Christmas in July is no joke. In the blink of an eye you'll be seeing Santa Claus at the mall and hearing Christmas songs all over the radio. You might also be finishing paying off Christmas 2012 when it's time to buy toys and gifts for 2013. The good news is that the holidays are still five months away, so if you prepare and plan appropriately, you have plenty of time to build a monetary cushion to help pay the bills and lighten your load — especially if you have costly travel expenses lined up. Use a few simple tips to plan ahead, save money, and keep family finances in check.

1. Set a little aside each week.

It doesn't have to be much; it just has to be something. Dig through your family budget and try to find an amount each week that you can live without. Take that money and put it into a savings account and promise not to touch it. Before you know it, you'll have a tidy sum to spend on the holidays.

2. Use "found" money wisely.

If you have a part-time job or some other extra income coming in, try to set away a little bit for the holidays. If it's money that you don't use for bills or other living expenses, try to discipline yourself to save it for a big event, like purchasing gifts or stocking up for out-of-town holiday guests.

3. Cut back.

If you look at your expenses there are probably ways to shave a bit from your budget. Can you skip an expensive coffee once or twice a week? Can you cut back on eating out at lunch or dinner? Are there bigger things in your budget to trim like scaling back on your cable bill? All these cuts might add up to a significant amount that you can use to defray the costs you'll face around the holidays.

4. Be smart.

There are usually a couple of months each year when we receive three paychecks. If you plan ahead, you might be able to set aside enough money to make a difference come holiday time.

5. Get thrifty.

If you're doing some summer cleaning before school starts, see if there are children's clothes, books, or toys that you can consign or sell online on eBay or sites such as Just Between Friends. You can also host a yard sale and get the kids involved to teach them the value of earning a few dollars and the preparation needed to organize an event.

6. Make a budget and stick to it.

It's never too early to start thinking about how much you'll need to cover your holiday expenses. Be realistic about your budget and discuss it with your spouse. If you know how much you'll need — and always build in a little extra for the gifts that you'll forget — it will make planning that much easier. Plus, if you have a target number in mind it'll seem so much more rewarding when you reach it.