By Alan Prahl

Do you relish the thought of early-morning shopping on Black Friday? While many people love the 3 a.m. alarm clock reville, caffeine-fueled drive through the night and outwitting other shoppers to get brag-to-your-friends deals, we have lots of other shopping choices.

More and more people are starting shopping early. In a recent poll, 64% of consumers said they will begin holiday shopping the week before Black Friday.

A smart first step before shopping is to decide the total amount you want to spend, determine your spending limit for each person and write down some gift ideas. Go online to refine your list and look for deals. While you’re scouting online, take advantage of great prices, especially if those items might sell out quickly. Sure, you might save a few dollars by waiting until Black Friday, but you’ll have peace of mind knowing that part of your shopping is done and you’ll have those gifts on Christmas.

As Black Friday approaches, consider asking yourself a radical and almost un-American question, “Do I really enjoy shopping in a sleep-deprived stupor or will 9 a.m. in-store shopping work?”

If you don’t like fighting the crowds, sleep in and avoid peak shopping hours. Try stores away from the big malls. Local retailers offer unique and specialty gifts that you won’t find online. Look for special buy-local promotions that can stretch your dollar. Shopping locally helps to support businesses that create jobs in the community.

You always can shop digitally on Black Friday and score deals that way. Just don’t feel you must cram all of your shopping into Black Friday. More deals will follow on Cyber Monday and in the weeks before Christmas.

Looking for a different way to celebrate the holidays? Try having a white elephant gift exchange. Search your closets for something unique or browse through Goodwill for that perfect gift. Deals at secondhand stores aren’t limited to just one day!

With holiday shopping, parties, meal planning, events, crowds and travel, the holidays can be a stressful time. By spreading out your shopping season, blending in some digital deals and looking beyond the malls, the holidays can be more joyful and less stressful.