Christmas probably feels a long way off. We've only just had the final Bank Holiday of the year and some of us still have ambitions for a barbeque or two before admitting the summer is over.
But as unpalatable as it may seem, it's a really good idea to start your Christmas shopping now.
Set your budget
According to Halifax, the average person spent around £469 on Christmas last year, including food and drink as well as presents. That's an awful lot to try to cover in just a single paycheck, so do some of your shopping now and spread it out!
Working out a budget is a good start. Even if it’s quite vague, try and get a rough idea of who you’re buying for and what they’re buying them. If you’re struggling for ideas, go for a classic, even as a placeholder.
You could take advantage of sales between now and Christmas Day. As we’re coming to the end of summer, autumn and winter fashion is already popping up in clothes shops, meaning that old stock is going cheap.
Create a Christmas cupboard to keep everything together, including wrapping paper and cards so that you don’t lose anything.
Making presents at home
You could start planning their homemade Christmas gifts now if you want to make a lot of them yourself. There’s loads you can make: scarves, jams, ornaments, truffles or something really obscure that only the recipient will understand.
Gather some ideas at How to make successful Christmas presents.
Many of us do the bulk of our shopping online nowadays, with fortunes spent every day. But there are plenty of ways to save a bit of cash.
If you know what you are looking for, use a price comparison site like PriceRunner to see where you can get it cheapest. It's also a good idea to make use of a service like Bespoke Offers, which can find you a killer price, but only for a limited time. Read Barclaycard Bespoke Offers: new personalised daily deals service.
Alternatively, you can use eBay: you never know what one-off knick knacks you might find. There’s even an entire page devoted to Christmas gifts. Or you could sell some old stuff to make a bit of Christmas shopping cash instead. Find out How to sell successfully on eBay.
Don't forget to take a detour via cashback sites. If you shop through their special retail links, you’ll get a certain percentage back in cashback. Start by signing up to TopCashback and Quidco for free. It’s also worth having a look at the likes of Voucher Codes and Voucher Cloud to see if you can grab some top off-peak deals.
Of course, you can always have a trawl around trading sites like Freecycle for more ideas.
And as a general rule, it's best to avoid gift cards as you never know what could happen between now and Christmas. If you're really stuck, go for a multi-retailer gift card. Read Why gift vouchers and cards make bad Christmas presents.
[SPOTLIGHT]Be careful with buying kids toys early, particularly character toys. The little people in your life might have switched allegiance from Peppa Pig to Dora the Explorer come Christmas! Stick to things like clothes and games in the meantime.
And while we’re on the subject of children’s clothing gifts, buy at least a size too big. Any parent will know how fast they grow when they’re younger so at least they’ll get more use out of it.
If you’re buying for really young children, don’t worry too much about the gift itself. At that age they might just be happy playing with the wrapping paper!
Read the returns policies
A major snag with buying this early is how items are covered by returns policies. Some stores offer benefits for early shoppers, but it's usually for those who start in mid-October.
Generally, shops are under no obligation to accept returns unless they have a set returns policy, which they are obligated to follow. The only exception is if the gift was faulty when bought, not as described or not fit for purpose. It’s unlikely that personalised gifts will be accepted unless they were faulty when bought.
Shops state that you must take gifts back “within a reasonable time”. Even then, they're unlikely to take it back unless you’ve got proof of purchase like a gift receipt or your bank or debit card.
Watch out for the terms and conditions too as they can catch you out with extra charges.
For example, IWantOneOfThose requires you to pay postal fee to return goods while Toys R Us only supplies a credit note for returned gifts. If you want to return something to JD Sports by post you need to pay for courier collection, while with Goldsmiths you need to fill out an exchange and returns form, enclosing it with your order.