Fall is officially in full swing, which means the holidays are quickly approaching and before you know it you’ll be knee deep in gift ideas and giving madness. Take a hint from the changing leaves and changing weather—now would be a really good time to get a jump on your holiday planning. After all, the holidays are stressful enough without anxiety induced by last minute scrambling to shop. In fact, a recent survey showed that “65 percent of people surveyed said the financial strain associated with gift purchases is the most stressful part of the holidays.” And while we can’t buy your loved ones gifts for you, we can help you manage your stress levels by planning ahead and preparing for a successful and worry-free holiday gift season.

The trick to not just surviving during the holidays, but also thriving during this time of year, is to prepare both mentally, emotionally and logistically. We all know that we spend more during the holidays, and we know that inevitably we get stressed by our bills and the never-ending to-do list when it comes to holiday shopping. These simple steps can help you take control of gift ideas and giving this season, and ensure that all your loved ones (including yourself) are feeling good during this festive time of year.

In a perfect world we would snap our fingers and magically have enough money to buy whatever holiday gifts we want for whoever we want…no savings accounts or credit card debt or overspending or stress. But in the real world, we all struggle to manage our money, a job that is especially tough during the holidays. Don’t wait until you’re in the stores ready to buy; start planning your holiday budget now. Think about how much you can comfortably spend on gifts, and hold yourself to that number. If you’re worried about over-spending, make a deal with your friends and family to limit the costs of your gifts so everyone stays within the same price-range and you can stick to your budget, guilt-free.

Read Related: 10 Holiday Gifts You Can Make Yourself


Make a List (and Check It Twice)
Holiday gift giving is about making your loved ones feel loved and appreciated. Which means you definitely don’t want to forget someone, a mistake that is highly likely when you’re pressed for time and rushing from store to store. Make a list now, check it twice, and start to write down who you plan to give presents to and what you want to buy them. This will also help you budget properly since you will establish now how many presents you need to purchase and where they are going.

Ask What They Want
Don’t be shy—ask your loved ones what they want. Spending hours debating which pair of pajamas your sister wants is not how you want to spend your holiday season. Find out what will make her happy or what she’s been eyeing at the store, and don’t over-think it. This way she’ll get what she wants and you’ll be able to work fast as you check all the gifts off your list.


Think About What You Want and be Vocal
Similarly, don’t be embarrassed to ask for what YOU want. Yes, you; you also deserve a little love and special treatment from your loved ones. Be vocal about what you might need for your home or personal use, and if there is something you’ve been dreaming about buying, now is the perfect time to ask for it.

Plan for Experiences, Not Just Items
Yes, the holidays are about giving, but that does not mean you need to go overboard with presents and objects, which will possibly get returned or exchanged or re-gifted. Focus on planning experiences and activities you can do with your loved ones during the holidays, instead of giving each other items. You can do a girls spa day, indulge in a special meal, go to a show or concert, or do some sort of outdoor excursion (think a hike, a bike trip, or a skiing day depending on where you live).  You can also map out activities that don’t cost anything—go for a walk, spend a day at the park, make each other gifts, or have a movie-day.


Or Make a No-Gift Policy
If you’re really worried about spending, shopping and holiday stress, make a no-gift policy with your family and friends. After all, the holidays are about showing people you care, not about going nuts buying “stuff.” Plus, the time you save on shopping is time you can spend volunteering or bonding together. As USA Today reports, Amit Sood, an internal medicine physician and author of The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living, explains, “Christmas is a time of forgiveness, Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude, New Year is a time of novelty…Focus life around those principles and live the holidays in the spirit of those.”