- Make a list. I actually have an Excel spreadsheet that I use & update after each Christmas. For example, last year I noted that a friend & I agreed to not get each other gifts and to go out for dinner instead. By removing her from my gift list, I'll remember not to purchase anything during the mad rush of shopping. My list is comprehensive & includes multiple breakouts: Gift recipients, How much I've spent so far (I track this during the year, if I happen to pick up anything, and up until Christmas), Gifts I've purchased, And, most importantly for me, my budget for the year. I assign a dollar figure to each recipient, and know that if I go over for one person, I'll need to come under budget for someone else in order to achieve my total budget. Of course, I also budget a couple of extra hundred dollars as "slush", as things have a way of creeping up unexpectedly. :-)
- Collect gift cards. I do various reward points throughout the year (Swagbucks, My Points, etc) & save all of the Amazon gift cards to purchase toys for the kids.
- Discuss early with family & friends. Last year, my immediate family (sister, parents) decided not to exchange gifts among the adults & keep the present exchange for the children. We kept the stockings & each contributed gifts to all of the stockings. That worked well & certainly cut back on a chunk of the budget, shopping, wrapping, etc. The one thing we noticed last year was how much we enjoyed the opportunity to watch the kids open their gifts, rather than hurrying through our own items. Just a few weeks ago, the adults also decided to nix the stockings. Although our situation is not applicable to you, there are likely people that you are exchanging gifts with that you could suggest alternatives if money is tight: skipping the gift exchange altogether, agreeing to meet for dinner (you could do a potluck, if a dinner out is too much), exchange hand crafted gifts with friends, or one of my favorites - do a barter exchange. A friend & I have exchanged babysitting time for birthdays, & it works out exceptionally well. Discussing early gives everyone an opportunity to come to agreement & ensure the early shoppers are not left with gifts they can't use, if you later decide not to exchange.
- Start looking for bargains. I'm sure those of you who are far more organized than I am are probably done with your shopping already. :-) You overachievers. I will say this, my kids tastes ebb and flow during the year, so I try not to buy too much in advance. Last year I bought a lot of toys at a summer sale at Target, and the kids had grown out of some of it by the time the holidays rolled around.
- Figure out how you'll be paying for the holidays. This, of course, is the holy grail of holiday planning. You must know how much you'll be able to save, and exactly where the money is coming from. This will enable all of the other steps to follow.
I'm mostly a novice at the holiday planning thing, so I'd love to hear from you! What are your tips for ensuring a smooth & (relatively) stress-free holiday season?