Even your furry friends will thank you for a more relaxed Christmas season.

You must think I’m crazy, talking about Christmas already. After all, in our consumer driven society, it seems like the ads for Christmas go up earlier and earlier every year. And those who know me well, know that drives me crazy.

Still, now is a good time to start thinking about Christmas. About a month ago, Frugal Dad reminded us that there were less than 200 saving days until Christmas! Today, a month later, there are only 148 days left until Christmas!

By planning ahead, you can avoid the temptation to overspend and go into debt in December. My goal every year is to have all my shopping done and my packages and cards ready to go out by the end of Thanksgiving weekend. I like to spend the month leading up to Christmas relaxing with my family, just enjoying the season. I hate the last minute Christmas rush.

Here are some things you can do now to get a head start on Christmas this year.

Start Saving Now

If you haven’t started saving yet, figure out how much you want to spend on Christmas, and divide it by 4 months. Put that much aside each month from August through November, and you’ll have your Christmas budget fully funded by December 1.

I started saving early this year when I tried out SmartyPig. Now my Christmas fund is going strong in my SmartyPig account, and I’ll be in good shape when I withdraw my savings to shop in November.

Start Shopping Now

If you come across a good sale on something you know a friend or relative would love, buy it now. Hide it in a safe location, and keep a list of what you’ve bought and for whom. I can’t stress the list enough. It’s definitely not frugal to buy too many things because you’ve forgotten what you’ve already purchased.

By shopping early, you also have the benefit of having a better chance of locating those hard to find items (like a Nintendo Wii, for instance), before the Christmas crowds are competing for the same items.

Consider Homemade Gifts

Preparing for Christmas early gives you the time and flexibility to make something with a personal touch, if you wish. One year I cross-stitched a picture for my in-laws. It’s still hanging in their entryway, and it warms my heart that they liked it enough to hang it in such a prominent location. I wouldn’t have been able to finish the picture in time, had I not started cross-stitching in August that year.

In recent years, I’ve made personalized calendars for everyone. By going through family photos early, I can make sure I have enough good pictures for the photo calendars. I can also get the calendars printed before prices go up, as the frequently seem to do, right before Christmas.

Make the Gift Personal

Whether you make your gifts or buy your gifts, the purpose of giving a gift is to make sure the recipient feels loved and appreciated. When you prepare for Christmas early, it’s easy to think about the person you’re shopping for, and buy something you know they will truly love.

When you wait until December 20 to shop, you end up buying gifts in a hurry, just to get the shopping out of the way. Gift giving becomes more of a chore than an act of love. At least that’s been my experience.

By planning ahead, you can make sure your Christmas is relaxed and enjoyable, rather than harried and hurried.

Have you thought ahead to Christmas yet? What’s your best Christmas planning tip?

Photo by Randy Son Of Robert.