Thanks to Alexandra Franzen for the prompt.

I officially started my holiday shopping last week. Yes, I have 4 gifts purchased already.

A few years ago, I realized that I was absolutely killing myself with stress around the holidays, trying to find gifts at the last minute, resorting to gift cards way too often. I started shopping early and I haven’t looked back since. To help you get started, use this list of what to do before you start!

1. Make a budget!

I wrote about my holiday gift tracker spreadsheet in 2011, and I have not changed it since. It’s so easy to use (available to download in the post), and really keeps me on track, especially when buying multiple gifts for a single person.

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2. Start noticing the little things about your friends and family.

Your friends and family probably drop hints about their likes and interests all the time. Make notes in your phone or datebook when you pick up on this, it will make for a starting point to finding the perfect gift.

3. Maximize opportunities for savings.

If you haven’t already, join flash sale sites and start trolling for gifts. No shame in saving some money! You will have to work hard to not start shopping for yourself though, believe me. Look to the right column on this page for links to invitations to all of my preferred flash sale websites. Black Friday may also be another opportunity for something special – last year, I purchased amazing Lorac palettes online from Ulta, for $11 each! I will have a Black Friday shopping guide up on the site closer to the date.

4. Don’t forget about host/hostess gifts!

You will inevitably have a few events to attend where a gift for your host or hostess will be appropriate. Shopping early for non-perishables is an easy way to avoid the stress of having to stop and find something on the way to the event (and don’t try and tell me you haven’t done that before). Now is the time to shop for giftworthy bottles of wine or champagne, which you can generally get a discount on when buying in bulk. You can also check out a lovely selection of gift baskets on Amazon, which provide a lot of options for contents and price. Buy a few of these with some gift bows (like these ones that have fiber optics!), and stick one on before you leave.

5. Enjoy the process. Have fun!

Unfortunately, I see more often than not that people see their holiday shopping as a chore, and not as the joyous experience it is meant to be. The holiday season is meant to be lovely and fun, and a time to get together with your friends and family, and drink egg nog and have a wonderful time. Gifts are traditional, and they should also provide a joyful experience for all involved. I promise you, starting your shopping now will definitely make the process more enjoyable. No one ever likes being rushed, and you KNOW you will be holiday shopping each year, so take the time to think about it early, save yourself the drama, and all will be delighted.

If you have early holiday shopping tips, please leave them in the comments!