Whether it’s because of a global pandemic, a difficult year or time that has just slipped away, sometimes the holidays creep up on us and bring a lot of stress! Years ago I started simplifying and planning vacations in advance so that I would be less stressed and I’m so glad I did!
Simplifying the holidays also makes lean years feel less stressful (because tons of gifts aren’t expected) and makes the to-do list for moms (who are usually in charge of everything) easier. One way to simplify the holiday season is to plan and prepare well in advance. These are the ways I now plan for the holidays (and save my sanity!).
Make a budget
The first thing to do to start planning the vacation is to create a budget. If you’re anything like me, the holidays are more expensive than expected! That’s why making a budget is such a great idea. So instead of just buying things as you see them, you’ll have a better idea of what you need and what fits into your budget, so there’s not as much surprise (or guilt in January!).
I set my budget by first determining how much we can reasonably afford for all things holiday-related. Then I create sub-budgets for each category:
- Gifts – for children, extended family and hostess gifts.
- decorations – If there is a decoration that needs to be replaced or something new that I want, I will put it on this list.
- Meals – I try to keep in mind that we have to eat whether it is a holiday, but making a budget helps me figure out if we will serve filet mignon or turkey for Christmas dinner.
- Activities – Consider all activities that require a budget. This could be an ugly sweater party, building gingerbread houses or making Christmas crafts.
Once you’ve set a budget, you can move on to planning other vacation 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 may need. If funds are tight this year, this is an easy place to cut costs. Just plan to use what you already have in your basement.
But if you’re looking to buy new decorations, now is a good time to figure out what needs to be replaced or what decorations you want to update this year. I like to keep an inventory of our decorations so that I can easily see what we have and indicate if anything is broken or needs updating.
Planning Christmas Cards
If you’re a Christmas card person, preparing and sending your Christmas cards can be a highlight of the season for you. If this is you, make sure to plan now so it doesn’t get overwhelming. Here are my suggestions:
- Create a list of recipients and updated mailing addresses.
- Decide what kind of Christmas card you’ll be sending – does a family photo need to be taken?
- Mark the day on which you want to send the cards on the calendar. Shipping them the first full week of December is a good bet to get them on time, but not too early.
- Get photos or family updates ready and ready to email before Thanksgiving so you don’t have to worry about it during the Thanksgiving holiday or the week after.
However, if Christmas cards are becoming a burden to you, it’s also good to let them go this year. You can channel that energy and money into other holiday activities, such as gift-giving or family traditions.
Create a gift list
If you’re anything like me, when you buy gifts, you put 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 buy too much. I start by making a list of items I would like to buy for relatives.
Because the pressure to buy a lot of gifts often only leaves moms overwhelmed and burned out, we’ve started a new tradition. We follow the ‘want, need, wear, read’ philosophy for gift giving. We give the children a material gift (want) and then we also give experience gifts (need), new pajamas or anything else they need for their capsule wardrobe (clothing), and finally a book to read.
This simplified gift-giving has made a huge difference in the stress levels during the holidays and in how our children appreciate the things they have and experience.
So I start by making a list of gift ideas for each child and what I would like to get for other family members. Making a list and then buying what’s on the list is an easy way to avoid overspending or falling into the trap of wondering if I’ve bought enough.
Collect DIY gift ideas and tutorials
I like making homemade gifts to give to family members because homemade gifts are always more special. But it can also be used as a fun family holiday activity. Homemade gifts are a great way to cut costs if necessary without sacrificing the wow factor.
If you’re planning on making homemade gifts this year, now is the perfect time to get organized. Some gifts take a while to finish, so you may need to start early. This is what I recommend:
- Choose which gifts to make.
- Find out how long it will take for them to be ready (not only active time, but also curing/drying/infusion time).
- Mark on the calendar when to start the project so that it is ready for packaging and shipping (if necessary). Shooting in the first week of December is a good rule of thumb for gifts you need to send in the mail. You can wait about a week if you don’t have to send your gifts by mail.
- Make a shopping list of essentials (pay attention to your budget too).
- Mark a day in your calendar when you will be purchasing the supplies for the gifts and get started!
We always have fun putting together some of our favorite DIY recipes (like a deluxe sugar scrub recipe or homemade lotion bars) that family and friends love to receive.
Once you’ve got gifts and decorations out of the way, it’s time to plan fun holiday activities. I make it a point to schedule vacation activities so we can be sure to get to some of our favorite vacation activities together. It is also nice to sit around the table with the family and brainstorm together. Here are some things that are usually on the list:
- Baking holiday treats
- Going to a friend’s annual party
- Choosing a Christmas tree
- Decorate the house and the tree
I try to do this brainstorming and planning about a week or two before Thanksgiving in case there are any Thanksgiving activities I want to plan. I will also try to plan the New Years events as they are scheduled. In years when there are few community events, we stick to family activities in our home or backyard.
Planning Holiday Meals
The last thing I plan for the holidays are meals. Of course, when I’m the host, I plan an entire meal. When we visit family I plan a dish or two for take away. This is what I do:
- Choose recipes
- Create 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 over a few weeks or months rather than one shopping trip (it also reduces my list if I have to pick up new things just before the holidays).
Plan early for easy vacations!
So many moms (especially) look forward to the end of the holidays because of the stress of it all. Taking the time to plan early has been a great way for me to really enjoy the season with my family and not feel overwhelmed and stressed.
What are your favorite ways to plan early so you can enjoy the holidays?