Christmas in July? Start Planning Now for Stress Free Holidays
It seems silly to think about the stress of the upcoming holiday season while you are relaxing by the pool this summer. As you flip through your favorite magazines and sip a cool drink, December is the last thing on your mind. But now that I mentioned it, take a moment to think about what you were doing last December. Were you sipping hot cocoa by the fire while watching "It's a Wonderful Life" with your family or were you running around in a crazed frenzy with a to-do list that wouldn't quit?
We all dream of a perfect holiday season – spending quality time with family and friends, buying gifts they will love, enjoying the activities of the season and sticking to our diet and budget. But despite our best plans, things seem to spiral out of control. We over spend, over eat and hit the gift card rack at the grocery store because we have no idea what to get for anyone. Make this year different. By planning ahead, you can have the stress-free holiday of your dreams.
Create a budget and stick to it. In a 2012 survey done by American Research Group, Inc. it was determined that the average Americans plans to spend $854 on their holiday budget. Take a look at what you spent last year. Did you stick to your budget or did you overspend? Now is the time to make any adjustments if you feel you should cut back. Consider reducing the dollar amount you spend on each person or do a grab bag for the cousins instead of individual gifts. Discuss any cut backs with the people on your list before the holidays. A simple, "Let's put a limit on spending this year" may be just what they wanted to hear.
Make a wish list. Make a list of all the people you need to buy for and start collecting ideas. When your sister mentions that she just got a charm bracelet for her birthday, make a note to get her charms. When your son begs you for the next must-have video game, write the name down on your list so you don't forget. Ask for ideas or encourage your family to make wish lists online at stores like Walmart, Amazon, or Toys R Us. Check out wish list apps such as Wish L!st for Android users or Toast for Apple users so you can add items on the fly. It is so much better to give and receive the gifts that will not end up in the re-gift pile.
Start shopping. You have a list, ideas and a budget. What is stopping you from shopping early? According to a survey done by the National Retail Federation (NRF) in 2012, 12% of Americans start their shopping before September. It is important to choose wisely when making purchases this far in advance as most stores only have a 30 day return policy. If you choose a gift from the recipient's wish list, this shouldn't be an issue. While you are shopping, be sure to pick up some "just in case" gifts like gift cards or candles. Keep up with your wrapping as you make purchases. If shopping online, pay for gift wrapping and ship the gift directly.
Take a Christmas card picture. Every year we stress about finding the perfect family picture for our Christmas cards. This summer, take the opportunity to take individual and group photos of your family having fun in the sun. Not great at snapshots? Set up a date with a professional photographer now and avoid the rush this fall. Many online photo card retailers offer holiday cards year round so you can order early. To save time addressing cards, set up address labels in your computer's office software program. Mail them out after Thanksgiving and be the first one of your friends to send holiday greetings this year.
Start rounding up recipes. Don't let the rush of the holidays steer you into the drive thru line. Check out Pinterest for healthy crockpot and freezer meals. Test them on your family now so you have an inventory of quick dinners for your family this December. Keep your pantry stocked with staples for last minute appetizers and start freezing baked goods for a quick party dessert.
Get a date on the calendar. Make time to see everyone this holiday season by setting a date far in advance. If you wait until November to start planning, chances are your friends will be scheduled through the New Year. Consider throwing a Halloween party for your college friends or a pre-holiday brunch for your extended family. There may be a few with unknown conflicts this far in advance, but if you don't set a time now, it might not happen at all.
The magic of the holiday season should be savored like the last piece of Grandma's apple pie. You won't appreciate it if you gobble it down. Start planning early for the holiday season so when it gets here, you will be able to sit back and enjoy it.
Pam Molnar is a freelance journalist and mother of three. After rushing through too many holidays, she vowed to make this year different.