BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Timing is everything when it comes to holiday bargains.
Many may mistakenly believe that either Black Friday or Cyber Monday offer the unbeatable deals of the season. For many items, that will be the case, but sometimes either shopping earlier or waiting until the last minute can be far kinder to your budget.
The Web site DealNews.com, for example, compared prices and found that waiting until the third week of December was ideal for toy shopping. Comparing prices throughout the lead-up to Christmas it saw Bigfoot the Monster drop 40% in price, the LeapFrog Leapster Explorer sell for 31% less and Pillow Pets decrease 52%.
Waiting until the last minute doesn't always produce stellar savings, however. Christmas creep may be annoying, but the earlier-and-earlier push for holiday shoppers can sometimes be a boon for the budget conscious.
A survey by National Retail Federation and BIGResearch found that more than half (52%) of online retailers began holiday promotions before Halloween, up from the 40% who planned to do so last year. Another 37% will begin marketing by mid-November.
For a shopping season that may be, at best, average, more sales and promotions are likely to hit stores and online retailers early and often.
According to the NRF's 2011 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, holiday shoppers say they plan to shell out an average of $704.18 on holiday gifts and seasonal merchandise, down slightly from last year's $718.98. NRF is still forecasting overall holiday retail sales to grow 2.8% during November and December to $465.6 billion.
"Just when you think the U.S. economy is turning around, another factor comes into play that changes the game," says NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz. "Persistently high unemployment, an erratic stock market, modest income growth and rising consumer prices are all combining to impact spending this holiday season. How Americans will react to shaky economic data is the question, but the good news for retailers is that shoppers have not yet thrown in the towel."
For those 80% of shoppers who will have started their shopping this month, what should they be looking for -- and when? The following are five things that make sense to buy now, rather than later in the holiday season: