Even though the smell of summer barbeques may be fresh in your memory, it’s not too early to start thinking through the logistics of the upcoming holiday season. From cooking and cleaning to shopping and entertaining, to-do lists and grocery trips can easily get out of hand when saved for the last minute. 

Instead of getting overwhelmed with holiday stress, start your preparations early and give yourself the chance to relax and enjoy the season. You may not be able to account for every little detail of your celebrations, but following these seven tips ensures that holiday season mishaps are kept to a minimum. 

  1. Set realistic expectations

Sure, visions of ornate decorations and Instagram-worthy holiday spreads may be dancing in your head, but there are only 24 hours in a day and a set amount in your budget. Keeping your expectations realistic can help you stay focused and increase your confidence this holiday season.

Make a list of what a dream holiday season would be without any time or financial restrictions. Then, work your way down the list and prioritize the experiences you want the most for your friends and family. Compare that list to your timeline and budget, and continue to pare it down to make sure you can accomplish the most important traditions without sacrificing your sanity. Anything else you accomplish will just be icing on the Christmas cookies. 

  1. Plan and delegate 

When does Uncle Fred need to be picked up from the airport? Who is in charge of the gift wrapping? You don’t need to be the only one to manage all of the logistics of the holiday. Instead, figure out what tasks need to be done, and lean on family or friends to help you accomplish them. If you have an aunt who makes the best pumpkin pie you’ve ever had, ask her to bake it for Thanksgiving. If your niece is a graphic designer or artist, maybe she can swing by and help you put up your holiday decorations. 

This advice rings true whether you’re hosting an event or just planning to attend. Just because some of the major stressors tend to fall on the host’s shoulders doesn’t mean that guests don’t have to juggle multiple tasks — especially if you’re event hopping this holiday season. Think about prep, like ironing outfits, gift shopping or bringing a bottle of wine as a thank you for the host, and see if anyone can help you knock the items off your to-do list. 

  1. Create a budget for gifts

Set a limit on how much you’re willing to spend on presents and stick to it. Prioritize the people you absolutely need to find gifts for, like family members and close friends, and use any leftover funds on gifts for others. 

It may be helpful to jot down a few gift ideas for each recipient so you can check for sales in the months ahead, especially during shopping holidays like Black Friday. Use websites and browser extensions like Rakuten or Honey to find additional coupons while you shop online and get cash back on your purchases. 

And if you’re lacking in funds overall, remember that homemade treats and thoughtful gifts are just as meaningful. 

  1. Book travel and accommodations early

The early bird gets the best ticket prices, so try to nail down your travel plans as soon as possible and shop around to make sure you’re getting the best deal. Reach out to family members who may also be traveling to see if there’s a way to cut down on expenses — considering the price of rental cars, you and your cousins can save money by carpooling together. 

Cashback credit cards can also be helpful in securing travel deals, especially if you already plan to rack up points buying gifts. Trade in your rewards points for airline miles or cash to cover expenses. You can even use the perks offered by some cards for hotel room upgrades or travel insurance. 

  1. Strategize for your holiday meal prep

Plan your holiday menu ahead of time (see a recurring theme here?) and create a shopping list for it so you’re not missing crucial ingredients halfway through a recipe. Apps like Flipp and Grocery Pal make searching for grocery store sales and coupons a breeze, helping you keep costs low, too. 

Put some guests in charge of bringing dishes or preparing meals and others in charge of cleanup, especially if they’re not comfortable with cooking. Determine if any dishes, or parts of them, can be made in advance and stored in the freezer until the day of the event. 

  1. Practice saying no

Chances are you won’t be able to make it to every obligation, responsibility or event this holiday season. You only have so much time, after all. 

So the next time you receive an invitation, look at your schedule and ask yourself if you can realistically make it work. Don’t just think about the time you’ll spend at the event, either, but about any gifts you’ll need to bring or clothes you may have to wear. 

Don’t feel guilty about declined invitations — most people will understand, and you won’t feel stressed or resentful about attending something you don’t have the bandwidth or budget for. 

  1. Take care of yourself

It’s easy to put your self-care or workout routines on the back burner during the holidays because there’s just so much to do — but you need to take care of yourself, too. Maintaining healthy habits is important this time of year, especially if you know that your mental health often dips during the holiday season.

Get lots of sleep and exercise, eat healthy and avoid spending too much time on social media. Schedule non-negotiable time to unwind, especially if you feel like your schedule is overwhelming you, and treat it like you would any other obligation on your calendar.