The big holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year- come up fast every year. Even though the holiday season is hectic for everyone, I personally love the thrill of it. Most people feel a little frantic during November and December and get overwhelmed with planning for celebrations.
It is so easy to get distracted from the fun part everyone wants to be having. That is why holiday planning tips are the best way to keep your sanity and have a stress-free time with friends and family. The main goal is to create a plan, stick to it, and avoid rushing around at the last minute.
Though this holiday season may still look a bit different than pre-pandemic, there is still plenty to do for a cautious holiday celebration.
This post is all about how to make the holiday season less stressful and more joyful.
Start planning early and create your holiday itinerary
Many of us do not have the time to plan too far ahead of the holidays. But I have noticed that if I start planning early, my holidays are less stressful.
To avoid the pressure of last-minute tasks, I would recommend creating your holiday itinerary for the whole family. Then you should add all your activities to the calendar with the final dates.
Here is a checklist of the holiday itinerary you will want to make sure to add to your calendar:
- Holiday parties
- Family gatherings
- Family activities
- Local events and festivals
- Family photos
- Holiday cards
- Shopping days
- Cooking and baking days
- Gift wrapping days
Planning a holiday budget
It has been a difficult year with a global pandemic, unemployment, economic crisis, and travel bans. Hence, be realistic about how much is your holiday budget this year. Keep in mind that your holiday spending should not rob your emergency savings account.
The first step is to decide how much money you can comfortably spend this holiday season. Write down that figure on a piece of paper. Is it an educated guess, or did you just pull that figure out of the air?
If you want to create a reasonably calculated budget, I recommend creating a list of the holiday expenses categories and then assigning a spending limit to each category.
Here is a list of my holiday budget categories to get you started:
- Holiday cards, postage, and shipping
- Holiday gifts and wrapping supplies
- Family activities
- Travel (hotel/Airbnb, air tickets, meals)
Numbers do not lie, and creating a holiday budget helps me to have a feeling of control. I would not dream of purchasing extravagant gifts or spending money on traveling if I do not have enough money saved for the holidays.
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Create a master to-do list
When it comes to planning for the holidays, it is important to be realistic with the time you have and the tasks you need to complete. Do not think you can work for hours without a break. There is a limit to what you can fit into your busy days. That is why I recommend creating a list of the most important things you can do to get ready for the holidays.
Here are the three most important to do things on my list:
1. Holiday home preparation
Cleaning and decluttering
The more I can do to remove clutter and clean my home before the holidays, the better off I feel later. Usually, we do deep cleaning – I call it “fall cleaning”- at the end of October. We deep clean our home by washing the windows, cleaning the bathrooms, dusting the light fixtures, decluttering the basement and closets.
I do this because when we have a holiday party, I do not want to feel overwhelmed with cleaning when preparing for a holiday meal or decorating our house.
My favorite part of the holidays is decorating our house. Usually, I start early and decorate one room or one area per day. It gives me a reasonable timeframe to decorate the whole house ahead of time with no rush.
Whether we like it or not but many of us have been using the same holiday items for years. Hence, before anything goes up on a tree, on a wall, or a windowsill needs to be inspected and sorted out.
Look through your holiday storage boxes ahead of time and decide what you want to keep or toss. Get rid of everything that is broken, crushed, or sit around in a tangled mess. Do not forget to test everything with electrical parts.
After you took an inventory and evaluated what you have got, you can add to your shopping list a few decorations that need to be purchased.
2. Holiday hosting
If you are a guest at the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner party, you probably do not need to set aside a great deal of money for hosting. But if you are the host, the holiday celebration needs to be carefully planned. When people plan their holiday expenses, sometimes they forget to include the cost of feeding a large group of people vs. a small party.
Grocery shopping list
There are many ways to organize and manage your grocery shopping list and meal planning. You can have your grocery list on a piece of paper or your phone.
I prefer to do it on my phone because the paper lists get lost easily. But it does not matter if it is on paper or your phone app, just write all your food plans down in one place. With the list ready you will be able to start grocery shopping and food preparation when the time comes.
When it comes to the holiday hosting your food is key! As I mentioned before, try to plan your meals in advance to avoid the stress of last-minute cooking and baking without a clear idea of what you will be serving.
First, you need to know what to buy. And without a thoughtful food plan, you might end up buying too much or running out of the important ingredient when there are no shops open. It happened to me a few times! A simple plan is all you need to start your holiday food shopping.
And when it comes to the holiday menu, it doesn’t have to be complicated.
I have a list of things to consider when planning my menu:
- What kind of party am I hosting – formal or casual?
- How many appetizers to serve and what kind? I like to have at least one traditional appetizer and then get creative with a few others.
- What kind of cocktails to serve with appetizers?
- Think about the color and texture of food. Perhaps, I can serve something creamy such as ‘potatoes au gratin’ and something crunchy such as ‘arugula salad’. To make a table festive, I usually look to the season for the colors.
- Look at the dinner recipes from the previous years and cook one dish that everyone enjoyed eating. I will have peace of mind knowing that at least one dish will be a success.
- What kind of wine to serve with food? Red or white or both?
- What should we have for dessert? Should I make a cake or ask if someone wants to bring it?
3. Holiday shopping and gift-giving
Holiday gift ideas
When it comes to buying gifts, the best advice is to make sure that you can afford those gifts. Do not go into debt buying holiday gifts. Only spend what you have in your account.
I love the holiday season, but every year I am overwhelmed with gift-giving. But I really do love buying gifts for my family and friends, and I am trying to stay organized before I start shopping.
The first step in organizing your holiday shopping is to make a list of every person you plan to buy a gift. The next step is to set an overall budget for holiday gifts. Then, you have to figure out how much money you can spend on each gift. It does not have to be a lot, but it is important that you stick to your budget.
With the list of gift recipients and the budget, you can start thinking about gift ideas.
I like to use the Notes app on my phone to create a list of gifts. The best part of capturing the gift ideas on your phone is that most of us always have our phones with us when shopping. When it is time to start your holiday shopping, simply open your list to refer to, and you are good to go.
Each holiday shopping season is unique. But the pandemic has thrown us into new territory with a new set of seasonal behavior. I believe this year we will see a hybrid holiday – a blend of a pre-pandemic mindset with a pandemic lifestyle.
Thus, if you want to cut down on shopping, consider alternatives such as homemade gifts or gift exchanges. Make stocking stuffers or small gifts instead of buying them. Most people would take a bar of homemade soap or baked goods over store-bought stuff.
Homemade gifts don’t need to be fancy or sophisticated because they show your loved one that you care through your time and attention. There are many different ways to make holiday gifts, and you do not need to be very crafty. Look at Pinterest for homemade gift ideas.
The key to enjoying stress-free holidays is proper planning. Don’t underestimate a simple plan to help you deal with this crazy time of the year when everything tends to happen at once. And ask your family and friends to help with different tasks.
Holiday planning and preparations should not fall on one person’s shoulders. Do not be afraid to ask for help from family and friends or delegate holiday- related tasks! It should be a collective effort with everyone helping out!
How do you plan for the holidays? Share your ideas in comments below.
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