If you’re a Christmas-enthusiast like myself, you are undoubtly familiar with the ABC Family’s “25 Days of Christmas.” It’s an annual special the channel does where they play holiday movies 24/7 from December 1st all the way until Christmas Day. Needless to say, ABC Family is the only channel I watch for that entire month; I love any Christmas movie, the hokier the better, and I am obsessed with the old Rankin/Bass films like Jack Frost and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. I look forward to those movies marathons every year.
But a week ago I saw a commercial for something called “the Countdown to Christmas” that starts on November 20th and I was a little confused. Like me you’re probably thinking, isn’t the “25 Days of Christmas” already a countdown? Yes, yes it is. And doesn’t starting it early and playing Christmas movies willy-nilly sort of make the real holiday season less magical? It sure does. To me, adding extra days to the “25 Days of Christmas” is like adding days to your Advent Calendar – it ruins the whole thing, it makes no sense, and you just don’t do it. But apparently ABC Family has decided that 25 days is not enough. They will start the Christmas season before the rest of us sit down for Thanksgiving Dinner.
In recent years the Christmas-Come-Early schtick has become all too familiar to the American consumer. We roll our eyes and change the channel when we see holiday commercials on TV during Halloween, but so many major retailers are advertising holidays deals in October now-a-days that none of these ads really take us by surprise. In fact, the marketing phenomenon is so common that it has a name, Christmas Creep, which urbandictionary.com defines as a:
“Universally hated, market driven phenomenon that if left unchecked will eventually culminate in an uninterrupted decade of concatenated carol medleys, closely followed by a glorious moment of frantic arson destroying every Christmatastasized mall in America.”
This year, Kmart wins the award for earliest Christmas ad of the season; their commercial started running on September 9th, when most kids were still getting on the bus for their first day of school. The company aired a television ad featuring a gingerbread man sneaking up on a women while a voiceover stated, “Don’t let the holidays sneak up on you. Shop early with Kmart free layaway.” You can check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNbHHwaXhYg
So why is Christmas coming earlier and earlier here in the U.S.? Turns out ad execs don’t encourage Christmas Creep just because they’re little elves who like to spread holiday cheer; there less lofty reasons for adverstising early. DailyFinance.com and financial columnist Jean Chatzky list a few:
1. No Presidential Election. Last year, political attack ads and endless news cycles about the race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney ruled the airwaves until early November. This year, ad space is free for more cheerful messages about layaway programs and good deals on toys.
2. Late Thanksgiving/ Black Friday. Thanksgiving is always on the 4th Thursday of the month, with Black Friday, the “official” start of the shopping season, kicking off the next day. The 1st of November is on a Friday this year, which means Thanksgiving is a week later than usual (November 28th) AND Black Friday isn’t until the 29th. Instead of the usual 5 weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, this year only has 4.
3. Super Early Chanukah. This year the first night of the Jewish holiday falls on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (November 27th) so Jewish shoppers can’t wait for Black Friday to do their shopping. Though only 2% of Americans celebrate Chanukah, the early holiday is prompting some retailers to start advertising sooner, especially in areas like New York or Florida with a higher number of Jewish shoppers.
4. Low Spending Forecast. ShopperTrak predicts that holiday spending will rise this year, but only by about 2.4%. In a still struggling economy, consumers are keeping a close eye on their holiday spending budgets. Retailers are hoping to boost profits buy advertising early and promoting discounts.
Knowing there’s reason behind the early season might not have you humming carols and smiling about seeing Santa in September, BUT you might be pleased to know that Christmas Creep is actually very good for your wallet. Starting your holiday shopping early (maybe not in September but October or November) can help you stay within your budget and still get you everything on your Christmas list! Here’s 5 reasons to shop early:
1. Aggressive Ads = Great Deals. You might think that everything goes on sale December 26th, but there are actually a lot of great bargains to be found early in the shopping season. Retailers want consumers to shop early and often, thus all the ads in September. Early bird deals are often the most aggressive/ lowest prices of the year.
2. More Time. If you are my dad, you do all of you shopping Christmas Eve, and you are forced to buy whatever is in front of you. If you need presents for the next morning, you’ll buy stuff no matter how high the price because it’s there. Shopping early allows you to compare between other stores and online retailers for the best price on an item. It also lets you be more picky; if you don’t see something you really like at one store you’ll have the time to browse elsewhere. No time crunch means less impulse buying.
3. Layway & Holiday Loans. It turns out, Kmart was doing you a favor with that Christmas in September ad. Using financially smart products like Kmart’s layaway program help you pay for the holiday without racking up the charges on high interest credit cards. If the stores on your shopping route don’t offer layaway, consider applying for a holiday loan. Many credit unions offer low rate loans specifically for holiday purchases. Mine is offering a holiday loan right now at 7.99% (which is way better than my 19% credit card) for up to $2,500. Making payments on a holiday loan will keep your monthly budget on track and help build your credit. If you haven’t been putting a little money away here and there throughout the year for holiday spending, a loan like this is a super smart way to finance your Christmas shopping.
4. Online Shopping. If you shop early online, a large number of retailers offer deals on shipping costs (some even ship for free!). Even if there’s no shipping discount, you won’t have to worry about paying extra for next-day shipping or wonder if your items will get delivered before the 25th. And finally, you’ll have time to return things that got ruined in the mail or that don’t look as nice in person as they did on your screen.
5. Spread It Out. I don’t know about you, but my budget doesn’t really accomodate dropping two grand in one day during a holiday shopping spree. I have a little wiggle room, but most of my money goes towards rent, food, and those pesky student loans. If I start shopping early, I don’t have to buy everything on my list all at once. Spreading the cost out over 2 or 3 months worth of paychecks makes holiday shopping a lot more manageable because my budget can handle $50-75 every few weeks. While I could just put that money in a Christmas Savings account, I know I’m more likely to spend it on other things if I have access to it. If I already bought the items, I can’t buy shoes or coffee with the funds instead. Shopping a little at a time makes my wallet and everyone on my list have a merrier Christmas.
Here’s a few other good reads about holiday shopping:
Happy Shopping and Happy Holidays to You!