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How to Tackle Holiday Gift Buying With Fewer Deals and Low Inventory

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Pedestrians carry Macy's shopping bags in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Pedestrians carry Macy's shopping bags in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021.

It's not even Halloween, and yet the year-end holidays are getting a lot of buzz.

Already, Amazon launched "Black Friday-worthy" deals across several categories in a bid to lure early holiday shoppers.

Target kicks off its holiday sales Oct. 10, with a price-matching pledge for early-bird shoppers.

Major retailers are encouraging consumers to start their holiday shopping early as the industry faces a number of challenges, including supply chain setbacks and a labor crunch.  

Shoppers should expect fewer discounts, longer shipping times and limited inventory at stores, experts say, which is reason enough to get a jump on the season.

Even in normal years, the hottest toys can sell out before Black Friday, leaving parents scrambling to snag Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels from secondary sellers like eBay.

This year, toy makers and industry experts alike are cautioning shoppers that it's better to get a toy and pay full price rather than risk not having it at all, according to Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst with DealNews.com.

"With supply being a problem, we're not expecting to see much of a discount on these products when the holidays roll around; in fact, there's a good chance we could see empty shelves," she said. 

To that end, more than half of shoppers, and especially parents with children under 18, plan to start their shopping before Halloween, according to a recent report by CreditCards.com.  

But not everyone is financially prepared to shell out big bucks for holiday gifts so soon after back-to-school shopping.

"If you can, start early but make a budget and stick to it," said Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst for CreditCards.com.

Rossman recommends using this time to comparison shop and spreading out large purchases to help with budgeting, as well as accounting for potential shipping delays or other supply chain issues.

One way to do this is with buy now, pay later. There has been a spike in such "BNPL" options at check out, which allow consumers to pay over a period of instalments. 

"I encourage people to look at ways to take advantage of some of those services, as long as they can do it responsibly," said Genevieve Ryan Bellaire, founder of the Realworld app, aimed at navigating adulthood.

A potential downside is that installment buying could encourage shoppers to spend more than they can afford. A report by one consumer advocacy group in the U.K. found that almost a quarter of installment users spent more than they initially intended to because the service was available.

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Consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch says there are ways to come up with the cash upfront — and avoid falling back on high-interest credit or short-term loans.

"Saving money doesn't have to be complicated — a few small tweaks to your daily and monthly spending could free up enough money to cover all your holiday expenses," she said.

Woroch says these moves may help:

  • Plan out meals and cook at home. Limiting take out dinners and shopping for groceries as you need them will be more economical and reduce food waste.
  • Cancel unused monthly subscriptions. Check which monthly subscriptions and memberships you really use to identify the ones you may no longer need. For example, if you have multiple video streaming accounts, perhaps keep Prime Video but nix Hulu and Netflix, or vice versa, Woroch suggested.  
  • Comparison-shop for new auto insurance. Ideally, you should re-shop your insurance every year, but as Americans return to their pre-Covid driving habits, this is a particularly good time to check prices before rates rise.
  • Limit impulse purchases. Curb temptation by deleting your payment and shipping details and unsubscribing from store emails.
  • Switch to a credit card with a sign-up bonus and cash back rewards. The card market has gotten competitive, which works in your favor. Look for some of the more generous offerings, such as the Chase Freedom Unlimited credit card with a one-time $200 bonus after you spend $500 in first three months. That, alone, could potentially free up hundreds of dollars in savings, she said.

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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.

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