9 Ways to Get the Jump on the Holidays

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The recipe for holiday sanity: Plan, save and front-load the work, starting now, so that when the festivities start you can enjoy them.

It’s that wonderful, expensive, miraculous, stressful time of year again. The countdown to the winter holidays has begun:

  • Dec. 6-14. Jews celebrate Hanukkahthe eight-day festival of lights.
  • Dec. 26 – Jan 1. Kwanzaa is African-Americans’ winter celebration of family and culture.
  • Dec. 25. Christmas commemorating the birth of Jesus, is celebrated by 92 percent of Americans; that includes not only 96 percent of Christians but also 81 percent of non-Christians, according to the Pew Research Center.

Time is the ally

Remember the promise you made yourself last year about keeping stress out of the holidays? We’re here to help you keep it.

Time is your ally in this — time to plan, to save, to shop sales, to make a few simple gifts and to spread the work over the weeks to come. If you start doing a little now and spread your preparations over the coming weeks, you can avoid a last-minute jam.

The single worst source of holiday stress is out-of-control spending, say 65 percent of people polled in “Survey: Spending on Gifts Is the Biggest Source of Holiday Stress.” Money Talks News has lots of ideas for holiday savings. Links to many of them are below.

9 tips for a saner season

Here’s wishing you a joyful, sane season, filled with time with the people you love and the magic of this time of year. Here are nine steps to getting there:

1. Make a simple holiday budget 

A rudimentary budget is the foundation of a sane holiday. “Let’s be clear: A hazy idea is not a budget,” says Money Talks News’ Maryalene LaPonsie, in “6 Steps That Will Stop You From Blowing Your Holiday Budget This Year.” A few tips:

  • Follow Maryalene’s steps for creating a holiday budget and stick to it by tracking your spending.
  • Decide early on the total amount you can spend. Divide this money among all your expenses, including gifts, food, decorations and travel. Watching money fly out of your wallet without knowing if you can afford to spend it is a recipe for stress.
  • Check out Huffington Post’s clever points system for deciding what to spend on each person on your list.

2. Shop for travel deals now

Holiday airline tickets are likely to drop a bit this year from last year, predicts flight-research site Hopper. Here’s Hopper’s thinking:

Typically, after prices drop sharply at the end of the summer they begin to stabilize as holiday travel demand replaces summer demand. By December, most holiday tickets are purchased, causing prices to decline again. Since prices so far this year have been cheaper than last year, we expect fall and winter prices to remain cheaper than usual.

Although late summer is the best time to save, you’ll also find good deals in the week of Nov. 2 to Nov. 8, writes The Washington Post.

Be ready to pounce. Set up email or text alerts for the route you want to travel. Two sites that will send automated alerts: Kayak and Skyscanner.

These Money Talks News articles have many more tips on holiday travel savings:

3. Use Black Friday strategically

Plan your shopping like a general plans a battle. Here’s a secret: Despite the Black Friday hype, the best deals last year were earlier in November (“Shop Before Black Friday to Snag the Best Holiday Deals“). Watch for these early holiday sales and promotions while keeping an eye out online for deals that may not hit the stores.

Bargain maven Donna Freedman says, in “What You Need to Know to Score a Year’s Worth of Gifts at Rock-Bottom Prices“:

Deal-finding sites/apps like BFAds.net, FatWallet, Retail Me Not and Savings.com let you sort by categories and by price. If you plan to shop online, access your stores of choice through a cash-back shopping site.

4. Do a savings sprint

Dedicate an envelope or a savings account to holiday shopping and see how much you can stuff in there over the next two months. Start with the change in your pockets or purse. “11 Easy Ways to Raise Holiday Shopping Cash” has tips for now and more for getting an early start on 2016 holiday savings.

How to Save $500 for Christmas Shopping” also tells where to find shopping money and how to stretch your savings with lay-away plans and an intriguing concept called “gift IOUs.” “20-Plus Tips to Make the Most of Holiday Clearance Sales” explains how to make the most of those gift IOU savings.

5. There’s still time to make gifts

Smaller gifts — for the teachers, neighbors, co-workers and service-providers in your life — can be dealt with affordably right now with some handmade gifts. No need to be crafty to put together the baking mixes, bath salts or movie night in the list below.

The trick to making a homemade gift look brilliant is to present it beautifully. You’ll find ideas and instructions at BuzzFeed, gift-wrapping video demonstrations at WiseBread and more wrapping

Here’s a trove of inspiration for homemade gifts:

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