Online shopping (illustrative)
Online shopping (illustrative)iStock

As the final quarter of the year begins, there's still a chance to avoid the many financial stresses that come with holidays, gift giving, entertaining at home, and all the social events that clog year-end calendars. Is there a way to avoid the money-related confusion and pressure that seem to be a part of an otherwise happy season? The good news is that there is, and you can put a plan into action right now.

Making a gift list is an important first step for most couples and single people. Additionally, now is the perfect time to refinance any outstanding education loans, which can also help improve your credit score, and get some early shopping done. Consider setting up a designated savings account to cover holiday expenses. This year, be sensible about light displays, create a detailed budget for year-end, and learn how to get substantial discounts when shopping online. The following suggestions can help you survive the upcoming holiday season in good spirits.

Make a Gift List
If you have children or adults on your gifting list, don't leave anything to chance. Develop a definitive roster of who's getting what, along with approximate spending ranges for each item. One of the most frequent errors people make is buying gifts one at a time and doing so without any advance planning. For the same reason you make a grocery list before shopping, create a holiday gift roster that can guide you with purchases and spending limits.

Refinance Education Loans
Why not start the winter gift giving season off right by slashing monthly expenses? That's a possible aim for anyone who owes on student loans. Those who still carry balances on education debt can refinance it into a brand-new obligation. Applying online is a quick process, and borrowers can end up with better rates, more favorable terms, and, best of all, much lower monthly payment amounts. When working adults refinance student loans, they gain access to realistic repayment periods along with the peace of mind that comes with getting old loans refinanced and optimized for long-term financial health.

Shop Early
Shopping early solves several problems simultaneously. First, you avoid the rush, even if all your buying is online, where a rush means items are out of stock. Early birds get another benefit in the form of wider selection. This is particularly true for hot items in the tech category that go fast once November approaches. Early shoppers also get a large dose of peace of mind. That means they can sit back and enjoy the holiday parties and get-togethers without having to rush out to buy last-minute gifts.

Be Sensible About Light Displays
If you've ever put a large light display on your home, you already know that it's easy for the supply and other expenses to get out of hand fast. This year, plan decoration and light purchases well in advance, remembering to recycle anything left over from prior seasons. Check local sales websites for second-hand items sold way below market prices. Instead of running up the utility bill, consider only turning the display on for a few hours per night and limiting the number of total days of the show.

Make a Detailed Seasonal Budget
Revise the standard monthly budget to account for special spending you intend to do between now and the end of the year. "Seasonal budgeting" is a smart way to get ahead of the financial curve and know in advance what you'll be spending over the holiday season. Avoid using emergency fund cash to purchase gifts, and consider augmenting income with a part-time job or a few extra hours at your current place of employment.

Use the "Shopping Cart" Trick
The so-called "cart trick" still works with online retailers. What is it? The maneuver, which is sometimes called the "shopping cart ploy," is a way to snag discounts on gift items or anything else. It's particularly effective during the run-up to the Christmas season. Here's how it works. Do online gift shopping on your favorite retailer's website. Place items in the shopping cart, and then abandon the purchase. Just remember to leave the products in the cart. Wait a week or two, and you'll almost certainly receive an email from the retailer saying something like, "We noticed you left a few things in your cart. If you're still interested in purchasing them, do so now and take 10% off the price with the following coupon code."