Inflation fears spur shoppers to get an early jump on the year-end holidays

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Inflation is a Scrooge.

Although the holiday season is still months away, consumers are already concerned about how they will afford this year’s gifts as prices continue to rise, several studies show.

Roughly 40% of holiday shoppers said inflation is changing the way they shop, with most trying money-saving strategies, according to a new Bankrate.com report, such as buying fewer items or less expensive brands and using coupons, discounts and credit card rewards to offset costs.

More than half — or 59% — of Americans are stressed about buying gifts this holiday season due to higher prices, another recent survey said.

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Many consumers are also getting a head start as a result. More than 1 in 10 started their shopping before the beginning of September, and half of holiday shoppers plan to start before Halloween, Bankrate found.  

“Holiday shopping will look different this year with inflation around 40-year highs,” said Ted Rossman, Bankrate’s senior industry analyst.

“Starting earlier could help because it gives you time to spread out your cash flow and find the best deals,” he added.

But 65% of consumers don’t have money set aside for these purchases, and 27% said holiday shopping will put a strain the budget.

Another 27% said they will go into debt buying gifts, including some who plan to use buy now, pay later programs for their purchases and others who will have to pay off their credit card bill over time, according to Bankrate.

4 ways to save on holiday shopping

“Put your plan in place immediately,” said Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst at DealNews.com.

Start with a gift list and your holiday budget, she advised, then keep an eye out for price drops in sales events.

“It makes sense to go ahead and buy it as soon as you see a deal,” she said. “That will lessen your stress the closer you get to the holiday.”

“I’m also a big fan of stacking discounts such as rewards credit cards, online shopping portals and store coupons,” said Rossman at Bankrate.

Shoppers flock to online buy now, pay later programs

Money-saving expert Andrea Woroch offers these four tips to help make the holidays more affordable:

  1. Start shopping now to spread out the expense. “Just make sure you are using a gift-tracking app like Santa’s Bag where you can keep tabs on what you’ve bought and for whom you’ve bought gifts for leading up to the holidays as well as how much you’ve spent so you can stay on budget,” Woroch said.
  2. If you’ve already done some shopping, snap pictures of your receipts using an app like Fetch Rewards to earn points that are good toward free gift cards at stores such as AmazonTarget or Walmart to offset future purchases or even give as gifts, Woroch suggested. You can also earn cash back for online orders with Cently or CouponCabin.com, which has a free app, as well as a browser extension.
  3. If you qualify, Woroch recommends applying for a new card with a sign-up bonus or cash back. “You could essential earn free money to put towards holiday savings by taking advantage of those offers,” she said. (CNBC’s Select has a full roundup of the best cards for holiday shopping.)
  4. Find other ways to cut back. “Think about how you can lighten your monthly spend by reassessing your bills — there’s a good chance you’re paying for things you don’t need,” she said. Subscriptions are a great place to start. Most people are shelling out much more than they think for streaming services and other recurring expenses (or even paying for a subscription they are no longer using).

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