While you were out stocking up on candy for the trick-or-treaters, you probably caught the glitter of tinsel garlands in your peripheral vision. The Christmas decorations are edging their way into the display of ghoulish costumes. It’s that time of year, and though you may love it, the extra demand on your time and finances can leave you less than joyous at this most wonderful time of the year.
Holiday preparations don’t have to be stressful. Develop a game plan and your holiday season can be filled with the peace and joy you keep hearing about in those songs the stores play non-stop beginning the day after Thanksgiving.
“Simplify, simplify, simplify.” – Henry David Thoreau
1. Hold a family meeting. The easiest way to simplify is to skip the whole season, but tradition is important. We are all individuals, separate in mind and body. It is through tradition and ritual we experience life together. It is what we have in common.
When your children are grown and move out in the world, the traditions of their youth will keep them rooted and connected with their family back home. That being said, there are probably some traditions your family would gladly toss.
Gather the family together, perhaps in front of a bowl of Halloween candy, and determine which traditions are important to each family member. Is a Thanksgiving dinner with nine side dishes and several different pies essential? How tall does the stack of gifts under the tree really need to be? Do you enjoy selecting and writing Christmas cards? How much does everyone enjoy the annual New Year’s party?
Note: If your 12-year-old insists you continue the tradition of outlining the entire house in colored lights, you have just found a volunteer to untangle and test each string.
2. Create a holiday budget. This is where you need to be cool and rational. Put on a business suit if you need to get into the mood. Determine how much you can comfortably afford to spend on the holidays. Allocate amounts to gifts, food, decorations and entertainment. You can create your budget in a spreadsheet or simply use a handwritten one. Move on to step three.
3. Make lists. Creating lists reduce stress by allowing you to remove “mental memos” from your mind. Once something is written down, you won’t have it hanging there in the back of your thoughts encroaching on your every thought. There are three basic lists you need: Food, gifts and events (parties, pageants, church activities, etc.) Your own situation may require more.
Keep your lists in a loose-leaf binder, along with holiday recipes, coupons and addresses for mailing cards, gifts and invitations. Once you’ve created your lists, pull out the budget and set spending limits for each item.
4. You need a shopping strategy. If you love the thrill of the hunt, then by all means, head out on Black Friday and do battle. If you prefer a calmer shopping experience, boot up the computer and shop online. Whatever your preference, select the days you plan to tackle your shopping list, and you must have a list. Wandering around hoping the perfect gift will jump out at you is draining. Walk into the store, or open a website, knowing exactly what you want and what you are willing to spend. Don’t forget to search for discount coupons and coupon codes to save money.
5. A Calendar will serve as your control center. This is not the calendar that has bits of chocolate hidden behind doors, this is your master schedule. A large paper calendar, a white board or an on-line calendar all work equally well. Plug in your holiday activities, the parties, the shopping days, the cooking days and the decorating/gift wrapping days. Schedule some down time while you’re at it. Add a family game night or an hour at the salon for a manicure.
Methodically writing everything down transfers the stress-causing clamor of “things I’ve got to get done” to a piece of paper, allowing you to remain calm and bright throughout the holiday season.