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Long lines, parking lots so packed they don’t have space leftfor a pigeon to land, and grocery store shelves stripped of everylast morsel of gingerbread, cranberry sauce and cookie dough – suchis the likely fate of those who wait until the last minute toprepare for Christmas.

Legend has it that Santa Claus spends the whole year preppingfor his big night. While you don’t have to go to that extreme, youcan still enjoy the benefits of planning for the holidays a fewmonths in advance. Don’t let waiting until the last minuteinterfere with your Christmas fun thisyear. Here are three areas where you can get a jump-start on theholiday:

Shopping

Does it seem like the “sales” that stores and online retailerspromote at Christmas time don’t really offer deals that are thatgreat? The truth is, you can probably find better prices — and alot less pressure and hassle — if you shop sales throughout theyear and store gifts until the holidays.

Throughout the year, prices fall on certain items that might bemore expensive when the holidays approach. For example, spring isthe best time to shop for winter clothes as stores clear out theirinventories. You can find great deals on laptops, desktops andother electronics around back-to-school season.

To ensure you’re ready to seize sale opportunities as they arisethroughout the year, start the year with a rough draft of yourChristmas shopping list. Of course, the list may change as the yearprogresses, but having this starting point will help you know whatsales to watch for.

Decorating

Of course you’re not going to break out the tree and string upthe lights in September. But you could start working on yourholiday decor by researching and starting on your Christmascrafts. Websites like Better Homes and Gardens (www.bhg.com)archive craft ideas and directions that you can access at any timeduring the year. You can find guides for making a wide range ofChristmas crafts, from personalized cards to beribboned holidayaccent pillows.

Starting early on your holiday decorations gives you plenty oftime to choose which ones you most want to add to your collectionthis year. Plus, you may find prices are lower on some craftmaterials that will be in higher demand – and cost more – as theholidays approach. Finally, making and storing crafts well ahead ofthe holiday ensures you have plenty of time to enjoy the process,free of the pressure of a looming deadline.

Feasting

Christmasrecipes are as important to the holiday’s festive mood astwinkling lights and a hearty “ho-ho-ho.” What would the holiday bewithout Christmas cookies and your family’s favorite holidaydishes?

While you can make some types of Christmas cookies ahead of timeand freeze them for up to a month, you realistically won’t bemaking most holiday dishes so far in advance. However, there’s noreason to postpone menu planning. Most of us host multiple eventsthroughout the holiday season. Researching Christmas recipes inadvance allows you to plan multiple menus and organize your groceryshopping to save money.

Getting a jump on holiday planning may seem like rushing theseason to some. But planning ahead can help ensure that when othersare dealing with the holiday rush, you have more time to savor thepeace and joy Christmas is supposed to bring.

Courtesy of ARAcontent