Easy Holiday Savings Strategies to Start Now

If you're already thinking about how much the holidays are going to cost you this year, you're not alone. A new survey by Kelton Research shows that 58 percent of Americans are concerned about the cost of holiday shopping.

"Good Morning America" financial contributor Mellody Hobson has advice to help you get started early and save some real money.

Early Travel Savings Tips

One of the biggest expenses is always travel. More than 50 million Americans fly during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, according to AAA. Hobson says there are ways to save money on holiday travel by planning ahead.

VIDEO: Saving Strategies for Holiday ShoppingPlay

The good news is that according to Bing Travel Services, airline experts believe that Thanksgiving airfares will be down 22 percent from last year and Christmas and New Year's fares are expected to be down 17 percent.

But Hobson cautions that you still need to book early and be flexible about your travel dates in order to save.

Avoid super travel days around the holidays: Several airlines (American, United and U.S. Airways), have added $10 surcharges to most tickets for travel on the three busy days around Thanksgiving and the New Year's holidays, so avoid travel on Nov. 29, and Jan. 1 - Jan. 3.

By avoiding the busiest days of the year, you'll also avoid higher fares in general. For example, Hobson says that if you return on the Monday after Thanksgiving, you can save 10 percent. You can save up to $70 if you travel on Thanksgiving day, and 10 percent if you travel on Christmas day.

Check Out New Holiday 'Club Accounts'

A lot of people go into debt every year because of holiday shopping and expenses, but some of the nation's largest retailers now have holiday club accounts that let you save without tapping your credit cards.

These "club accounts" at national retailers such as Sears, K-Mart and Lands End can offer up to a three percent match up to $100.

You can activate these accounts with just a $5 deposit at a store or online. For every dollar you set aside in the account, the stores will give you a three percent match on your total as of Nov. 14, up to a maximum contribution of $100.

You can't get that money back. Once you've made the deposits, the money can only be spent at that store, but the savings won't expire so there's not a rush to use it.
If you think it will encourage you to spend more than you otherwise would at a certain store, don't use it.

How to Start Saving Now on Holiday Spending

Use Bank 'Holiday Accounts;' Avoid Credit Cards

Hobson says that bank holiday accounts can help you keep all these costs off your credit cards, so you only spend what you really have and can afford.

A quarter of all Americans will take 12 months to fully pay off their holiday purchases -- that's 12 months of paying interest and being in debt. To avoid running up credit card bills, Hobson recommends using a holiday account at your bank or credit union.

When you set up the accounts, money is automatically pulled from your checking or savings account on a periodic basis and put into your holiday account (the amount and frequency of deposits depend on the rules of your financial institution).

In November, your bank will either send you a check for the amount in your account, or they will deposit it into your existing bank account. Most of these accounts only require a small minimum deposit, usually just $5.

If your bank doesn't offer this service, Hobson says you can still set up an account that will automatically take money from your existing account on a regular basis.

Plan a Slow-Down Holiday: Spend 10-20 Percent Less

Last year, the average American spent about $630 on gifts, and about $830 total on holiday-related spending.

Hobson says the best thing to do is lower your budget by 10 to 20 percent. You can spend even less if you communicate with your family and friends and plan a slow-down holiday or a buy-less holiday. She suggests setting limits on gifts costs or instituting a "gift wheel," where one person buys a gift for someone else, but not everyone.

And most importantly, she says to make sure to keep track of your spending with a detailed budget. If you make a list in advance, you'll be prepared to look for items on sale and you'll have a god sense of your total shopping budget.

How to Start Saving Now on Holiday Spending

Seek Out Online Deals; Shop Early

Most Americans do at least some holiday shopping online -- Consumers spent almost $26 billion on retail e-commerce sites last holiday season, according to a study by Comscore.

There are sites out there specifically dedicated to spotting holiday deals.

CyberMonday.com collects prices and sales information from 600 retailers. You can see who has the best sales and terms such as free shipping. The site is a one-stop resource for sales and coupons.

Hobson says important online strategy is to shop early. Sites like Amazon.com have a great selection, but as they sell out of items, only the more expensive versions of a product will be available. An additional advantage of the internet is that in some cases you do not have to pay a sales tax, depending on the state you live in. Many sites also offer free shipping.