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A week-by-week guide to cutting costs and stress.

us-Holiday-checklistSometimes it feels like the holidays get here faster than Santa’s sleigh.

Get organized early with our week-by-week plan, which will walk you through the top holiday priorities, from creating your budget to pouring yourself a congratulatory glass of holiday punch.

Here are 14 things to cross off your list before the holidays arrive — and when it’s best to tackle them to save money (and avoid stress).

5-weeks

 

  • Make a list — and check it twice: Start by writing down the names of everyone you need to buy gifts for, including teachers, co-workers and your dog walker. Once that’s complete, estimate how much you’d like to spend on each person.
     
  • Set your budget: Add up the total cost of holiday gifts, food, décor and miscellaneous holiday season spending, and make a ballpark budget. Look for ways to cut costs, like reducing a party guest list, splitting gifts with friends, or recycling last year’s decorations and outfits. You can create a simple spreadsheet or use an online tool to help plan your overall spending.
     
    Tip: Consider paying your credit card bills now, so you can start the holiday season with a clean slate.
     
  • Gather holiday gift ideas: Now that you have your list of people to buy for (and a budget!), it’s time to email your close friends and family. Ask your siblings if your nieces and nephews have a wish list; see if your significant other has his or her eye on something; and call your mom to do some detective work. For everyone else, brainstorm a list of potential gifts so you’re ready to shop when the sales hit.
     

Related: Gifts your mom will love

  • Begin sending some seasonal joy: Start writing (and mailing) your holiday cards. Choose from fun store-bought cards, cute handmade ones or upload some family photos to make some photogenic and personal cards. Make sure you allow enough time to order your holiday season cards online and/or drop them in the mail.
     

4-weeks

 

  • Collect those coupons: Your mailbox and inbox will surely be full of fliers and holiday coupons, so don’t quickly toss them in the trash. Also look online for savings on sites like RetailMeNot, which offers discounts at many popular stores.
     

    Tip: For a crash course in savings, read 9 easy steps to using coupons.

  • Shop on major sale days: If you’re up for the frenzy, you can find great deals in-store and online leading up to and on Black Friday (Nov 27, 2015) and Cyber Monday (Nov 30, 2015). While it may be a headache now, it may save you a pretty penny, since many items (especially big-ticket items, such as TVs and computers) could be marked down significantly.
     
  • Order online in time: Be sure to factor in shipping costs and timelines before you buy — you want to make sure the gifts arrive in time! Many e-commerce sites will list their holiday shipping deadlines, so you can review the expected delivery date. Need help finding great online deals? PriceGrabber and Google Express let you compare prices, and can help you find special offers in a variety of categories.
     

3-weeks

 

  • Plan your holiday menu: If you’re hosting a party, decide what you’ll serve and make a list of groceries and décor (from special napkins to a festive centerpiece). Get extra organized by stocking your pantry so you’re ready for baking, and pick up a selection of spirits and beverages to offer guests.
     
  • Do good: If you don’t have time to volunteer this holiday season, contribute to your favorite charity. Sites like Charity Navigator and GiveBack make it easy to find a charity that’s meaningful to you and make a donation all in one place. Some also let you donate in honor of a loved one instead of giving the person a gift.
     

    Tip: Consider setting up an automatic monthly donation to help charities with their cash flow.

  • Find stocking stuffers and hostess gifts: Head to local shops and craft fairs for unique holiday gifts, or consider creating printed tea towels, lavender bath salts or other original handmade presents. Prefer to shop from the comfort of your couch? Check out the 20 best websites for unique gifts.
     
  • DIY décor: With a little time and know-how, you can make your own decorations and holiday necessities. Country Living offers 22 holiday season craft projects (from sparkling ornaments to an adorable snow globe cookie jar), or you can always find more inspiration on Pinterest. Choose one or two fun projects to tackle with family or friends.
     

final-2-weeks

 

  • Get set for dinner: If you’re hosting a holiday dinner, figure out which dishes you can prepare ahead of time — and make as much as you can in advance! Also, create your “day of” list, writing down exactly which dishes need to go in the oven when. (And think about which sous-chefs you can put to work — and who’s going to help you set the table).
     
    Tip: Add a grocery shopping trip to your calendar so you can pick up the bulk of your groceries before the big day.
     
  • That’s a wrap: Now it’s time to wrap and assemble your gifts. These 18 holiday gift wraps to DIY from Brit + Co can help. You can also find the essentials (from gift bags to ribbon) at your local dollar store for a fraction of the cost. To save on the cost of gift cards, buy a package of gift tags or blank cards.
     
  • Sit back and celebrate: Pour yourself a glass of festive cranberry fizz, sit back and relax while you celebrate a job well done!
     

For more holiday tips, read 7 ways to tackle your holiday season shopping on a budget or, download your printable holiday checklist.

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