Thoughts of holidays may not yet be on your mind, but as the autumn weather makes its first appearance in September, it’s a good idea to start setting a budget before the holiday season is in full swing!

Setting a budget (and sticking to it) is one of the best steps that you can take to reach your financial goals. A budget can help you build savings and create a strong credit score by maintaining regular on-time payments toward your debts.

Step 1: Know your budget

The first step in getting your budget in shape is to know exactly how much money you have coming in each month, and how much you are spending on average. There are certain fixed costs within your budget that will remain the same – or largely the same each month. These include housing costs (rent/mortgage, water bill, gas and electric bill) and debt payments (car payment, student loan payment, and credit card payment).

It is important to know how much you spend on these fixed costs each month, and also important to have an idea of how much you spend on other variable costs each month. Using a mobile app like Mint is an easy way to visualize exactly how much you are spending – and where that money is going.

Once you chart out your spending habits, it will be easier to see opportunities to trim your budget. If you have financial goals that you would like to achieve – like buying a house – you can set specific savings goals and track your progress through the app as well.

Your spending will likely increase during the holiday season, so it’s a good idea to take a hard look at your current budget and make necessary adjustments in preparation. Being conscious of your spending habits can help you make better purchase decisions, and build a better financial future.

Step 2: Spread out Spending

One way to lessen the burden of holiday spending is to start shopping early for items that you know you’ll need. If you know that you’re going to purchase a new winter coat or winter boots this year, make those purchases a few months in advance. If you know which gifts you plan to give – or at least have a few recipients in mind – you will have the opportunity to purchase some of them ahead of time.

It is more manageable to spend a small portion of money each paycheck than it is to spend a large portion all at once. It is also probable that you will save money by thinking ahead. Plane tickets, winter clothing, and hotel rooms tend to be less expensive when they are purchased with advanced planning.

It can also be helpful to write down a list of people who you would like to send gifts or cards too. Once you have the list, write a max budget for each person’s gift. This can help you see how much you will need to save before the holiday season begins.

Step 3: Prepare for the unexpected

Another important part of budgeting, it to prepare for the unexpected. Plan to set aside some extra cash in your savings account each paycheck. Plenty of unexpected expenses can arise during the holidays. Whether it’s unanticipated holiday food costs, an unexpected flight change or a new party outfit, a little cushion in your budget can help you avoid quite a bit of stress!