How to Plan for the Holidays Now (& Save Your Sanity)


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Whether because of a global pandemic, a tough year, or time just slipped away, sometimes the holidays sneak up on us and bring with them lots of stress! Years ago I started to simplify the holidays so I would be less stressed out and I’m so glad I did!

Simplifying the holidays also makes lean years feel less stressful (because there is no expectation for tons of gifts), and eases the to-do list for moms (who are usually in charge of it all). One way that I simplify the holidays is by planning and preparing well in advance. Here are the ways I plan for the holidays now (and save my sanity!).

Create a Budget

The first thing you need to do to start planning for the holidays is to create a budget. If you’re anything like me, the holidays end up being more expensive than expected! That’s why creating a budget is such a great idea. So instead of just buying things as you see them, you have a better idea of what you need and what fits into your budget, so there isn’t as much surprise (or guilt come January!).

I create my budget by first deciding how much we can reasonably afford for all things that have to do with the holidays. Then I create sub budgets for each category:

  • Gifts – for kids, extended family, and hostess gifts! Get a complete list of ideas here.
  • Decorations – If there is any decor that needs to be replaced or something new I want I put it on this list.
  • Meals – I try to keep in mind that we have to eat regardless of whether it’s a holiday, but creating a budget helps me to figure out if we will be serving filet mignon or turkey for Christmas dinner.
  • Activities – Consider any activities that need a budget. This could include an ugly sweater party, building gingerbread houses, or making holiday crafts.

Once you have a budget set, you can move on to planning other (more fun) holiday 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 might need.

If funds are tight this year, this is an easy place to cut costs. Simply plan to use what you already have in your basement! But if you want to buy new decorations, now is a great time to find out what needs to be replaced or what decorations you want to update.

I like to keep an inventory list of our decorations in Notion (previously on the Notes app in my phone) so I can easily see what we have and mark if something is broken or needs to be updated.

We keep it pretty simple around here (no one ever accused me of being Martha Stewart!), but to get you inspired even on a budget, here are some simple holiday-themed decor ideas:

All of these ideas meet my standards for 1) minimal supplies to make, 2) minimal long-term storage, and 3) easy to repurpose for other seasons! Win!

Plan Christmas Cards

If you’re a Christmas card person, preparing and sending your Christmas cards may be a highlight of the season for you. If this is you, make sure to plan now so it doesn’t become overwhelming. Here are my suggestions:

  • Make a list of recipients and updated mailing addresses
  • Decide on what kind of Christmas card you will send – do you need to have a family photo taken?
  • Mark on the calendar the day you want to send the cards (sending them the first full week in December is a good bet for getting them delivered on time but not too early).
  • Get photos or family updates finished and ready for mailing before Thanksgiving so you won’t have to worry about them over the Thanksgiving holiday or the week following.

If holiday cards become a burden to you though, it’s also okay to let them go this year. You can redirect that energy and money into other holiday activities like gift-giving or family traditions.

Make a Gift List

If you’re anything like me, when you buy gifts you stuff 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 overbuy.

I start by making a list of items I would like to buy for family members.

Because the pressure to buy lots of gifts often just makes moms overwhelmed and burnt out, we started a new tradition! We follow the “want, need, wear, read” gift-giving philosophy. We get the kids:

  • one material gift (want)
  • one experience gift (need)
  • new pajamas or something else they need for their capsule wardrobes (wear)
  • and finally a book (read).

This simplified gift giving has made a huge difference in the stress level during the holidays as well as in how our kids appreciate the things they have and experience.

Mom burnout prevention tip: Creating a list and then buying what’s on the list is an easy way to avoid overspending or getting into the trap of wondering if I bought enough!

Gather DIY Gift Ideas and Tutorials

I enjoy making homemade gifts to give to extended family members since they always feel more special. But it can double as a fun holiday activity for the family too! Homemade gifts are a great way to cut costs if needed without sacrificing on the wow factor.

If you are planning to make homemade gifts this year, now is the perfect time to get organized. Some gifts take a while to become ready, so they may need to be started early. Here’s what I recommend:

  • Pick out which gifts you will make. (These DIY gift ideas may get you inspired.)
  • Find out how long they take to be ready (not just active time but curing/drying/infusing time as well).
  • Mark on the calendar when you need to start the project in order for it to be ready for packing and shipping (if needed). Shooting for the first week in December is a good rule of thumb for gifts you need to mail. You can wait a week or so if you don’t need to mail your gifts.
  • Create a shopping list of supplies (make sure to check in with your budget too).
  • Mark a day on your calendar when you will buy the supplies you need for the gifts… and then get going on it!

We always have a fun time putting together some of our favorite DIY recipes (like a sugar scrub recipe or homemade lotion bars) that family and friends love receiving.

Schedule Activities

Once you have gifts and decorations out of the way, it’s time to plan fun holiday activities. I make a point of scheduling holiday activities so we can be sure we get to some of our favorite holiday activities together. It’s fun to sit down with the family and brainstorm ideas together too.

Here are some things that usually make it on the list:

  • Baking holiday treats
  • Going to a friend’s annual holiday party
  • Picking out a Christmas tree
  • Decorating the house and tree

I try to do this brainstorming and scheduling about a week or two before Thanksgiving in case there are any Thanksgiving activities I want to schedule. I will also try to schedule New Year’s events as they are planned.

In years where there are few community events, we stick with family activities in our home or backyard. These can be just as nice with a little preparation and creativity!

Plan Holiday Meals

The last thing I plan for the holidays are the meals. If I am hosting, I’ll obviously plan an entire meal. If we are visiting family, I will plan a dish or two to bring with us.

Here’s what I do:

This is the meal planning app I use that helps with both of these activities! It’s called Real Plans and it saves so much time.

By making lists early I can grab extra butter one week and maple syrup the next. This helps spread purchases out over a few weeks or months instead of one shopping trip (it also reduces my list when I do need to get fresh things just before the holiday).

Bottom Line: Simple But Prepared Is Where It’s At!

We all know it’s true… many of us moms look forward to the end of the holidays rather than its start because of the stressfulness of it all!

Taking the time to plan early (and keep the plan simple) has been a great way for me to truly enjoy the season with my family and let go of a little more of the overwhelm that unfortunately can come with the season.

When you find yourself feeling stressed about the holidays, take a deep breath and revisit these steps!

What are your favorite ways to plan early so you can enjoy the holidays?


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