Start planning for Christmas now?

HOUSTON A couple of retailers are offering Christmas savings cards. It's basically a savings account with the store. Believe it or not, it's a throwback to what banks used to offer in the 1950s and 60s to get people to budget early in the year for their holiday shopping.

At Sears, their Christmas decorations are limited to just a tiny section in the store, but the major retailer is already thinking big when it comes to saving for the holidays with what the store calls its "Christmas Club" card.

"It lets you save up for Christmas. It's essentially a Sears gift card that you just keep adding money to," Sears' Jon Schuler said.

The Sears Christmas Card looks like a gift card and works like one too. The only difference is with this card, you will earn three percent bonus money up to a $100. The idea is to keep adding value to your card on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

"That's a nice thing about it; you take a little bit from each paycheck, let's say, and you actually put it all on one place;" Schuler said. "And Sears, the nice thing is it's good online or in the store."

You must get your Sears Club Card by October 31 to save, and the cut-off date to get your bonus money is November 15.

"If you need to budget for your shopping, it's a good way to do it. You just do it gradually and instead of having to come up with the money all at once," Sears shopper John Brand said.

Over at Toys-R-Us, the company has what they call a "Christmas Savers Club." Shoppers who join the program receive a card that they can add money to.

On October 16, the card will be locked and a three percent bonus on the funds that have been saved will be automatically added to the card, up to $75. On October 31 the card will be activated, and you can begin to use your card to make your purchases.

"I think it could be a good idea. People need help budgeting," Sears shopper Kathleen Wooley said.

If you love shopping all over town, the "Holiday Shopping Card" supporting the American Cancer Society will go on sale next week on September 1.

"This is our 14th year that we've done this, and every year, we raise over $900,000, and the money goes directly back to the Houston community for cancer research and patient services," American Cancer Society's Roz Cooley said.

The holiday shopping card is $70 and for two weeks only -- October 28 through November 7 -- you can use your card and get a 20 percent discount on regularly priced merchandise at more than 700 stores in the Houston area. Stores include retailers like Jo-Ann Fabrics and the GAP but also include exclusive stores like Tootsies.

"There are stores that just never give discounts out, and they are just wonderful to support us," Cooley said.

You can actually earn more interest with the savings card than with a bank because the three percent bonus is more than the one percent interest most banks are paying right now. And, after the savings deadline, the programs work like gift cards -- online and in stores. There are no refunds, but the money on the card never expires.

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