By Guest Blogger Tracy Huneycutt

The holidays…. a time of year that can be simultaneously warm, loving, cozy, exciting, stressful, and crazy all at the same time.

Every year I’m sure that many families say the same thing – we’re not going to let the holidays stress us out this year! But, inevitably, they find themselves scrambling at the last minute to buy gifts, bake goodies, or find that they have a hard time saying “no” to the multiple invitations that come out this time of year.

If you love the hustle and bustle of this time of year, if you enjoy decking out your house to the extreme, and if you thrive in the chaos of last-minute gift-buying, then by all means, carry on! However, if you have reached a point where you want to minimize the stress of the holidays, want to save time and money, and want to pull back on obligations and commitments, then here are a few tips to help the holidays run smoothly:

1.  At the start of each year, create a list (either on a computer spreadsheet or on paper,) of people who you will need to buy Christmas presents for next year – immediate family, extended family, friends, teachers, babysitters, hair stylists and postal workers, just to name a few. Write down a few possible gift ideas for each person. Throughout the year, reference the list in terms of when to buy gifts and what to buy. You may come across the perfect gift in the spring or summer for someone – bonus if it’s on sale! Create a space in your home (attic, basement, closet, etc.) where you can store and hide the items you purchase. This will hopefully save having to scramble in December to find everything you need for each person.

2.  In regards to buying gifts, it is helpful to create a gift budget at the start of each year. Consider how much you will need to spend on children’s gifts, family members, service personnel, and also what you would like to spend on Christmas cards and charitable giving. As an idea, many banks offer holiday cash accounts, to where every week or month you can have money automatically debited, and not released until closer to the holidays.

3.  During the week after Christmas, load up on 50% off (or sometimes more!) gift wrap, gift bags, tissue paper, cards, and decorations (if you need them.) Store them in the same space where you can easily access them when the holidays roll around the next year.

4.  Don’t discount the beauty of gift cards. There may be times you might be tempted to find a cutesy gift for someone, but unless you come across something you know they will absolutely love and use, buying a gift card for someone is a useful and safe bet. Some ideas include: a movie theater gift card for a newly married couple, a gas gift card for a college student, a pedicure gift card for a new mom, or a Target or Amazon gift card for a child’s teacher or caregiver.

5.  Christmas cards: take advantage of off-season deals through various photo websites to create cards early in the season, which will save time and money. Utilize websites that are specifically geared towards helping you organize mailing addresses for friends and relatives (ie – ones where they can respond to your request to update their address.) Don’t stress over cards, and don’t feel obligated to send one out to everyone you know. Addressing and stamping envelopes can be extremely time-consuming and costly. Consider limiting cards to family and a few close friends.

6.  Minimize decorations. Pick a color palette or theme to decorate your house with and just put out a few key pieces to display each year.

7.  If you love baking goodies for people, make a family event of it.  Reserve a night where the whole family can come together to bake a few recipes of cookies or treats – play Christmas music, be silly, and enjoy your time together!

8.  You will receive invitations to multiple parties and get-togethers this time of year.  If the thought of going to so many events stresses you out, speak with your family about only going to the ones that are most important to you all. There are numerous events that we love to take our son to, but sometimes we have to rotate them every other year, so that we can try something new. Try to serve together as a family at least once during the holidays, like going to a fundraiser for a cause that you’re passionate about. Consider having family get-togethers the weekend before or after Christmas, so that you can spend Christmas day as a family, letting your children enjoying their new toys, without having to run to multiple houses.

9. The most wonderful time of the year flies by quickly. Create new traditions with your family, and enjoy each special moment and memory with your family and friends!

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