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Money as Christmas presents

Elzbieta Sekowska/Getty Images/iStockphoto/Elzbieta Sekowska/Getty Images/iStockphoto

There are less than 100 shopping days until Christmas, according to an e-mail I received last week. It's hard to get into the holiday spirit when Halloween hasn't passed, and we're still wearing shoes with no socks. Still, every year we complain that the holidays sneak up on us, and with the sneak attack comes stress and unintentional overspending. Why not get a head start on the season? Here's how.

Set a seasonal spending plan

Personal finance author Jean Chatzky suggests we spend no more than 1.5 per cent of our take-home pay on the holidays. Why? In her experience it's the dollar amount that most of us can pay off by February. She provides a calculator on her site pointing out how much you can spend, and more importantly, how much that spending increases if you charge your gifts and only make the minimum payments on your credit cards. It makes you think twice about your gift list when you see you could be paying for your gifts well into 2014. When you know what you're able to spend, break it down into monthly or weekly savings goals so you can start setting this money aside.

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Limit your list

Creating a list for holiday gifts should start now. Jotting it down on paper, putting it into your smart phone, or using a gift-giving app like Gift Planner helps to keep track of what you need to buy. It also jogs your memory if you see a sale item, in store or online, that's perfect for someone on your list. You can also start a customized search for those on your list through sites like Groupon and LivingSocial to snag the best deals.

Pay with plastic and points

If you have gift cards lying around from last year (I have three in my wallet), or store credit notes from this year, now is the time to put them towards gifts for others. If you're not sure what to get, trade in your old cards for new ones at the same store, or trade them at sites like for more fitting ones. While I'm not a huge fan of giving gift cards, people do like receiving them. According to the 2010 Visa Gift Giving Survey, 85 per cent of respondents claimed that they would appreciate a gift card for a present. Cashing in your points on all loyalty programs also helps to round up some "free" gifts for those on your list. Sites like let you search for items on your shopping list and "purchase" them with points instead of cash.

Seasonal work

If you're considering seasonal work, now is the time to start thinking about your options as many retailers start getting ready for the holiday season in October. Part-time work over the holidays is good way to earn additional cash, and take advantage of employee discounts. My last retail job allowed me to use my discount right away, saving 40 per cent.

There's no downside to starting holiday planning now. Sure, fall hasn't even officially begun, but that doesn't mean we can't get into the holiday spirit, even if it is just for a few minutes to map out a plan. Thinking ahead to what's in store in the coming months will save us from overdoing it at the eleventh hour, and having to pay for our purchases well into the new year. There's nothing jolly about that.

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About the Author
Angela Self

Angela Self is one of the founders of the Smart Cookies, a group of five women who specialize in personal finance. They are hosts of a self-titled show on the W Network and the authors of The Smart Cookies' Guide to Making More Dough. More

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