Whether because of a global pandemic, a tough year, or time just slipped away, sometimes the holidays sneak up on us and bring with them lots of stress! Years ago I started to simplify and plan holidays ahead of time so I would be less stressed out and I’m so glad I did!
Simplifying the holidays also makes lean years feel less stressful (because there is no expectation for tons of gifts), and eases the to-do list for moms (who are usually in charge of it all). One way that I simplify the holidays is by planning and preparing well in advance. Here are the ways I plan for the holidays now (and save my sanity!).
Create a Budget
The first thing you need to do to start planning for the holidays is to create a budget. If you’re anything like me, the holidays end up being more expensive than expected! That’s why creating a budget is such a great idea. So instead of just buying things as you see them, you have a better idea of what you need and what fits into your budget, so there isn’t as much surprise (or guilt come January!).
I create my budget by first deciding how much we can reasonably afford for all things that have to do with the holidays. Then I create sub budgets for each category:
- Gifts – for kids, extended family, and hostess gifts.
- Decorations – If there is a decoration that needs to be replaced or something new I want, I put it on this list.
- Meals – I try to keep in mind that we have to eat regardless of whether it’s a holiday, but creating a budget helps me to figure out if we will be serving filet mignon or turkey for Christmas dinner.
- Activities – Consider any activities that need a budget. This could include an ugly sweater party, building gingerbread houses, or making holiday crafts.
Once you have a budget set, you can move on to planning other holiday things.
Assess Your Decoration Needs
If decorating the house is a big part of your holiday celebration, it’s a good idea to assess what you have and what you might need. If funds are tight this year, this is an easy place to cut costs. Simply plan to use what you already have in your basement.
But if you want to buy new decorations, now is a great time to find out what needs to be replaced or what decorations you want to update this year. I like to keep an inventory list of our decorations so I can easily see what we have and mark if something is broken or needs to be updated.
Plan Christmas Cards
If you’re a Christmas card person, preparing and sending your Christmas cards may be a highlight of the season for you. If this is you, make sure to plan now so it doesn’t become overwhelming. Here are my suggestions:
- Make a list of recipients and updated mailing addresses.
- Decide on what kind of Christmas card you will send – do you need to have a family photo taken?
- Mark on the calendar the day you want to send the cards. Sending them the first full week in December is a good bet for getting them delivered on time but not too early.
- Get photos or family updates finished and ready for mailing before Thanksgiving so you won’t have to worry about them over the Thanksgiving holiday or the week following.
If holiday cards become a burden to you though, it’s also okay to let them go this year. You can redirect that energy and money into other holiday activities like gift-giving or family traditions.
Make a Gift List
If you’re anything like me, when you buy gifts you stuff them in the back of a closet and forget about half of them before you even wrap them. If you’re on a tighter budget this year (or just want to simplify the holidays), making a gift list is a great way to stay organized and not overbuy. I start by making a list of items I would like to buy for family members.
Because the pressure to buy lots of gifts often just makes moms overwhelmed and burnt out, we started a new tradition. We follow the “want, need, wear, read” gift-giving philosophy. We get the kids one material gift (want) and then we also give experience gifts (need), new pajamas or something else they need for their capsule wardrobes (wear), and finally a book to read.
This simplified gift giving has made a huge difference in the stress level during the holidays as well as in how our kids appreciate the things they have and experience.
So, I start by making a list of gift ideas for each child as well as what I would like to get for other family members. Creating a list and then buying what’s on the list is an easy way to avoid overspending or getting into the trap of wondering if I bought enough.
Gather DIY Gift Ideas and Tutorials
I enjoy making homemade gifts to give to extended family members since homemade gifts always feel more special. But it can double as a fun holiday activity for the family too. Homemade gifts are a great way to cut costs if needed without sacrificing the wow factor.
If you plan to make homemade gifts this year, now is the perfect time to get organized. Some gifts take a while to become ready, so they may need to be started early. Here’s what I recommend:
- Pick out which gifts you’ll make.
- Find out how long they take to be ready (not just active time but curing/drying/infusing time as well).
- Mark on the calendar when you need to start the project in order for it to be ready for packing and shipping (if needed). Shooting for the first week in December is a good rule of thumb for gifts you need to mail. You can wait a week or so if you don’t need to mail your gifts.
- Create a shopping list of supplies (make sure to check in with your budget too).
- Mark a day on your calendar when you’ll buy the supplies you need for the gifts and then get going on it!
Once you have gifts and decorations out of the way, it’s time to plan fun holiday activities. I make a point of scheduling holiday activities so we can be sure we get to some of our favorite holiday activities together. It’s fun to sit down with the family and brainstorm ideas together too. Here are some things that usually make it on the list:
- Baking holiday treats
- Going to a friend’s annual holiday party
- Picking out a Christmas tree
- Decorating the house and tree
I try to do this brainstorming and scheduling about a week or two before Thanksgiving in case there are any Thanksgiving activities I want to schedule. I will also try to schedule New Year’s events as they are planned. In years when there are few community events, we stick with family activities in our home or backyard.
Plan Holiday Meals
The last thing I plan for the holidays are the meals. If I’m hosting, I’ll obviously plan an entire meal. If we’re visiting family, I’ll plan a dish or two to bring with us. Here’s what I do:
- Choose recipes
- Make shopping lists based on recipes
By making lists early, I can grab extra butter one week and maple syrup the next. This helps spread purchases out over a few weeks or months instead of one shopping trip (it also reduces my list when I do need to get fresh things just before the holiday).
Plan Early for Simple Holidays!
So many moms (especially) end up looking forward to the holidays being over because of the stressfulness of it all. Taking the time to plan early has been a great way for me to truly enjoy the season with my family and not be overwhelmed and stressed out.
What are your favorite ways to plan early so you can enjoy the holidays?