Buying gifts early can be a good deal, but before you shell out that money or pull out that credit card, ask yourself the following questions. If the purchase passes all the tests, buy it, then pat yourself on the back for your forethought and thriftiness.
1. Will you have to charge the purchase?
If you have to charge it and you can’t pay the balance when the bill comes at the end of the month, it’s not a good deal. Being Scottish, I have a reluctance to transfer cash from my hand to someone else’s, but credit cards seem easier as I don’t see the cash actually leave my wallet. I heard of one wise shopper who uses a checkbook ledger to keep track of her credit card purchases, keeping an up-to-date balance. It has made her more aware of how much she is charging, and eliminates the end-of-the-month shock when the bill comes.
2. Will you end up spending more than you save?
When I bought my granddaughter a gift at the mall, I received a coupon for $10 off a future $50 purchase. On my next visit to that store, I looked endlessly for something else she would like (and that I could afford) to use that coupon, not wanting to waste it. Then I realized I would end up paying $40 for something she didn’t really want just to “save” the $10. I never did use the coupon.
3. Will you eventually buy another gift for this person?
It’s so easy to buy a gift early for a birthday or Christmas present and later end up buying something else for that person. Don’t do it! One mother had a habit of beginning her Christmas shopping during the back-to-school sales. However, the nearer Christmas came and the holiday ads flooded her mailbox, she would see “one more thing” that friend or relative would like, and every year she ended up going over her budget.
4. Will you be tempted to give it to the person before the actual date?
We have a standing joke in our family that about December 15th, one or both of my granddaughters will come to me and say, “Grandma, I’m so depressed,” hoping I will give them a gift early—and it often works! Or another family member will have a sick day or accomplish something really special and I’ll reach in the closet for one of the gifts I bought. Then I end up having to buy them another present for their birthday or Christmas.
5. Will the person’s size or taste change?
If it’s an item of clothing, the person’s size may change before the actual gift-giving time comes around. Or if it’s a toy related to a popular movie or TV series, the temporary fad may have run its course by the time the birthday or holiday rolls around. A young girl’s desire for Barbie™ items may soon change to New Direction; a boy’s from GI Joe to Star Trek to pirates or Ninja Turtles.
6. Do you have a place to store the item?
Trying to find a hiding place for a large item such as a weight set, or a 25-inch TV can be difficult. Your closet or storage shed can hold only so many bags and boxes so make sure you have a place for these gifts where they won’t be found. (Note: Make sure you remember where you hid them. One year when putting new clothes away, my daughter found a bag of gifts in her closet that she had bought at after-Christmas sales the year before.) Keep a list of what you have purchased and where you hid it. It also helps to keep this list from year to year so you don’t duplicate gifts.
7. Will you be able to return the item if you buy it early?
I bought my daughter a beautiful dolphin necklace one year in September through a mail order catalog. Not until she opened it at Christmas did we discover that the chain was defective. However, the company had a policy of no returns after 60 days. One discount chain in our town will not accept returns after 90 days, even with a receipt, and department stores at the mall are beginning to follow suit.
8. Will the quality deteriorate with time?
Perfume may evaporate, soaps and candles can melt, especially in warm climates. It’s tempting to buy items such as these in the January sales but will they be as appealing a year later?
9. Will the recipients buy the item themselves before the special occasion?
This has happened several times in our family. One year we bought a Christmas present on sale in October that we knew our daughter and husband really wanted. Unfortunately, they wanted one so desperately, they told us they were going to buy one. The one they were going to buy, however, was less expensive and an inferior version of the same product. This necessitated either taking our item back, or telling them we already bought a better one and giving it to them early—which we did in November because they needed it.
10. Is the warranty good only from the date you purchased the item?
If the warranty begins with the actual purchase date, you may lose several months on it, even though the item isn’t opened until a later date. This is especially important on bigger items such as computers and TVs. The merchant you bought the item from in September (or the company which offers the warranty) probably won’t buy your story that the gift wasn’t used until December 25.
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Considering all the above hints, there are times it is a wise idea to buy things when they’re on sale. If you do this, be sure and keep them in a place you can easily locate them. Then you’ll always be ready for an unexpected birthday party, open house, baby shower, or a “just because” gift.