I love Christmas–but I don’t like the busyness that seems to be a hallmark of the season. A few years ago, I decided to start working on Christmas preparations in October, and I haven’t looked back. Here’s a calendar–still a work in progress!–to keep you on track to enjoy your holidays with as little stress as possible this year.
- December 26th-27th
- Make notes.
- What worked for you during the holiday season? What didn’t? What would you change about the season if you could revisit in hindsight? What should you change about your traditions or celebration next year?
- Set a budget for the following year. Decide–NOW–whether you really want the focus of your holiday to be on gifts or whether you want to adopt a more streamlined gift-giving philosophy. Perhaps you want to try the “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read” idea with your kids. Or maybe you want to suggest that your large extended family draw names rather than buy gifts for everyone.
- Declutter while you put away your decor.
- Do you have Christmas light strings with half the bulbs blown? Perhaps you should just discard those.
- Do you have decades-old icicles that you no longer use? Consider discarding those, too.
- Organize your decor while you put it away.
- Shop on December 26th to find good deals on holiday organizers. If you have a faux wreath, consider buying a wreath holder. If you put up a fake tree, consider putting it in a zippered bag with wheels to make it easier to move. Put your ornaments in boxes specifically designed to hold those carefully.
- Make notes.
- Begin saving money for Christmas presents every month so that you avoid charging your entire haul in December. You have a couple of options for saving. For example, you could start a Christmas club account. Alternatively, you could buy gift cards each month for use during holiday shopping at the end of the year. (If you try this idea, consider buying discounted gift cards at Raise.com. I’ve never had a problem with the gift cards I’ve received from the site, and the site offers a one-year guarantee.)
- Consider taking your Christmas pictures early. Most photographers aren’t doing Christmas photos until later in the fall, but here’s an idea: After spending hundreds on professional photos that weren’t what I wanted, I’ve found a $5 selfie stick and my iPhone take better (and cheaper!) Christmas pictures for my family. So toward the middle of October, I grab our faux evergreen wreath from the attic, hang it on our red door, and sit on our brick porch steps on a clear evening for 100 or so quick selfies. Then I find the best ones and set them aside for Christmas cards and the year’s Christmas tree ornament. If I need to retake them because they are all bad–maybe my daughter’s showing her grumpy face or I have a bra strap showing–I just retake them the next bright, clear day.
- Begin making cookies, and freeze the batter! I typically make one or two batches of cookies each week, and I place the extra batter in the freezer with a label. Some good options (I’ll be adding to this list each year):
- Holiday cake mix cookies (from the blog Dear Crissy): These are so rich! The batter freezes well, but to avoid cracks in your M&M’s, I’d advise holding off on adding those to the batter until you’re ready to bake.
- Red’s Amazing M&M’s Cookies: Santa loves these; he told me they’re his favorites other than plain old chocolate chip cookies. Try them. You won’t be disappointed.
- Grinch cookies (from the blog In Katrina’s Kitchen): This is another cake mix cookie that is super easy to make and freeze.
- Chocolate gooey butter cookies (from Paula Deen): I’ve been baking these cookies for seven years now, and they never disappoint.
- No-bake cookies (at AllRecipes): I have successfully frozen these, but honestly, they are so easy and quick to make that you don’t even need to. You must follow the directions exactly and use the exact ingredients listed or you run the risk of these cookies not setting properly.
- Cannibal cookies (from the blog Will Cook for Smiles): I haven’t made these in several years, but they are so good. This batter has never made it to the freezer, so freeze at your own risk. 😉
- I buy a photo ornament for my family’s Christmas tree each year. A few years ago, I bought one at Photobarn using a Groupon I had found for $5. More recently, I’ve bought ornaments from Shutterfly when Shutterfly offers them for free, paying around $7 for shipping. If you are considering doing something similar, subscribe to Shutterfly’s newsletter now so you’ll be on top of free items and discounts.
- Determine whether you will send Christmas cards this year and, if so, what kind. If you intend to send personalized cards, photo cards, or ornament cards, start looking for discounts (again, hello, Shutterfly!).
- Make a list of what persons you intend to send a Christmas card to. Locate the addresses for those persons, and create labels now. I use Avery 5560 labels for these–and for everything, really, because they just make life easier. Find a pretty font, and make some return address labels while you’re at it–print a whole sheet of them and use them all year for birthdays and the like if you choose!
- Start making freezer meals so that you aren’t so tempted to go out to eat on those busy days at the end of November and the beginning pf December.
- Take pictures of your nativity scene figurines before you remove them from the boxes.
- Stock up early on wrapping paper, gift boxes, gift bags (especially a large one for that one huge gift you bought!), tape, and bows. Consider reusable boxes, bags, cloth bows, and even paper (fabric?). For the past two years, I myself have bought a few reusable Christmas boxes using coupons at Michaels and A.C. Moore. I store them in a Sterlite storage container in the attic. My child is still young enough that she doesn’t peek at the gifts in the boxes with the magnetic closures, but your mileage may vary. One more thing: Consider making or printing your own holiday gift tags rather than buying them. You can download free printable ones here from CustomLabels.net.
- Plan your calendar early–and do it in writing. You can download a free December calendar from this blog. Click here for more details.
- To avoid overwhelm, wrap one gift a day until your wrapping is complete.
- Plan your Christmas meal(s) early, and locate great-grandmother’s dressing recipe now if you need to search for it. Then shop for ingredients far in advance so that you can avoid the supermarkets at their busiest.
- Plan some crock pot meals in the week or so before Christmas to make life easier and, again, to avoid eating out when your budget is already stretched. Click here for a list of some of my favorite easy meals for the holidays.
There you have it: some of my best tips for the holidays! How do you save yourself time, stress, and money at Christmas? I’d love to know!
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