Mary Hunt

Readers know that we pull out all the stops around here to celebrate Christmas early. Or at least start thinking about the holidays, which are just a couple months down the road.

If you are or have ever been plagued by credit card debt, I can nearly guarantee that revolving expenses related to Christmas have contributed greatly to that miserable situation.

Face it: When it comes to Christmas preparations, the longer you wait, the more you’ll spend. The opposite is also true: The sooner you get started, the less you’ll spend.

Don’t wait. Do something now.

Start saving. I get that not all of us are into Christmas shopping any other time than December. It just doesn’t feel right. What you can do now is get diligent with creating a healthy cash stash so you have the money to do that come December.

Stash $50 a week starting now. Once you are in motion it will be easier to keep going. Even if that’s all you do, you’ll be way ahead.

Book travel. We’re learning that the ongoing Boeing 737 Max grounding is going to affect holiday travel, and not in a good way. Southwest Airlines opened its booking calendar for flights in December much earlier than usual. And by the looks things, lots of flights are already sold out. Now’s the time to book any holiday travel you have in mind.

Southwest allows the cost of a canceled flight to be applied toward future travel and doesn’t charge a fee to change flights. The airline is currently waiving fare differences for customers who need to change a trip because of the extended schedule disruption.

Family photo. Whether it’s for your family Christmas card or a framed gift for friends and family, now’s a great time to take that photo. You’ll have plenty of time to shop around for the best price on high-quality prints. Check out Costco, Snapfish and Vistaprint for great prices.

Family cookbook. Compile your own personal recipe collection into a cookbook for friends and family. But don’t wait. Start now on this ambitious project. Check out recipe sites that allow you to upload your own pictures, photos and recipes and get them printed in your own personalized cookbook.

Garden gifts. Look in your garden and see what you can make, can and freeze into gifts. Try making freezer jam as a quicker alternative to going through the whole canning process. offers free step-by-step instructions for Strawberry Freezer Jam, along with tons of other how-to articles to help you pickle, can and preserve your garden’s bounty.

Favorite things basket. Chances are you’re familiar with Oprah’s annual show dedicated to showcasing her favorite things. Use that idea this year to create gift baskets for just about everyone on your holiday gift list. You’ll need to get started early.

These baskets can include a favorite book or magazine; lotion or soap; cookie or cookie recipe; mixed CD of your favorite songs; favorite stain remover (Soilove!; favorite beverage; and so on. You’ll come up with all kinds of ideas once you start thinking about it.

Back-to-school sales. If you have kids on your holiday gift list, make sure you check out the back-to-school sales at your office supply and department stores. They nearly give away some school supplies this time of year — they’re that cheap! And kids love receiving art supplies, anything from new crayons to markers, to paper, to paints, to stickers.

Create craft kits or gift baskets for the kids on your list. That’s something you can do in the next month or two. Just think of all the money you’ll save — and the time you’ll give yourself in December because you did some of the holiday work early.

Merry Christmas in September, everyone!

Reader tips

ANTS OUTSMARTED. Ants like to gather around my cat, Spanky’s, food bowl. I don’t want to use bug sprays around his food, so I cut a cucumber into slices and put them around his bowl. Ants hate cucumbers, so it’s a natural repellent, and it won’t harm my kitty.

As an added precaution, sometimes I place his small food dish inside a larger bowl and fill the larger bowl partway with water, creating a moat around his food. If ants try to get his food, they drown instead.

— Rhonda

DOG TREATS. I hate to pay the going price of doggie treats — $4 to $8 a pound or more. What’s more, most of them look to me like artificial food.

So, I came up with the idea of cut-up hot dogs to use as treats and rewards. Supermarkets always have cheap, store-brand hot dogs for around $2 a pound — even cheaper on sale. I slice the hot dogs into 1/2-inch pieces and keep these doggie treats in a container in the refrigerator.

I get quite a few treats per pound. I’m giving our dogs real food instead of treats that look like plastic — at a considerable savings per pound.

— Rachel

CELLPHONE SNAPS GROCERY LIST: I make my grocery list on a whiteboard and take a photo with my phone, and off to the store I go.

— S.Z.

Mary Hunt, founder of, writes this column for Creators Syndicate. Send tips or address questions to: Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740, or email her at

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