By Pam Molnar
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. 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 to avoid hurt feelings.
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 or Amazon. Wishmindr (Apple) is a great app that allows you to save links from websites and share with friends as a wish list via text, email or social media.
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 2016, 8% 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 “one size fits all” gifts like gift cards or candles for unexpected gift exchanges.
Take a holiday card picture. Don’t stress about finding the perfect family picture for your holiday 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. If you are looking for a greener way to send holiday greetings, check out Punchbowl.com for customized digital greetings.
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.
Pam Molnar is a procrastinator and mother of three. After rushing through too many holidays, she vowed to make this year different.