It’s only October, but already it’s time to get serious about your Christmas shopping.

Thanksgiving and Black Friday have been the official start of the Christmas shopping season for years, and the time of year when shoppers focus on the Christmas spending. Last year, amid the pandemic, retailers pushed for a longer shopping season with more online sales.

This year, the third week of November is too late to get started.

With widespread supply chain disruptions and ongoing labor shortages, putting off buying some gifts – especially toys and electronics – could be a drag on your wallet.

Prices are also rising and product inventory is becoming more limited due to consumer demand and availability.

► Save better, spend better: Money tips and advice delivered to your inbox. Sign up here

►Christmas shipping dates 2021:FedEx, UPS, and USPS say these are the last few days to send gifts

“The biggest wildcard of the holiday season is product availability, so you might be unlucky if you wait too long to buy a hot toy off a child’s wish list,” said Laurie Schacht of The Toy Insider. “Hunting for Christmas gifts in October seems like something only the high-flyers do, but this year it will be important to find the coveted toys in time for the holidays.”

According to a RetailMeNot survey of nearly 1,100 consumers, 37% of shoppers started their Christmas shopping between August and September, if not earlier. Another 22% said they would start shopping in October and 24% planned to start in November before Thanksgiving.

“Black Friday and early December will be at the center of a perfect storm with high demand, low staffing, slow shipping and difficulty restocking,” Kristin McGrath, purchasing expert and editor of deal website RetailMeNot, told USA TODAY.

But for the most part, retailers haven’t announced vacation plans yet, but details are slowly emerging. Amazon launched an early Black Friday sale, and Sam’s Club said it doubled the number of sales compared to last year.

Even the White House knows that it will be difficult for people to find gifts. “There will be things people won’t get,” a senior White House official told Reuters.

Here are the top tips to get all the gifts your family wants and save the most money:

Shop for early sales for limited inventory

Take advantage of early sales. Last minute shoppers may struggle to get their hands on items in demand and pay more for them.

“This fall, time and money can work against consumers,” said Mike Bailey, director of research at FBB Capital Partners in Bethesda, Maryland. “The pressure in the supply chain makes products more expensive and harder to find when consumers want them.”

Use programs like Target’s price guarantee

It’s like a case of bad FOMO – you’re scared of missing out on the gift but also don’t want to miss out on the deals that might come later if the price goes down.

As a bargain buyer, I was wondering if we would see discounts on the new iPad like we had in previous Christmas sales. So I decidedBreaking tradition and not waiting because I noticed it was always sold out.

But I waited for Target’s new vacation price guarantee to go into effect, and the extended electronics return period helped too. The Target Guarantee allows buyers to request a price adjustment for any item purchased October 10 through December 24 if the retailer “drops the price later in the season”. As part of its existing policy, Target will continue to price select competitors within 14 days of purchase and, as always, exclusions will apply.

Look for other retailers to announce similar programs in the coming weeks.

Save receipts and check return deadlines

Amazon and Target’s extended return deadlines make early purchases easier. Make sure to keep your physical receipts if digital records are not available and check other retailers’ return deadlines.

I take photos of my important receipts and usually cut or paste the physical copy onto the item.

Set warehouse notifications

Sometimes it’s not about the deal, but about getting the item on your list, be it a toy, TV, or sweater. I almost ordered the iPad several times, but it was always sold out. It wasn’t available near me, so I signed up for inventory notifications on Target.com on Sunday and received a notification hours later that I could place an order.

Last year, warehouse notifications also helped me score when toys from the top Netflix children’s show “Cocomelon” were on my Walmart shopping list.

I used the warehouse notifications primarily on Target and Walmart and I signed up for the notifications using either my laptop browser or my phone. Once you get the warning, you need to act quickly as supplies run out quickly and it can take several tries.

Watch Facebook groups for offers

Not all of the best deals are widely advertised, so one way to experience the deepest discounts is through crowdsourcing. The groups I belong in include Costco Fans and Costco Products & Reviews; Target Deals, Clearance & Couponing and Target Couponing; and Walmart Clearance Funds and more.

Sticking to shop-specific groups is helpful, but a warning: when you see what everyone else is buying, you can shopand spend more.

►Is impulse buying dead ?:Americans shop less and cut impulse purchases as COVID spawns a more cautious consumer

►Walmart’s new Nextflix store:Walmart Opens Netflix Hub With Stranger Things, Cocomelon Merchandise; “Squid Game” shirts are coming soon

Follow USA TODAY reporter Kelly Tyko on Twitter: @KellyTyko. Visit our Shopping Ninjas Facebook group for shopping news, tips and deals.