How to Plan Your Finances 60 Days Before Christmas

Believe it or not, Christmas Eve is three months away. Consider yourself warned.

This year, don't let procrastination invade your holiday. If you start planning and shopping now, it may very well be possible to get through the holidays debt-free. Plus, you'll have more time to enjoy the simple pleasures of the season, like sugar cookies, twinkling lights and winter movie marathons.

First step -- make a Christmas budget. You can create your own or find a free template online. This is also a great time to brainstorm on gift ideas and jot them down in the margins.

Plan your holiday menu now and spread out grocery shopping so you never have to break your weekly food budget. Use the Grocery iQ app to create lists by event, like Thanksgiving, the neighborhood holiday party and Christmas morning brunch.

Even perishables can be bought ahead of time -- just think of the freezer as your best friend. If you see a great price on green beans or cranberries, blanche and freeze them. Make pies ahead of time, save bread crusts for stuffing and buy meat when it's on sale. It can all go in the freezer till you need it.

With layaway, you make a down payment on a purchase -- usually 10 to 20 percent -- and then pay the rest off over time. Once it is all paid, you can pick up your item and have it wrapped under the tree by Christmas morning. Usually, there is a service fee, but early shoppers are being rewarded with layaway perks. Toys "R" Us is offering a free, no-minimum purchase layaway program for shoppers who order toys before October 31. After that, there will be a $5 service fee.

Resolve to get one holiday task done a week. Whether it's holiday photo cards, gifts for one side of the family or even baking, do one task a week. By the time the holidays roll around, you will be in much better shape.

If you'll be traveling this holiday season, it is probably best to book flights before mid-October. Additionally, the majority of airfare sales run Tuesday through Thursday, so wait until midweek to book. You can set up price alerts on sites like Kayak or AirfareWatchdog, and they will notify you when there is a change in price. Just don't wait too long because chances are, by the end of October, prices will steadily go uphill.

If you wait till the last minute, then you are more likely to pay full price to get what you need. Start looking now, and you can buy all your stocking stuffers on sale. Start patrolling the clearance toy sections at websites like Target or Walmart.

With all this advance planning and holiday organizing, it is still important to set aside some time for yourself in the final run-up to the holidays. What do you need? Make your appointment for a haircut, or a manicure, or a fun lunch date with your girlfriends. Be sure to keep up your exercise habits, and try to get enough sleep.

Final Word: Make sure you are doing your best to get the best savings possible. In recent years, online sales have given in-store sales a run for their money, even on big shopping days like Black Friday. Before you make a purchase, see if you can find a better deal online using a coupon code.

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