This article is by staff writer April Dykman.

I tried to finish my Christmas shopping early, both to avoid crowds and to save money. For instance, my gift to my youngest niece was a baking kit. The girl watches Cake Boss religiously, and every time I see her, she immediately asks if we can bake cupcakes, which she will then douse with sprinkles.

So my husband and I bought her the really good baking stuff, not the kiddie versions — cake pans, icing tips, a rainbow of food coloring. All of this I purchased over a period of several weeks, using a weekly, 50-percent-off-one-item coupon.

Other family members, however, don’t mind last-minute shopping like I do. In fact, they plan to do it every year. My dad is one of these people, which was a problem for me because he most definitely needs my help shopping for my mom. A few years ago I finally convinced him to at least be a next-to-the-last-minute shopper: We venture out on December 23. But that still comes at a cost, and I’m talking about more than my sanity. And that brings me to our first link…

Last-minute shoppers spend more

According to this Kiplinger article, “as the holidays get closer, the priority for consumers becomes crossing items off their shopping lists and not getting the best price… With six fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas than last year…it’s especially important to plan ahead this holiday season.”

I’m going to bookmark that study and send it to Dad next year…

A time to give to others…and yourself?

There are a couple of people I bought gifts for who have very similar tastes to mine, so I tried to buy them something I know I’d love to receive. The only problem is that it was also very tempting to shop for myself!

But according to a recent Chase Blueprint®-AOL survey, 90 percent of Americans believe that “it’s important to treat yourself,” and one-third of Americans ages 25-64 planned to “self-gift” this holiday season.

And the self-gifters planned to spend more, too, so maybe they’re budgeting for their own presents? Those who “totally agreed” that it’s important to treat yourself were thinking to spend an average of $935 on holiday gifts this year compared to $755 from those who “somewhat agreed” with the idea.

But we’re not entirely selfish. The survey also found that the vast majority (94 percent) of Americans agree that “it’s better to give than to receive.”

What to do with that expiring gift card

I’ve received a few VISA gift cards over the years, which really came in handy when I was, for example, moving into a house and needed lots of random stuff. But these kinds of cards have some drawbacks. First, some of them have expiration dates and, second, sometimes they’d expire with a small balance on them, like $9.57 or something.

But if you received a gift card this year and want to use it all up, The Consumerist has a great solution: Use the balance to split a transaction on Amazon. “Officially you can’t [split transactions on Amazon],” writes Laura Northrup. “That’s because there’s a sneaky way to do it: using the card balance to buy an online gift card and e-mailing it to yourself.”

Little life-changing experiments (free ebook)

Ramit Sethi of “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” tests everything that can be tested, which is pretty much everything.

“Why do I focus on testing so much?” he writes. “Because you can get huge wins from small tests. Even the words you use every day could be tweaked for a 10x result. Like, how do you introduce yourself? What do you say when someone says, “What do you do?” (What if I could show you how changing a few words around would make their eyes light up…or get bored, say ‘Oh, that’s nice,’ and wander over to the celery?)”

Recently he compiled some of his favorite tests into a free mini-ebook with tests on things from snacking less to saving $30,000 on a graduate degree, written by folks like James Altucher (the author of Choose Yourself), the founder of LinkedIn, and New York Times bestselling author A.J. Jacobs.

Why Tina Turner ditched her U.S. passport

You know I always like to throw in an oddball money link, so here ya go. The “Proud Mary” singer is giving up her citizenship to save a ton in taxes. From CNN Money:

“The reason: The U.S., along with Eritrea, is one of only two countries in the world to tax its citizens on their worldwide income, regardless of where they live or work. If you reside in, say, Geneva, you still owe the U.S. tax man money on income you earn there.”

According to the article, 2013 has a record-high number of expatriations by U.S. citizens, at 2,369 so far this year, which is 33 percent higher than in 2011, the previous record.

A spokesperson for Turner confirmed that Turner will be joining them. She recently received a Swiss passport and resides near Zurich.

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