What? We're counting down how many shopping days are left until Christmas already?! Nooooo! Actually, this is all about what you can do now to prepare for Christmas so that you DON'T have to go shopping, scramble for gifts at the last-minute and spend a fortune on impulse purchases during the holidays.

A bit of gift preparation and planning ahead now will allow you to relax and enjoy your family and loved ones during the festivities. Imagine having time to actually reflect on the reason for the season, rather than being rushed and stressed as you frantically watch the clock tick toward your gift deadline. Santa has to make a list and check it twice, so starting now will allow you to really enjoy the spirit of giving, take advantage of sales and be more organized than ever.

Plan ahead

Begin by creating a Christmas to-do list and a budget. Need a little more direction? Check out the following guide at lifeasmom

Shop the sales

Christmas doesn't have to be stressful or expensive. Some stores, such as Sears, Kmart, Old Navy, Target, JC Penney and Toys R Us offer Christmas Lane sections on their websites in July to reduce some of their stock and attract summer shoppers. You can find even more Christmas in July sales at:

Free samples

Start stocking up now on free samples for stocking stuffers.

Earn points for rewards

You can also start stocking up on points that can be redeemed for gift cards when you do searches at Swagbucks or Mypoints. It's amazing how fast the points and gift cards can add up.

You'll earn cash back when you make purchases at Ebates or ShopAtHome.

Watch for deals

If you want to purchase something specific for someone, start saving those pretty pennies in a special jar and don't be tempted to spend them on something else. Watch for the item you want to go on sale by registering for price drop alerts and following deal trackers such as:

Make it yourself

You've got plenty of time to make homemade gifts if you start now. People recognize the time and love you've invested in them when your gift comes from your heart and your hands. Here are some great homemade gift ideas to get your creative juices started:

If you don't have a green thumb or a crafty finger, but appreciate those who do, you might get a kick out of attending a Christmas in July festival where artisans focus on gifts for the holidays. Do an Internet search for one in your area.

Throw a party

Throw a Christmas in July party. You can find all kinds of tips and fun ideas for your shindig at theholidayspot. One Christmas in July party I love is a swap where people bring new or gently used items they have sitting around their house and exchange with other people. I call it a New to You event that makes for perfect, FREE gifts. You could also have a Busy Hands party where everyone brings crafting supplies, extra fabric and cute ideas that everyone can use to make gifts.

There is actually a movie called "Christmas in July." You can watch it with your family to get into the spirit of things.

Evaluate your to do list

Finally, take some time to reconsider what you spend your time and money on during the holidays. For example, most people stress out over Christmas cards, the family photo that goes on them, as well as the stamps that rack up your Christmas expense. Would the world end if you sent a FREE Christmas letter email with photos?

Suggest a neighborhood celebration

What if, instead of buying gifts for every single person in your extended family, you bought one gift for each family like a favorite DVD and snack pack for them to enjoy? How about having a neighborhood potluck dinner where you can spend time together, rather than dropping off purchased gifts for everyone on your street?

Give an experience

The truth is, we all have more than enough stuff in our homes ... we really don't need more gifts. What we DO want is more time with our families, so think about what kinds of experiences you can give at Christmas. For example, you could give an invitation to a special dinner in your home, a specially-wrapped fingernail polish with a card that explains you'll join the receiver on a Girls Day Out to get a pedicure, a season membership pass to a local museum or a box of Frisbee golf discs with maps to all of the local parks where you could play together.

Christmas should be a magical time, but if you're racing around like a stressed out crazy person the entire month of December, it won't be. Take a breath and make a plan now to create marvelous memories for your family.

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