T’is the season again… the coffee shops are sporting their holiday cups, the stores have crossed over their seasonal sections to Christmas, and the early starters are digging out their holiday decor.  The inevitable gift shopping and entertaining begins not long thereafter.  Come January, one of the biggest challenges many of us face is coming to terms with overspending, so how can we start early to make sure that we’re not spending the first half of 2015 digging ourselves out of the hole we’ve fallen in?  Here’s a few quick tips to be thinking about this early in the holiday gift-giving and entertaining season:

1.Make a list, check it twice!  Using a list to keep track of who you have to buy for, what you’re buying and what you’ve bought can not only prevent anyone being forgotten, but also prevent over-buying if you start your holiday shopping early.  (be sure to include where you’ve put any hidden gifts so you don’t overbuy as well!)

2. Avoid overspending.  Clearly put a maximum gift price for everyone on your list.  This can allow you to stay within your overall budget for the season, and if you can create maximum gift cost agreements with family, friends and coworkers all the better!  This will also help you to curb any emotions that can creep up during the holidays — for example, that $300 gift for your mother if you feel guilty for not seeing her as often as you should.

3. Cash is king.  Avoid using credit as much as possible, and you’ll be entering 2015 worry-free.  Saving all year long for the holidays can allow you to stick to a budget, and end up costing you less without interest charges on credit cards.

4. Shop with a mission, and shop alone.  Staying focused on your list and your budget is far easier when you’re shopping alone. Not only will it likely take you less time to get all you need, you’ll be free from distractions and impulse purchasing when you can focus.  If you’ve used holiday shopping as a way to connect with friends during the holidays, meet up for a light lunch after your shopping instead!

5. Avoid self-gifting.  It’s difficult not to buy something for yourself when you’re out shopping.  You may find the perfect sweater, fall in love with a new line of bath products, or come across a deal “not to be missed”.  Stick to your plan though.  If it’s something you love, snap a photo and send it to your family or friends who may be struggling with ideas of gifts to buy for you.  Not only will you get something you love, you’ll save your own money!  And if Christmas day comes and goes, you haven’t received it from someone and are STILL thinking about it, you may find it on the sale rack in January.  Win-win!

6.  Get creative!  Whether you’re strapped for cash at the holidays, or can’t find the perfect gift for the hard-to-buy-for person on your list, creating something personalized is better than anything you could buy from a store. Work with your children to make something for their grandparent who has everything. Put your culinary talents to work and bake specialized sweets for that friend with food allergies or intolerance.  Or put together a coupon book with the gift of time and services.  You’d be surprised how many moms would prefer not having to do dishes for a month over that cashmere sweater.