Christmas in July: 1 million have finished their shopping

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A bizarre new piece of research has revealed that an incredible 1 million people in the UK have already finished their Christmas shopping. If you're one of these festive fans, who are dedicated to forward planning and spreading the cost of the festive season, you must be basking in the warm glow of success. So try not to let the thought that you may have overspent spoil your fun.

The research, by QVC, found that 38% of people have started their Christmas shopping, and 1.38 million have already finished. When asked why they shopped so early, 41% said they wanted to snap up bargains when they became available, while 36% said they wanted to avoid the hell of shopping closer to Christmas, and 20% said it was the only way to avoid being overwhelmed with seasonal stress.

All of these are great reasons to start your shopping. The post-Christmas sales are often a brilliant place to pick up festive treats at a knock-down price, when Christmas cards, wrapping and decorations can be snapped up for next to nothing.

You also have the January sales and summer sales to exploit, where there are some amazing bargains to be had - so in theory you could get everything for Christmas with up to 70% off - at least halving the price of presents.
The pitfalls

However, the same research showed that we're not actually spending any less. In fact, we're spending more. It predicts that in total Christmas spending will hit £29 million this year - up £4.5 billion from last year. Shoppers will spend an average of £650 each - £290 of which will be on presents.

These figures highlight one of the three major problems with buying presents early: it can persuade us to buy more. If we're not feeling the financial pain in one hit, we can be tempted to splash out, so our forward planning ends up costing us more rather then less.

Anyone buying for children also faces the very real risk that the kids will change their mind. If you buy anything more than six months in advance, there's an extremely high likelihood that by the time you get to the big day they will either have saved up to buy it themselves, or gone off the present and transferred their affections to a new toy, film, band or fashion style. Then you're faced with the tough choice between disappointing them on the day or forking out even more money for the things they suddenly decide they like in the middle of December.

The third possible pitfall is that once you have finished shopping, you'll still have to face the temptations of Black Friday and the pre-Christmas sales. If you can honestly say that you'll be able to walk past sales offering a huge number of items at jaw-dropping discounts, then this doesn't pose a risk at all. However, if you tend to find yourself drifting towards any sale, you can expect to fork out even more buying people more presents than you intended to.

What can you do?

There are some early purchases that could make everyone's lives easier. Having a drawer full of Christmas wrapping and cards bought in January will not only cut the costs, but will also allow you to spread the pain of writing Christmas cards over a few months - so you actually have time to go out and enjoy the run-up to Christmas.

You can also set yourself some rules that will allow you to take advantage of the sales in relative safety. This can mean steering clear of anything overtly fashionable, items themed around a fad or a film, or toys where there's any risk your children's interest will wane. You should also introduce a discount limit - where you only let yourself purchase an item when there's a certain level of discount. That way you know you're unlikely to come back in the pre-Christmas sales and find it cheaper.

And finally, you need to save. Just because you're not spreading the purchases across the year, it doesn't mean you shouldn't be spreading the cost. You have five months until Christmas, so if at all possible, you should make sure you put aside a fifth of the cost each month in a separate savings account.

That way you can feel smug on three counts - about what you've bought, what you've saved, and the mistakes you haven't made.

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Christmas in July: 1 million have finished their shopping
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