Ah, the end of the year and its attendant luxuries: Holidays! Cookies! Parties! Gifts! Alcohol! Friends! Family!

And the almost-inescapable headaches for freelancers: Disrupted client schedules! Delayed invoices! Budget woes! Wildly-fluctuating work demands!

Unless our gigs are tied up with retail or festivities (in which case, this is a breathlessly busy period), most freelancers experience a business slump around late December.

That can add a lot of stress to an already stress-inducing period – especially when you factor in the season’s expenses.

The good news is that there are a few steps you can take NOW, before you ever touch a slice of Thanksgiving turkey, to reduce December’s agita!

1. Front-load

November is a good time to start really preparing for the end-of-year bottleneck of holidays and celebrations. What can you do now to make things run smoothly in late December?

You can’t control what your clients do, but you CAN do extra prep now to reduce chaos later.

Get invoices pre-loaded and ready to send. Aim to finish up projects and meet deadlines before the holidays hit.

Make sure your clients know when you will and won’t be available during the festive season (nothing ruins a nice dose of cheer like getting a blood-curdling, urgent client email when you’ve just arrived at your in-laws’).

If your portfolio and resume need updating, now’s the time to do so; start the New Year with shiny, fresh material.

Most people’s schedules fill up fast during December. Get the work done now, so you can relax with a cup of nog later.

2. Budget

It is an unfortunate truth that invoicing processes tend to go a bit haywire during the holidays.

Accounts-payable managers take time off, too, and get just as distracted as anybody else during the season. Pair that with the inevitable cost of gifts and parties, and you’re looking at the stuff of Freelance Budget Nightmares.

Create a special budget for the end-of-year period. Too many of us try to blithely skate by on our normal budgets, and have mild cardiac incidents when receiving credit card statements in January.

Make room in it for extra costs and delayed payments, if possible. If you can, try to lay aside a bit of money as a nest egg; the knowledge that you’ve got an emergency fund can warm you as effectively as ye olde Yule Log.

Set a budget for gifts and try to keep to it – it’s tempting to fall into the notion that cost = care, but most of your loved ones would rather have quality time with you than fancy trinkets.

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3. Keep in touch

Prep your Happy New Year / Happy Holidays cards to clients in November. Not only is it nice… it’s a good marketing tool.

Make sure to thank them for the previous year’s work (mentioning specific things you’ve accomplished together is always smart), and make noises about more collaboration in the future.

It’s also a convenient, sneaky reminder about pending invoices – nothing says “remember to pay the freelancer” like a holiday card on a desk.

Some freelancers also use the end-of-year festivities to promote special discounts, offsetting holiday slumps – if you can afford to offer a deal, now’s a good time.

4. Indulge

It’s easy for freelancers to get caught up in end-of-year anxiety, worrying about how and when their invoices will get held up… but these can be your holidays, too!

Once you’ve done your prep work and sent out your cards, take real time off. Relax. Structure in actual quality time with family and friends. Hit a party or two. The freelance work will start again, soon enough. Odds are your clients aren’t working much, either – make sure to take a break.

After all, ‘tis the season.

Kate Shea lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.