With the first week of December well underway, many people have holiday gift shopping on their minds. With a little planning and preparation, you can create your own holiday game plan to help save yourself time AND money this holiday season. Here are a few tips to help keep that financial stress of the holidays at bay.

1) Shop Year-Round – Holiday shopping doesn’t have to be done all in the month of December. If you are one to avoid the crowded malls and shopping centers during this time of year, you should consider jumpstarting your list earlier on in the year. If you end up empty handed when it comes to gift ideas for your friends or family, keep a running list in your phone when that person says ”I wish I had a…” or “One thing I’ve always wanted...” etc. Doing this will alleviate last minute scrambling for gift ideas. If you are a Pinterest fan, you can also create a “secret” Pinterest board where you can save potential gift ideas that you find throughout the year. Only you can see what you pin, so there’s no opportunity for others to spoil the surprise!

2) And Save Up $$ Year-Round –The holidays can take a big punch to your budget if you’re not prepared. Start setting aside money in a separate savings account early on in the year so you are prepared to pay cash for all your presents. If you wait until the last minute to buy all your holiday gifts, you are more likely to rely on credit cards to make your purchases –which is a big no no!

3) Seek out the Deals – Whether you are a big Black Friday shopper, or Cyber Monday, make it a goal to not pay full price for any gift you buy this season. Most stores will offer free shipping, or coupons for select weeks throughout the season, so make sure you scope those out and plan your gift shopping around the deals. This goes for comparison-shopping as well. If you’re buying a big ticket item for someone on your list, look at different stores to see who offers the best price, or look into the store’s price match policy.

4) Make a List & Stick to It – Just like your regular budget, create a budget or spending limit for each person on your list and do not go over it. If you don’t do gift exchanges already with friends and family, be sure to implement a spending limit policy to make sure everyone spends the same amount on their gift. The holidays tends to get everyone in a generous and giving mood, but don’t throw your budget out the window in doing so!

5) Consider Homemade or “Food” Gifts – If your holiday budget is really tight this year, and you know your way around a kitchen, consider giving baked goods as gifts this year. With everyone being self proclaimed “foodies” nowadays, no one is going to turn away a tin of cookies! Are you a crafter? Giving a homemade gift does have more sentiment than a store bought gift. Even better? They are an easy to put together at the last minute. A crocheted winter hat or scarf, a hand painted wooden sign, or a homemade sugar scrub –the list is endless!