The holiday shopping season starts earlier every year. Long before Thanksgiving dinner has been reduced to leftovers, shoppers will be looking for bargains.Serious bargain hunters get excited about all the sales on the day after Thanksgiving. To make the most of the big day, they sort through advertisements and go online to compare prices. They plan to hit stores for time-specific sales and map out routes to cut down on time wasted in traffic or looking for a parking spot.Many others avoid the chaos by shopping early or online, and still others get caught up in the moment, joining the spending frenzy with no plan or shopping list.While shopping smart is important every month, the stakes are especially high after Thanksgiving. Start holiday shopping early. With a little forethought, even procrastinators can benefit from these shopping tips.Spend SmartDevelop a spending plan for the holidays. No one wants to start the New Year facing a huge credit card bill. Know how much money you can reasonably afford to spend and make a budget.A holiday spending plan is not just about the gifts. Remember to include parties, greeting cards and postage, charitable giving, clothes to wear to holiday functions and other things that add joy to the holiday season.Be creative. Belt tightening is in, and wasteful spending is out. Remember, the thought is what counts. Homemade gifts, whether food, clothing or crafts, may be appreciated more than something purchased at a local big-box store. Gifts of time for babysitting, car washing or house cleaning are also good options.Think carefully about each and every purchase. At the store, keep the spending plan and shopping list in hand. Avoid making a spur-of-the-moment decision about an item.Use sales circulars and advertisements to plan purchases. Compare offerings from different stores to find the best deals. Once a particular item is selected, compare features, quality, prices, installation charges, delivery and service. Sometimes the cost to use and maintain an item makes selecting a more expensive model the cheaper option.Conserve GasolineAvoid running from store to store. Instead, use your phone and the internet to scout price information before heading out. You may consider directly shipping gifts to out-of-town friends and family instead of buying them and shipping them yourself. Shop online to locate special or unique gifts. Use a secure browser, shop with known companies and keep your passwords creative and private. Pay particular attention to shipping charges. Be sure to print out receipts and keep records of purchases.The best deals may come late in the season, and shoppers can wait for last-minute price cuts for items that are not in short supply. Retailers have rolled out holiday items earlier than ever this year, so the sales may also start earlier too.Expect to pay a fair and reasonable price for goods and services. Bargains that sound too good to be true are usually just that. Read labels, seals, tags and instruction booklets. Ask questions about the product. Ask questions about each store’s return policies, and save your receipts.Overspending can ruin the holidays and the months that follow. Plan ahead and stick to the plan. Spending only as much as you can afford will make the holidays better for all.