack of trained pilots and staff, all somewhat a result of the pandemic. 

“If I were to say this in a nutshell, I’d say it’s a colossal failure of planning,” he said.

That shortage has resulted in higher prices, especially on high-demand days. And more Americans are planning to travel for the holidays compared to 2021 — a McKinsey survey found a 12-percentage-point increase in those who say they plan on traveling to see family or friends. 

While it’s a bit late to book a Thanksgiving flight and getting late for Christmas, one way to save is to be flexible about the day, time, and route for your flight, Mann said.

For example, Thanksgiving flights tend to be cheaper very early in the week or on Thanksgiving day itself. And to avoid the Sunday flying crush, it might be better to fly back on Black Friday or the following Monday, according to The Vacationer.  

“But if you want the particular flight on a particular date at a particular time, well, get ready to open your wallet,” Mann said. 

And if you’re feeling the stress of inflated food prices, you might want to try Aldi. The grocery chain just announced they’re offering a “Thanksgiving price rewind,” dropping the cost of holiday staples to 2019 prices, with discounts of up to 30%.

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