The end-of-year holidays are almost upon us. For some, holiday planning, shopping and spending begins immediately after ringing in the new year and putting away the decorations. For others, last-minute trips to the mall and online shopping sprees are more typical—and typically break the bank.

It might seem daunting or tedious—or just plain boring—but taking the time to plan a holiday budget now can mean big savings in money, time and stress later on. Here are our top three reasons you should start budgeting for the holidays ASAP:

Your Holiday Budget Should Work With Your Household Budget

This seems like a no-brainer, but it bears repeating: The budget for holiday meals, travel, gifts and other incidentals needs to come from somewhere. If you’ve been diligently saving for the holidays all year, you already know where the holiday budget cash is coming from and your general household budget won’t be affected (unless something goes awry). But if you don’t have money earmarked for end-of-year festivities, it’s time to check in with the household budget.

Take the time to review your current household budget and look for places you can borrow, trim and save. Is there enough cushion in savings to use for holiday spending? Is there spending you can cut back on day-to-day to allocate more toward the holiday budget? When you review the household budget, you may find some unnecessary fat to trim that’ll do more than make your holiday budget richer—you might realize big savings opportunities for the following year.

Get the Most Out of Sales, Cashback Rewards & Other Savings Tricks

After going through your household budget or reviewing your holiday savings, you should have a good idea of what dollar amount you have to work with. Now is the time to think about all your spending needs:

  • Gifts
  • Holiday travel
  • Meals (at home or away)
  • Incidentals (decorations, party favors and clothing, etc.)

Try allocating a dollar amount toward each. Then, take a look at your favorite retailers for their upcoming sales. If you’re a big fan of Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, start subscribing to websites that aggregate these sales so you can get updates right in your email inbox. If you like using your credit card rewards—such as those offered by Discover Cashback Bonus® —maximize your earnings potential while you spend by checking what categories are earning the largest cashback rewards. If you haven’t already redeemed your credit card rewards, the holiday season is the perfect time to do so. Stack savings when and where you can. Starting early can also mean savings on shipping and opportunities to use price-matching features offered by several stores and credit cards.

Set Yourself Up to Avoid Unplanned Holiday Debt

With your holiday budget in place and allocated across your spending categories, you should be set up for success, if not savings. Taking on debt around the holidays isn’t uncommon; you may even be planning to finance a large purchase such as a vacation or extravagant gift. There are many benefits to using a credit card for holiday shopping, and it’s not necessarily irresponsible to do so. By sticking to your set holiday budget and leveraging any savings opportunities you’re afforded by starting early, you can minimize the likelihood of unplanned debt creeping up on you. Take the time to review your holiday spending as the season moves along. Consider keeping a spreadsheet or using an online budget tracker to keep all your spending earmarked in the same place.

Haste makes waste. This is a cliché for a reason, and especially true when it comes to the holiday budget woes that come with ineffective planning. Make this year different by starting your planning now.

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