The Holiday season is upon us whether we’re ready for it or not. Stores have already lined their shelves with Christmas items and the lights and glitter are up. Every year it seems as if the Holiday decorations are going up earlier than the previous years as stores try to beat each other with enticing sales and products that you just have to buy – and spend half your life savings on. But the one thing I dread most is deciding what to buy for my relatives and friends. And to top it off this year with my son in a new school, he has gained more friends so I know he’ll want to pass out something for his friends too.
But each year I also promise myself to start early so that I don’t feel bogged down with last minute presents or decorations. Although I’m not big on the whole, “let’s decorate the entire house” routine, I do like to add some cheer around the house a few weeks before Christmas. For me, Christmas cheer doesn’t officially start until December 1, but hey, it wouldn’t hurt to do some things ahead of time, right? For me, the easiest way to start is with a list. I’ll start off with the basics and separate them by needs for the holiday. I’ve also compiled a list of helpful tips and tricks that should hopefully save your sanity until next February.
Holiday Survival Tips:
1- Make a List. Write down names of everyone you plan to buy gifts for. Then in another section write down ideas and the approximate amount you want to spend for that person. Remember to also include those you normally give holiday tips to such as a babysitter, postal carrier, hair dresser, and so forth. Every time you purchase the gift cross off that person on the list. Pretty soon you’ll see all of the gifts bought and ready.
2- Start Shopping Early. This year don’t wait until after Thanksgiving to start buying for the holidays. Keep your eyes open year round and if you see something that the recipient on your list might enjoy, pick it up and put it in a box labeled “Christmas Presents” or “Holiday Presents”. (Oftentimes if you see something at a great deal, pick it up because that item may no longer be available come Christmas time or it doesn’t go back on sale.)Then be sure to check that off your list. When December comes around you’ll be happy that you’ve saved some time and money.
3- Research your gifts online. If there are certain gifts that you want to buy but don’t know much about, do your research early. Chances are when you do finally get to your holiday shopping, the salespeople will be so busy helping everyone else that they’re unable to dedicate a lot of time to answer your hard-pressing questions. Whether it’s the newest tech gadget or what movie to buy your niece, it’s always best to be prepared before you buy something that you’re not familiar with.
4- Hit up Black Friday deals and Cyber Monday deals. If you can brave the throng of shoppers on Black Friday, then be sure to check out a compiled list of stores and deals: Blackfriday.org. Be cautious of Cyber Monday scams though because shady merchants know that there are those who would do anything for a good deal. Best to shop at stores you have frequented in the past and you know of their return policy.
5- Take advantage of free shipping. Some stores offer free shipping if you purchase before a certain date and without a limit. If you shop online often, be sure to keep an eye on your emails for free shipping notifications from your favorite stores. If not, sign up now to get those money saving deals in your inbox. Even if you have to order a product weeks ahead of the actual holiday, it still saves you tons of money on shipping.
6- Keep universal gifts on hand. You think you’ve finished shopping for everyone on that list and then all of a sudden your child’s best friend’s mom gives you a present – for you, not for your kid. By keeping a good stock of gifts that are not gender specific you won’t go scrambling with last minute shopping (which you’re trying to avoid) or wondering if you should re-gift something from your supply closet.
7- Make and keep homemade gifts for those who like homemade gifts or for those you didn’t expect to give a present to. Homemade gifts could be anything from seasonal fruit jams to natural soap.
8- Buy gift cards. I’m one of those people who believe that gift cards make great gifts. When you buy a gift card, you’re giving your recipient the option to choose his/her own presents which most of the time people appreciate. However, take in mind the age group you are buying gift cards for. Ages 10 – 50 are usually a good age range as older folks find it too troublesome to use and remember those gift cards. Kids younger than 10 usually prefer to unwrap a shiny, new present instead of a plastic card that doesn’t hold much dazzle. Later on they’ll appreciate the simplicity of it. If you still feel like giving a gift, include a small but meaningful gift with the gift card so that the recipient will have something to “unwrap”.
1- Make a list of items you’ll be buying for your party. If you’re hosting a party this year, make a list. Start off with the theme of the party and take it from there. Include not only food but the decorations and small things like a boot scraper for your front door if you live in the snow region and umbrella stands for unpredictable weather.
2 – Keep your guest list simple. Since you’re having it at your house, you’re not obligated to invite the third cousin twice removed, unless you really want to of course. Even if you have a mansion, keep in mind that you’d have to hire some extra helping hands to handle all 100 of those guests you felt the need to invite. If you just keep it in the immediate family or extended family, the list will be a lot less of a hassle on you.
3- Prepare food that’s suitable for young children. You may want to serve that extravagant Crown Roast of Pork with Chestnut Stuffing, but the kiddos might take one look at it and think it’s a decoration and not food. Think easy to eat, delicious, and easy to prepare. Kids aren’t fussy when it comes to food and during the holiday season, they just want some good old fashioned comfort food. Of course if you do want to serve them something fancy and you have the extra time, just be sure to keep it easy on the spices.
4- If you’re ordering food for most of the meal, be sure to call at least a couple months ahead. During October and November restaurants are packed with special orders and catering requests. The sooner you get your order in, the more time the venue will have to make your order. Be sure to check in with them at least 2 weeks before your event to make sure they are up to speed with any changes.
5- Keep the fun going around. To prevent party boredom, keep your guests energetic by providing different areas of entertainment. Not everyone enjoys the same game or conversation so have all sorts of games set up like classic board games, video games, and card games – all suitable for a specific age group. Also provide snacking stations near your entertainment areas so that guests can continue with the fun until the main meal is served.
6- Make mementos of the event. If you’re like me, you want your guests to take home something to remind them of all the fun they had – right? Do this several weeks before the party and at least after you’ve made the guest list. Keepsakes could be part of your theme or part of the holiday your hosting. It could be as simple as a decorated name card they could keep to remember or as fancy(and expensive) as embossed cloth napkins with the guests names on them.
1 – Reserve plane tickets at least 4 weeks in advance once your plans are set. Some may argue that airlines offer last minute deals but you have to catch them at the right time and read the fine print. Oftentimes you have to travel at a certain time of the day or night or it’s only a one-way ticket where you end up paying more for the return ticket. Even if you do save a few bucks just ask yourself if you have the time to make last minute phone calls to the airlines or park in front of the computer waiting for the flight deals to come through.
2- Depending on how long you are staying at your destination, pack light and wisely. If you’re flying or driving to a region where it’s really cold, take one weather suitable jacket that can block out wind, rain, and snow. Then pack layers so that you can interchange your wardrobe. When packing your suitcase, roll your shirts and tops so you can pack efficiently. When rolled up, they are harder to wrinkle and creates more space in your luggage.
3 – Always check ahead for the weather. If you’re visiting your boyfriend’s parents for the first time and it’s in a part of the country you’ve never been to before, it’s wise to pack clothes designed to handle the weather conditions. If you’re unsure what the weather would be like months or weeks ahead, go on and ask your boyfriend since that is his hometown after all. But remember to pack at least two ensembles for the celebrations.
4- If you’re staying in a hotel, don’t opt for the hotel safe. The staff after all, has keys to that safe and although you’d think it is “safe”, it’s better to keep your valuables in a more secure area. One trick to keep your cash and expensive jewelry is hide them in a coffee mug. If someone was to look at it, they wouldn’t guess that you’re keeping hundred dollar bills in there.
5- If you’re driving your own vehicle, inspect your car thoroughly and replace or repair any leaks or damaged parts immediately. The worst part of traveling is being stranded in the middle of the desert or stuck in a snowstorm without properly inflated tires or the heater overheats. Be sure to pack an emergency kit which includes extra food, water, jumper cables, blankets, duck tape, a flashlight, reflective triangles, etc.
6- If you’re traveling with children, whether by plane or car, keep them entertained as much as possible throughout the entire journey. Kids for some reason beyond me, know just at the right time to start screaming that they’re bored while you’re trying to navigate through an icy mountain path. Bring books, games, movies, stuffed animals, extra blankets and just about anything to keep them happy and quiet and you sane and peaceful.
Remember that no matter how much you plan ahead, there will always be a couple of snaffus. No one is perfect and even if you have Martha Stewart tendencies, remember that if you and your guests are having fun, not many people will notice the turkey slightly over baked on one side and the downstairs guest bathroom doesn’t have Christmas- themed soaps and towels.
Happy Holidays everyone and take some time to enjoy life!