Ahhhh! With warm temperatures, sandy beaches, and bikinis on the brain, what better time is there to bring up Christmas? There are only 196 days left (where does the time go?), so we'd better get moving on organizing our Christmas shopping.
While it's fun to juxtapose summer activities with the winter gift-giving season, the truth is that now really is a good time to consider what you're going to do come December, particularly if you haven't started already.
For too many of us, Christmas ends up becoming a budget-busting enterprise as we get enmeshed in the spirit of the holidays. A little forethought now can prevent a lot of checkbook misery later.
Pay Santa first
You're probably pretty familiar with the Foolish savings mantra to pay yourself first. Setting aside a few dollars every paycheck has amazing compounding powers that will assist in your retiring comfortably. Though seemingly a quaint notion from the past, a Christmas club account can help you do the same with your yuletide gifting program.
In case you've forgotten, Christmas club accounts are usually opened early in the year, and every week for 50 weeks you deposit a predetermined amount, anywhere from pennies to hundreds of dollars. Then right around the beginning of November, your account is made available to you to begin your holiday shopping.
When I was a kid, it was a terrific way for me to save up for Christmas gifts. It remains a good method today, as my family and I seek to live within our means. You may not find them at national banks like Citigroup's (NYSE: C ) Citibank or US Bancorp (NYSE: USB ) , but a lot of banks still offer them. However, banks don't always advertise their availability, so ask.
At just $1 per week, you'll obviously have $50 -- plus interest -- at the end of the 50 weeks. Make that $10, and you'll have more than $500. If you can bump it all the way up to $25 a week, Santa and his helpers will have more than $1,250 come December.
Special savings opportunities
These automatic savings plans are the essence of simplicity. You won't miss that $5, $10, or $25 a week, and by the end of the year you've got enough saved to do all of your shopping without running up your credit card bill.
Many banks waive a minimum balance for Christmas club accounts, and they typically don't have maintenance fees. You usually get interest on the account paid quarterly and you can make the deposit automatically -- by having it withdrawn from your regular checking account or siphoned from your paycheck through direct deposit.
In my book, anything that can cut down personal debt is a good thing. According to the Federal Reserve, consumer debt recently reached $2.2 trillion, more than double what it was a decade ago. It crossed the $1 trillion threshold for the first time in 1994. Of the $400 billion that is estimated to be spent on Christmas this year, $120 billion will be paid by credit card. The average size of a credit card bill in the United States is about $9,000, according to the industry, and if you exclude those Foolish types who pay their balances in full every month, the average balance is really closer to $13,000. That's not the sort of figure that'll make you go "Ho, Ho, Ho."
Sun, sand -- and snow
If you're like many similarly situated people, you're still paying in June for what you spent in December. Even though we're six months into the year, now is just as good a time to open a Christmas club account. Then keep it going so that next year you're not thinking about how you're still paying for that sled you bought Johnny when you should be thinking about getting on your boogie board and hitting the waves.
Fool contributor Rich Duprey has long set aside money for gifts and other special events. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. US Bancorp is an Income Investor recommendation. The Motley Fool finds its disclosure policy to be a form of long-term savings for investors.