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You need to think about Christmas -- NOW

It's a great time to get out of gift exchanges you don't want to participate in. It's also a good time to put your bargain hunting on auto pilot.

By Karen Datko Jun 24, 2010 10:53AM

This post comes from Trent Hamm at partner blog The Simple Dollar.

 

It's June, so there's no better time to write about Christmas. Right? Right.

 

The truth of the matter is that just a little bit of forethought right now can save you a ton of time, effort, cost, and heartache this December. While it might feel really out of place to think about Christmas on a warm June day, right now is the perfect time to give these five things a quick thought.

 

Kill off unwanted gift exchanges. If you're a member of a gift exchange or two that you don't want to participate in, right now is the time to put an axe in it. Send an e-mail or a Facebook message to the other members of the exchange stating the truth of the matter: You enjoy seeing the people, but you don't think a gift exchange is a great idea.

 

If completely bowing out seems potentially damaging, suggest that this year be a "secret Santa" drawing instead of everyone buying everyone else gifts. Or suggest a cap on how much can be spent.

Doing this now is much better than doing it in late November or the middle of December when people are already financially and emotionally involved in their holiday purchasing. The solution to too many Christmas gifts purchased is just an e-mail away.

 

Put the important people on your radar. Most of us have a handful of people we're going to buy Christmas gifts for this year. Since those people are truly important to us, we often desire to find the perfect gift for them.

That's why I start my list now, so I have plenty of time to listen to what they're saying, think about what they'd value, and come up with great gift ideas (and bargains on those ideas) well in advance of the big day, rather than stumbling through Target on Dec. 20, pushing aside the hordes and scavenging whatever overlooked items remain on the shelves in hopes of finding something they won't find too repugnant.

 

Make a list of the people you want to buy for, then pay attention to them in the coming months. Most people will reveal deep interests and passions and sometimes even specific ideas over the course of the year. For example, maybe your sister will mention a type of sweater she finds particularly flattering, or maybe your father will lament not having grow lights so he can start seedlings in the basement in January instead of having to buy starts for his garden in April. Write these down, as they can be the source of great gifts.

 

Start automatic bargain hunting. If you're certain of a particular gift for someone already, there's no better time than now to start bargain hunting.

 

Already?

 

It doesn't have to be as painful as it sounds. Let's say, for example, that you have decided to buy your sister's oldest son a PlayStation 3 for Christmas this year, but you don't want to spend a mint on it. Right now is the best time to start automatically bargain hunting for it.

 

You can use tools like FeedSifter to sift through the Internet feeds of websites that list bargains for items you're looking for -- like, for example, Amazon Gold Box. Then, put that FeedSifter feed into a service like FeedMailer so that whenever a deal pops up, you receive an e-mail telling you about it.

 

Then sit back and wait. The exact deals you want will pop into your e-mail inbox as they come up. Easy as pie.

 

I already have six of these running for two potential Christmas gifts.

 

Plan ahead for homemade gifts. Some of us (myself included) love to receive homemade gifts -- and we love to make them, too.

 

The problem is that some of them take a lot of advance planning. In order to assure proper aging, you need to consider making things like homemade beer and homemade soaps now rather than in November. If you're going to knit some sweaters, now's the time to bust out the yarn and the needles.

 

If you'd like to save a lot of money and come up with some really memorable gifts, go homemade. The catch? You probably should start now on whatever that project is.

 

Make it easier on last-minute gift hunters. In my family, a lot of people wait until the last minute to do gift shopping. They wait until Dec. 15, then call around in a panic and search Internet wish lists (like Amazon's) for some sort of indication of what people want. Each year I get calls from people asking me what I want for Christmas.

Of course, the typical response is to try to think of stuff quickly off the top of your head -- items that usually end up not being what you really want or could actually use.

 

Take that challenge head-on. Think of a handful of items you could genuinely use in your life. Once you discover them, put them on an Amazon or similar wish list. Then, if last-minute panicked calls come in, you don't have to rack your brain and come up with half-baked ideas.

 

There's no need to promote the wish list, of course. Create it as a protection against last-minute gifts that turn out to be items you don't want. With just a bit of effort now, you can turn a situation where no one wins into something useful for yourself and something gratifying for the last-minute gift buyer.

 

More from The Simple Dollar and MSN Money:

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