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Okay, I’m well aware that the Christmas / Hanukah holidays are over 100 days away. Make no mistake, I’m the type that gets seriously irked when I hit the dollar store in September only to have Halloween décor, candy and costumes smack me in the head, much less the Thanksgiving and Christmas décor that I’m now seeing in those same stores. Give me a break.

However, the up side to this “let’s try to sell them some Candy Corn/Turkey/Christmas Trees/Menorahs in September” mentality is the opportunity to discuss a concept so radical, so insane, and so unheard of, it’ll have you stopping in your overworked tracks. A concept that will save you such huge amounts of money, time and sanity this holiday season you’ll never go back to doing the holidays the same way again.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am finished with my Christmas shopping, all before the Labor Day weekend. Yes, I’m a freak. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a 42 years old red blooded American female who loves to test her shopping mettle with the best of them. Until a couple of years ago, I was amongst the holiday herds who took last-minute Christmas shopping to an Olympic sport level year after year, despite being benched multiple times for Excessive Use of Force. Then, I had kids, and my “kill or be killed” holiday shopping mentality morphed into a gentler kind of non-contact sport. Nicer for all involved, but clearly, I’d lost my competitive shopping edge, and another strategy had to evolve for me to pull off any kind of decent holiday. Luckily, my piranha-to-puppy shopping style metamorphosis coincided with a 50% reduction in our household income (when I quit the corporate workforce to start a family), and by sheer necessity, spending for the holidays needed to be at an all time low in order for the household budget to handle it.

It was about this time I started shopping at the huge, gorgeous, meticulously organized thrift stores near me on a regular basis, usually for household goods and clothes for the kids. An informal glance at some of the other departments quickly educated me on the fabulous bargains to be had at these frugal goldmines. Designer shoes, top-of-the-line handbags, designer clothes, scarves and accessories for 90% off. Books, movies, DVDs, CDs, jewelry (new and vintage) for 90% off. Toys still in the boxes for 90% off. Designer holiday clothes for everyone in the family (Dior for the kids? Hello!), often with the tags attached, for 90% off. The list goes on forever. Trust me, no one was more surprised than I was at the offerings. The only thing surpassed my shock at the prices was my shock at the fabulous customer service and the fact that it looked like you could eat off the floor.

Every time I visited one of these fabulous thrift stores (a.k.a. “Tiffany’s for Tightwads), I’d pick up not only what I needed for the house, but often a gift or two for an upcoming birthday, Mother’s Day, kid’s birthday, hostess gift, you name it. When I saw a gift perfect for an occasion months away, it was stashed on a shelf in my closet for safekeeping. When I happened upon perfect Halloween outfits in August, they were stashed as well. It was when I was pulling out said Halloween costumes back out of the closet that year when I glanced at the “gift shelf” and realized I had quite the stash. I started matching gifts to people and realized within minutes that my holiday shopping was already complete! WHA?! Is that possible? Sure enough, the dozen or so people with whom I purchase gifts were covered with designer gifts in spades. Specifics? How about $500 worth of educational toys, videos, games, dolls, trains, and more for my two kids, which I purchased for $25. Eight Designer shirts and sweaters, three hardcover books on the NYT bestseller list, four DVD’s and a CD for my husband. Golf shirts from the Masters for my Dad, crystal for my Mom, cashmere sweaters and designer handbags for my sisters. Gifts with equal “wow factor” for two brothers in law, a niece and nephew. Total tab on multiple designer gifts for 12 people ages 1 to 70? $195. Considering the national average on holiday spending is now over $1400 per household, nuff said.

Even more fun, from the first week of November thru the entire holiday season that year, I had my first holiday experience in which I had nothing to concern myself with but decorating the house and planning/attending a couple of holiday dinners. No shopping panic, no wild search for elusive gifts. It was…surreal. Everywhere, I saw throngs of people around me in pure adrenaline-fueled panic, embracing the holiday season like Rambo embraced a flame thrower. Not exactly an environment that makes you feel like breaking out into an Andy Williams medley. And yet, I felt serene, moving thru it as tho I was in a protective frugal bubble, like one of those CDC suits in the movie “Outbreak” where you could experience the chaos firsthand, and no matter how close you got, it couldn’t infect you. It was AMAZING.

To those of you reading this, I implore you to try this just one year – you’ll never go back! The feeling of fabulousness upon finishing up your holiday shopping by September is surpassed only by the serious bragging rights inherent with such a feat. Designer gifts for everyone on your list, purchased for 90% off or more, finished with plenty of time to enjoy the season? Somebody put a price tag on that trick. We’re barely into autumn, and the dollar stores and department stores may be on to something with their holiday décor. Get out to a local thrift store, church store or consignment store near you and hit the ground running. Start stocking up now and you’ll not only be saving huge amounts of cash this holiday season, but a good chunk of time and your sanity as well, three things in short enough supply nowadays already.

Dare I say it? Happy Holidays, everybody!