If you are like many other Americans, you are already thinking about eating with family and friends over the holidays. You’re contemplating who will be at your table, what you will serve, and how you can surprise your guests with a new fabulous dish.

If you aren’t hosting the big meal this year maybe you’re thinking about what to cook up and bring to the party. No matter what your scenario, the most important thing you can do right now is to get your head around how much all of this will cost because the holidays can be expensive.

So are you prepared? If you’re ahead of the game you may have already started stocking up on the ingredients that appear in many traditional recipes. Items like sugar, flour, nuts, and butter often start to go on sale during the weeks leading up to the holiday season. If you plan to capitalize on the discounts, remember that you may need extra to prepare items for work or other get-togethers as well.

Today is a good day to start planning and preparing. Remember that your resources are valuable when it comes to the holidays. Your energy, time, money, and health are all at stake. Managing your financial, mental, and physical health with early preparation and planning may be your lifesaver when you’re in the bustle of the season.

Here are a few tips to reduce costs and utilize your resources in a wise manner across the next few months.

Create and write down your meal plans – be very specific

Planning your meals is as much about financial preparation as it is about timing. Often, if you take the time to create a strategic plan for your meals, it’s easier to find ways you can save money. You may also see areas that you can scratch a side dish or add something to balance the meal.

By writing down your meal plans you’ll identify these issues ahead of time. This will leave you feeling confident in what you serve your guests and how much money you spend.

List every ingredient you will need - check your pantry so you don’t over or under buy

Sometimes we make the mistake of cooking an overabundance of food for the number of people we are serving. Don’t be wasteful this holiday season. If you write down each recipe in detail, you’ll be able to identify what you really need before you start cooking or even go shopping. It will also make it easier for you to see what you already have in your pantry and what you need to add to your grocery list.

Keep in mind, every ingredient adds up. While having extra ingredients isn’t a bad thing, consider what you can do with the money you save by not buying redundant items. Maybe you’ll end up with more in your budget for presents or travel this holiday season. With just a few additional minutes of preparation, you’ll prevent yourself from overstocking your pantry and overextending your budget.

Consider asking others to participate by bringing their favorite dishes

Most of the time your guests will want to help you. They’ll often pester you until you assign them a task. Don’t ignore their willingness to provide, they want to contribute to the party just as much as you. Support them in this and don’t be shy about assigning each guest a dish to bring. This will not only assure everyone plays a part in the preparations, but it will also save you money on ingredients. Be sure to provide your guests with an accurate headcount 3-5 days in advance so that they too can prepare with enough time.

Look for bargains

We have so many resources to save money. Especially, during the holiday season, take the extra time to exercise these options. Pick up a copy of the Sunday paper and clip coupons. Start investigating your local grocery stores’ websites to monitor their specials. If you have access to bulk shopping stores, consider purchasing items in large quantities at a discount price.

Finally, consider tapping into some of the shopping apps that offer cash back for purchases, such as Ibotta. If you are daring, try them all. You will find that you’re able to save enough that it makes the extra effort worthwhile.

Make and freeze dishes or treats early where possible

Have you ever heard the saying that “time is money”? Well, it’s true. If you are able to cook ahead of time, you should capitalize on doing so. There are a few financial benefits to the situation, as well as time management ones. First, if you cook ahead of time, you will buy ingredients ahead of time. This will enable you to take advantage of discounts earlier in the season.

You will also be able to add one or two ingredients into your weekly budget, during the weeks leading up to the holidays. By doing this, it will prevent you from going to the grocery store and overspending because you’ve waited until the last minute to buy everything.

Cooking and freezing ahead of time will help reduce the stress and exhaustion of cooking everything the “day of”. Preparing ahead of time will add a level of calm to your day. This will allow you to enjoy the celebration as opposed to work vigorously and collapse into a state of exhaustion when it is over.

The bottom line

Food is a huge part of holiday celebrations. Many may consider it important to toast the season with a feast fit for a king and queen. However, if you overdo it, at the end of the day you will have a stomachache and an empty wallet. Creating a meal that is delicious does not have to cost more than you can afford. Taking time to plan and strategize the best way to serve your friends and family will financially benefit you. It will also allow you to enter the New Year without the financial guilt of the seasons’ overabundance.

Most of all, remember that the holidays are for love and holding close those dear to us. Meals and gatherings come and go pretty quickly. But, the fellowship we share with our loved ones last forever in our minds and hearts – let’s all make this a holiday worthy of this value.