Work / Life Balance

How I stay calm and enjoy the holidays

Some years, the holiday season seems exactly like one of those Hallmark movies. You know the one – where the mom or Dad has lost the meaning of Christmas, is struggling to keep it all together, and then finally has a redemption moment in the end. Since becoming a mom, I’ve really had to up my planning game for the sake of staying sane. And also – it’s not exactly practical for me to make a quick stop every day for random things I forgot.

At our house, it’s important to me that we feel the joy of the Christmas season and remember the reason for the celebration. I want our home to feel festive and our days be spent with thoughtful preparation, not last minute scurrying because of self-imposed deadlines or stressors. It all sounds good on paper, but it’s easier said than done (like most things). Nonetheless, I’ve picked up some good habits and have some tips to share so you can also have a (nearly) stress-free holiday season. Let’s be honest, it will never be perfect!

Have a budget & stick to it

Financial strain is one of the biggest stressors for many during Christmas. First, if you’re already struggling financially, you need to be realistic about what is a responsible amount to spend. Racking up credit card debt or overspending will likely not help in attaining financial goals.

With that end in mind, here’s how we handle it. During the year, we have a “fun” savings account that gets an amount direct deposited each week from my paycheck. This is separate from our emergency savings or long-term savings, and I actually have the account set up at a different bank than our primary one. I don’t even have a debit card or online account to make withdrawals. Out of sight, out of mind! We use this fund when we travel during the year and also for Christmas shopping. By doing it this way, it’s not a disruption to our regular weekly & monthly spending so it’s not stressful to spend it. For us, we want to give thoughtful gifts to our closest friends and family. Although we could maybe spend a lot more, we make a conservative budget. Just a $500 difference could mean an extra long weekend trip, or help us pay off a debt. All things in moderation!

If you don’t have that kind of plan set up, you’ll need to determine how much you can spend after regular expenses.

Finances really tight?

  • Sell items on eBay or local sales like Facebook sell groups or Craigslist for extra cash
  • If you’re crafty, you might be able to do DIY gifts with craft supplies on hand. I’m making these rice warmer aromatherapy packs as Christmas gifts and all I’m out is the time to make them and the cost of rice. Pretty cheap!
  • Are you a decent cook? Almost anyone can whip up some Christmas cookies or treats. Make goody bags with handwritten tags like these.
  • Regift items
  • Have gifts or purchases you didn’t really need? Return them and use that to buy gifts
  • Shop at used bookstores or second-hand thrift stores for unique gifts at an affordable price. I found some great board games for just $1.00 at Goodwill last month and a stack of board books in great shape for just $0.50 each.

Plan your gifts & shop early

There are many schools of thought on this topic, but I feel much better to not have random gifts left to buy the week of Christmas. Wrapping is a whole other story, but let’s not go there! I make a list of those that I want to give gifts. The method here is up to you, but just having a handy list is what matters. Mine includes who I’m shopping for, what I’ve purchased, and gift ideas. Think about immediate & extended family, close friends, coworkers, neighbors, and those random white elephant and Christmas party gifts.

I personally have a spreadsheet on my Google drive, which is easily accessible from my phone or computer. I hate forgetting what I’ve bought for someone and this list eliminates that altogether. Plus, I’ll have a list of gift recipients already planned out for next year! Double win.

I realize the spreadsheet is a little too Type A for most people, but a notebook works just as well. I use spreadsheets all the time, and like how accessible it is on my Google drive. Make sure it is top secret so your list doesn’t get found by your kids or spouse, and be sure to keep it updated as you shop so you know what you lack.

Gifts don’t have to be hard

Sometimes gift-giving is difficult and can feel a bit transactional. To avoid this, I am trying to do a better job in brainstorming gifts ahead of time. I also like non-typical gifts which might be something handmade, local, vintage. To accomplish that, I’ve got to plan ahead with my ideas. Shipping from Etsy or eBay might take longer than two day Amazon prime shipping but you might be able to score a much better gift with advanced planning.

I’m also trying to get to a place of less “things” and more activities. Memories for kids are shaped through experiences, not the newest game console or fad toy. Instead of adding clutter to your house, think about one of these ideas:

  • Zoo or amusement park season passes
  • Movie, concert, or attraction tickets
  • Spa gift certificate
  • Subscription gift
  • Membership gift, like Amazon prime, Audible, or Netflix
  • Painting with a Twist – they don’t have locations everywhere, but most cities have something similar
  • Sports tickets
  • Museum passes
  • Horseback riding
  • Lessons – musical, dance, or sports