The holidays can get very expensive, between shopping, travel and buying everything you need to host a meal (or two). So rather than panic as you watch your credit card bill get more and more bloated, plan ahead so you know exactly how much you can spend this year. Start by writing down what you spend every month on things that don't change, such as rent, mortgage or other bills. Then decide how much you can stretch your regular budget to accommodate the extra cost of the holidays. Once you have a ballpark figure to work with (which encompasses everything from gifts to decoration), you can get more specific with where want to allot your money -- how much on gifts, how much on any travel you need to do, etc. That way you have clear idea of how much you can spend before you start shopping
It's never too early to start holiday shopping, and by doing so now you'll miss the hordes that descend on malls everywhere before the Thanksgiving leftovers have even been eaten. Fighting the shopping crowds is one of the most stressful things about the holidays so if you can get the majority (if not all) of your shopping done in the next two weeks, you'll have ample time for all of your other pre-holiday to-dos. To make the whole process easier, make a list of everyone you have to shop for, along with four or five ideas for each person and how much you want to spend on them. If you really feel ambitious, start wrapping gifts as you buy them to cross yet another large task off your list before things get stressful.
Now is the time to scour the web and your cookbooks for holiday meal and baking ideas so you're not stuck once it's actually time to cook and bake. Print out or bookmark the recipes for everything you think you want to make, from cookies to side dishes to potluck meals, and create a simple spreadsheet or Word document that outlines your holiday menu items, including links to recipes if you found them online or a note indicating which cookbook the recipe comes from and on which page. Next, create a master shopping list for everything you will need once it's time to get cooking, taking stock of what you already have on hand and specialty items you need to pick up. The more you have planned now the better you'll feel.
Chances are good that there will be people in and out of your house during the holidays, so rather than have to run around like a headless chicken in the days leading up to your various holiday hosting duties or right before out-of-town guests arrive, take the time to de-clutter now, getting rid of anything you don't need that or that just takes up space. Obviously you will have to clean the house before guests come over, but by making space in closets now (for coats and shoes) and making sure there is storage for all the holiday extras like gifts, decorations and luggage for anyone staying over, you'll save yourself a lot of time and frustrations as the holidays grow closer. The less clutter you have before the holidays, the easier it will be to keep your home neat and organized.