I’m still not quite sure where the year went, but here we are, with another holiday season upon us. And I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the more I crave simplicity for the holidays. It’s so easy to get caught up in the production of it all, the cards and the lights and the decorations and the presents and the parties and the pageants to attend….am I alone in feeling like sometimes it is all just a bit….much?
And I hope I don’t sound like a Grinch, because I don’t feel like one. I love this time of year–Thanksgiving and Christmas and everything that comes in between. But this year I just want a little less focus on all the STUFF, and a little more focus on the things that matter most of all.
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Every year since 2011 here at Living Well Spending Less we have put together a FREE Holiday Planner intended to help all of us create more joy and less stress around the holidays. I absolutely love it, and I know many of you do too. But it occurred to me this year that I’ve never shared how I actually use it in my own life to plan a stress free holiday.
And so, today, I thought it might be helpful to share the steps I use to organize my holiday season in order to stay on task, stay under budget, and keep stress to a minimum.
STEP 1: Refocus Your Priorities
The first page of our holiday planner is by far the most important–so important, in fact, that if you are only going to print out and use ONE page of the planner, this would be the one that would have the biggest impact on your holiday season. I definitely recommend that you involve your family in this one as well. When my kids were younger, my husband and I would fill it out together, but now that our kids are a little older, we can do it as a family. It’s especially important to take everyone’s thoughts and ideas into consideration, both for the things you want to do and for the things you don’t.
STEP 2: Look Over the Holiday Checklists
You shouldn’t feel like you need to follow these checklists step by step, but they can help give you a general idea of what your own timeline should be for planning your meals and activities throughout the season. Go ahead and cross out any items that don’t apply to you–it’s okay, you don’t need to do everything!
STEP 3: Fill Out Your November & December Calendars
Take the time to mark out all the important dates that you already know about–church events, school concerts, parades, parties, etc., then take time right now to block out a few days just for your family, especially for the things you all agreed about wanting to do this year. Because here’s the thing–if you don’t intentionally make time for those items now, when things get busy later it will be easy for that time to slip away. Make them a priority by getting them on the calendar! I also recommend that you block out time for gift & grocery shopping so that you don’t feel pressed for time later on.
STEP 4: Create Your Holiday Budget
Be realistic about what you can afford to spend this year on everything from food to gifts to travel and activities. The reality is that there is nothing more stressful than facing a pile of bills come January. Avoid that frustration early by being proactive about telling your money where to go. If funds are tight, be honest with your friends and family, and even your kids, and put the focus on spending time together, not spending more than you can afford.
STEP 5: Create Your Holiday Menus & Shopping List
The grocery stores always have the most amazing sales in November and December, and with a little pre-planning it is possible to keep even the most lavish menus to a reasonable budget. That’s why it is so important to start with you menu planning early. Decide on your Thanksgiving, Christmas & baking recipes as soon as possible, then create a master grocery list that you can bring along to the store each week and stock up on the items you need as they go on sale. (For more details about keeping your holiday grocery budget in check, be sure to read our in-depth article on How to Save on Food for the Holidays.)
STEP 6: Plan Your Gift List
Take some time to jot down notes about who you will need to buy gifts for this year, what your budget is for each person, and what you plan to buy or make for them. There are detailed gift pages for family members and close friends, as well as a extended gift list for those other important people you’ll want to remember–teachers, neighbors, babysitters, etc.
STEP 7: Organize Your Christmas Card List
Christmas cards are one of my favorite holiday traditions, but I’ll be the first to admit–they are a LOT of work (not to mention expensive!) In fact, for the first time ever my husband and I are considering not even sending them out this year. While that decision is still yet to be decided, it is important to make sure you stay organized when it comes to your card list. If you only have a few cards to send, our holiday card planning pages are the perfect way to keep track of your list. For longer lists, you may want to use an Excel spreadsheet!
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And, believe it or not, this is really all it takes to plan and organize a (relatively) stress-free holiday season! All seven of these steps can easily be completed in an afternoon, and a few hours of effort early can be the difference between chaos and calm this year. I challenge you to give it a try and see for yourself! (By the way, in case you are wondering, in past years I have printed my planner at Staples and had it coil bound, but you can just as easily print it at home.)
UPDATE: While the photos shown in this post are from a previous year, you can still get this year’s version! To have your FREE 2019 Holiday Planner PDF sent straight to your email inbox, simply click the button below.