You may have read the title of this post and remarked inwardly, “Christmas? The sun is still (somewhat) shining and I have yet to savour my first Pumpkin Spice Latte of the year, and this crazy broad is already discussing CHRISTMAS?!? Come on, now!” Well I AM a planner by nature (and by trade) so it only seems natural to look ahead to the future and start making arrangements for the holiday season.

Christmas tends to be as stressful as it is festive, what with multiple holiday parties, family get togethers, and not to mention, the plethora of decorating, shopping, gifting, Christmas card writing and baking that goes down. If you’re planning on throwing a big holiday bash (whether it’s a private party you’re hosting in your home or a company-wide one with your office mates), you’ll want to get started early.

I say this knowing full well how quickly venues book up their spaces and how crazy fast your peeps fill their calendars with various activities. If you want to ensure that you book your preferred space and that all of your key guests can attend, then best to plan well in advance. Here you will find a few tips and ideas for your upcoming bash:

Send out Invites Early
As mentioned above, the holiday season tends to be extraordinarily busy for most, so you’ll want to solidify your date and send out invitations for your soirée early on. I don’t know about you, but I get bombarded with invitations for one gathering after another as we approach the end of the year. You’ll want to have your party marked down on all of your guests’ calendars early to guarantee a strong turnout. Consider using an online resource like Paperless Post to save time, hassle (and paper!) The cost is quite affordable and your ability to manage RSVP’s and send out mass messages to your guests makes it an extremely attractive and user-friendly option.

Planning early on will also alleviate a lot of stress on your end. Before you know it, your own schedule will compound and you’ll find little free time to devote to party planning the longer you wait. The holidays are stressful enough… don’t make them any harder on yourself by waiting until the last second to make arrangements.

Be Mindful about Dates
Those first couple weekends of December are prime real estate in everyone’s agendas. To avoid competing with other functions, consider planning your party for an off-time like a Friday evening or Sunday afternoon.

Budget Accordingly
If you’re anything like me, when you host a party, you like to go ALL OUT. However, budget doesn’t always permit a lavish affair. The food and beverage tends to eat up the most significant portion of your budget so you’ll want to be strategic with your offerings.

Rather than spending a fortune on wine, beer and hard liquor, consider making large batches of beverages that stretch far. Mulled wine or apple cider in a slow cooker, or alcoholic sparkling cranberry punch can feed a large group of guests for a negligible cost. Go to Wal-Mart, Costco or Bed, Bath and Beyond and pick up a couple of glass drink dispensers for serving, fill with your beverage and some colorful fruit garnish, and your bar set-up looks pro.

For the spread, go for some easy to prepare appetizers like Brie & Cranberry Chutney in Puff Pastry, Cocktail Size Caprese Skewers, Classic Devilled Eggs and Wild Mushroom & Goat Cheese Mini Quiches. All of the above can be made in large batches with relative ease (and with minimal skill, if you don’t fancy yourself a wiz in the kitchen.) Supplement those with some cheap and cheerful frozen appies purchased from the grocery store, as well as the staple veggie, fruit and cheese platters. If budget permits, consider preparing a few items on your own, and tacking on a few platters from your local caterer. This will alleviate the stress and burden of doing it all on your own. If you simply don’t have the budget for a huge spread, then go for a potluck option. Most people are happy to make and contribute their signature dishes for everyone to enjoy (my go-to is a five-ingredient Spinach Dip that is always a huge hit, paired with some sliced French baguette). Whichever route you pursue, just make sure that you’re not bankrupting your account… especially when you have a boatload of Christmas shopping on the horizon.

Keep the Décor Simple

Haven’t had a chance to rummage through storage and dust off your entire Christmas Village set up? Have no fear! You don’t require an ample supply of fancy decorations to set the tone for your party. Some strings of twinkle lights and wax/ LED candles will lend to that warm ambient glow, along with paper snowflakes hung from the ceiling to add depth and dimension to the space. A simple wreath on the door and a garland across the fireplace can add the festive greenery needed. Whether it’s for a small-scale party or big bash, don’t underestimate the treasure trove of great décor pieces that can be unearthed at your local dollar store. Mix and match, and get creative to achieve your desired look!