It’s officially December and although there’s no snow yet here in Toronto, Canada, the lights are up and people are humming cheery tunes. It’s beginning to feel a lot like the Holidays! This is the best time to get a jump start on your holiday planning.
Every year we have the best intentions of making the holidays extra special but what usually happens is we overload ourselves and end up stressed. By the time the holidays actually roll around, we’re frazzled, broke and looking for the nearest alcoholic holiday bevvy or calorie-rich treats to calm our nerves.
However, you can actually enjoy the entire month of December with just a little forethought, planning, organizing and a healthy dose of reality!
To help you get started in holiday planning, here are my 5 handy lists:
- Holiday Plan. This is the BIG picture. Try visualizing the perfect holidays. Do you see people opening up cards from you and smiling because you cared enough to let them know you’re thinking of them this holiday season? Are you and your family gathered together? Where are you? What have you brought with you to share in the festivities?Now it’s time to work backwards! You’ve got your vision, how will you get there? I divided the page up into the 5 weeks of December and looked to my calendar for holiday parties. I plugged my planned events into each corresponding week and then created weekly goals based on my vision. For instance, this week I have listed: 1) Finalize plan & fill out lists; 2) budget; 3) Send out cards; 4) Finish hanging lights & decorating; and 5) Purchase cookie ingredients & other holiday necessities.
- Gift List. This is your “Naughty or Nice” list. Jot down everyone you’d like (or can afford) to give to this year. Next to their names, if the right gifts pop into your head, write it down. If nothing comes to you, leave it for now. It will come to you later.What I’ve done here is divide the list into cities because I usually travel to visit my Mom, family and friends back in my hometown, another town to see the in-laws and, of course, Toronto, where I live. This way I make sure I don’t forget anyone! For another idea, divide the list into: 1) family; 2) friends; and 3) colleagues.
- Holiday Card List. Not everyone likes to or has the time to send holiday cards. Actually, with more people online and a plethora of free e-card websites, it’s very rare that you’ll get an old-fashioned card in your residence mailbox. But this is even more reason to do it if you can!And if you have a small budget, a thoughtful card with heart-felt wishes will be 10x’s more meaningful than the latest tech toy or another dust-gathering knick knack. Note: this seems to work with most adults; kids… not so much. 😉
- Holiday Purchases. This is a simple “To Buy” list that you can create by reviewing your other lists. You can divide it up according to your major holiday plans. For instance, some headings may include, cards (how many cards and stamps will you need?), holiday gatherings (do you need appropriate attire or gifts?), holiday meal ingredients (even if you won’t be cooking, perhaps a dessert to bring with you?), presents, miscellaneous (which may include new cookie sheets or $20 to pay Johnny to shovel your driveway so you can have time to wrap presents!).
- Holiday Budget. This is my least favourite list but the most necessary… or so my credit-card-debt-from-holidays-past tells me. There are several ways you can do this and you’ll have to find which makes most sense to you.You can simply decide on a grand total of what you’re willing to spend and that’s your budget. If that’s what you decide to do, you will still want to add up everything on your `Holiday Purchases’ list to get a total (if you left some gifts blank, now is the time to go back and assign a budget per gift). This will give you a total based on your ideal holiday plans.If you find out that your ideal holiday plan is too extravagant for your budget. Not to worry! This leads us to…
Inject a Little Reality into your Holiday Plans
When you review your holiday plans and budget, do you feel overwhelmed? Are you worried that you lack the time and money? Chances are that you do!
In this case, see what you can eliminate from your plans and lists. Are there any holiday gatherings that you’re just not that excited about? Cancel them. Start crossing things off and leave only the activities you really want to do.
By doing this, you will be in effect reducing your holiday costs. If your budget is still too big, try reducing your gift budget per person; there are many small ticket items people will enjoy, especially if you know them well enough.
If you have a little more time than money, you can try making gifts! Check out the 2 bonus lists below…
If all this is causing you more stress than enjoyment, it’s best to pause right now!
Your holiday plans and budget are organic so if you’re not quite ready to inject reality into the scenario just yet, don’t. I suggest reviewing your plans every week and if at that time you realize that you’ve over-scheduled yourself or your debt is piling up, it’s up to you to decide what’s more important: your ideal holiday or your sanity.
Bonus Lists for Creative People on a Budget
I come from a very modest background and haven’t yet found the secret sauce to financial success. For nearly a decade now, I’ve been saving money during the holidays by investing in gifts that I know will mean something special to my loved ones. Gifts that were made by my own two hands.
Not everyone will resonate with handmade gifts but you can make that call. You might not even think you’re creative enough to make good enough gifts for your loved ones! But you are and you will.
The whole point is the enjoy the holidays, so if being creative is something you love to do and you lack money, then check out these two lists:
- Holiday Treats. Just because you don’t bake doesn’t mean you can’t give a small tin of homemade treats as a present. There are tons of no bake, quick and (fairly) healthy treat recipes out there to try. Here’s a winner from christmas-cookies.com and my own version, Chewy Eatme Bars.In creating this list, I went through some of my recipes and wrote down the ones I thought would be best to share with friends and family. I also considered the level of difficulty, price of ingredients and whether or not I could freeze them ahead of time (crisp cookies freeze better than soft, moist ones). I chose 3 to freeze and 4 to bake closer to the holidays.
This weekend, I will go through the ingredients for each treat recipe and write them on my “Holiday Purchases” list, adjusting my budget or “Holiday Treats” list as necessary.
- Homemade Holiday Gifts. Over the years, I’ve tried various craftsy gift ideas. One year it was homemade scented candles and another year it was personalized, intricately hand-painted tree ornaments. The trick is to find something that you enjoy creating and you think people will appreciate receiving.For this list, brainstorm some ideas. Then research to see what you’ll need that you don’t already have. You can figure out a cost per project and then decide which ones you’ll tackle and for whom. Depending on your abilities, time and budget, it might be best to decide to focus on one. The best craft idea will be fairly versatile and reasonably priced.
To add more fun to the endeavour and reduce costs even further, see if a close friend or two would like to participate. This is a great way to be social and productive!
What do you think of these lists, Readers? Will they help with your holiday planning? Do you have any lists that you use to make your holidays stress-free?