Shoppers are expected to spend less this year plus Thanksgiving falls late on the calendar, clipping six days off the shopping season.
That means stores want you to buy now, but first you need to know the rules.
It's a more than a week before Black Friday and the stores are already promising holiday deals.
Friday, Wal-Mart will kick off a pre-Black Friday savings.
And K-Mart rolled out this holiday ad more than 100 days before Christmas, so what if you bought your gifts then? Can they be returned after Christmas?
"One hundred six days before, you're probably out of luck," said Brad Wilson, Bradsdeals.com. "Starting about November you are okay, but September or October you are not in a comfortable position."
And what about buying now?
Wilson operates the Chicago based Bradsdeals.com and he says some stores may extend their return policies if you buy between November 1 and Christmas. Others may not.
Here's what you need to do:
- Make sure you get a gift receipt.
- Triple check return policies at the register.
- Understand that polices can be different based on the item.
Elmhurst K-Mart shopper Maylaya Sapp, wants a head start.
"If I run into it or on clearance then bingo there you go," she said. "I believe in early Christmas shopping. I think I am late cause normally I start in July."
Return policies can vary depending on if you are buying electronics of clothing. Also, policies can be anywhere from 30, 60, to 90 days, so depending on when you made the purchase you may not want to count on bringing them back.
One solution is to pick the gifts out early and put them on layaway.
"Members are putting it in layaway and they're not picking it up until December, so even though they're putting it on layaway the final receipt are closer to Christmas day so they can still get refunds or exchanges under normal guidelines," said Kathy Escobar, Elmhurst K-Mart store manager.
There are other answers which may already be in your wallet. Wilson says some credit cards can offer you an extended return period.
"It's one of those boring, unsexy things buried in the fine print," he said.
Retail experts also say beware of "ad matching" offers. Many of them have exceptions.
Others may not apply because stores have unique model numbers for the same product.
The best time to shop is either Black Friday through Cyber Monday, or the few days before and after Christmas.