There are two months remaining before the holiday season starts. Have you begun saving yet?
Every year, one of my friends comments that she's ill-prepared to buy holiday gifts for her family, or to visit relatives who live out of town. This stress is heartbreaking, particularly because it could be avoided with a little planning.
Most people don't save year-round for the holidays. Instead, they wait until Halloween or Thanksgiving and then start checking the balances in their accounts, wondering how much money they can spend on holiday travel and gifts.
But this is a poor strategy. The holidays are extremely predictable: They happen at the same time every year. Why not save all year for this annual expense, rather than waiting until October or November?
Earmark an account for travel and gifts
So, what can you do now that can help you be better prepared for next year's holidays?
Open a savings account that's earmarked for holiday travel and gifts. Online banks like SmartyPig and Capital One 360 allow you to open multiple "sub" accounts, each one earmarked for a specific purpose.
Contribute $20 or $30 per month (or more) into this account. Have this money automatically withdrawn from your checking account. By the end of the year, you'll have $240 (at $20 per month) or $360 (at $30 per month). That's enough to fill your gas tank and drive to your relatives' home with a trunk full of presents.
Don't give up on this year
Although time is growing short, you still can save for this year if you work hard at it.
The first step is to drastically cut your current expenses. Do you normally eat at restaurants every Friday night? Do you buy beer, chips or soda from the grocery store? Cut these luxuries. Place the savings in your holiday fund.
Next, pick up a little extra weekend work, such as baby-sitting, mowing lawns or raking leaves. Place all extra income in your holiday fund.
Once you save this year's funds, start preparing for next year by setting up those accounts with automatic withdrawal. They will help you save for next year's holiday season year-round -- even during the dog days of summer.
Paula Pant blogs at AffordAnything.com about building wealth and living life on your own terms. She's traveled to nearly 30 countries, owns six rental units that produce thousands of dollars in passive income, and runs her own digital marketing company. Follow Paula on Twitter: @AffordAnything.