Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year but if you are so busy doing all the little things it's hard to enjoy it. Cross these items off your list now so there is less stress come December. There is a real reason Christmas supplies start appearing in stores as early as July. With a little bit of planning you can celebrate Christmas like a kid again this year.
Make Your Christmas Cards
Dress up in Christmas clothes, decorate the fireplace, and take your Christmas photo for your cards now. Order your cards from Shutterfly and start getting them ready. Everyone can sign the cards now and you can even start your Christmas letter. If you save your letter on your computer you can add to it as you go then print and stuff your cards when it's time to mail them. Order return address labels or envelopes with it printed on them at Shutterfly. Buy all your forever stamps. Start addressing 10 a week or update your address list on your computer. By the time it's November, you'll be done and everything will be ready for the mailman- no Christmas Eve regrets.
Make Your Budget and Start Saving
How much are you willing to spend on the Christmas festivities, and where will it all go? Sit down and crunch the numbers with your spouse. Remember to take into account extra Christmas decorations, food and plates for parties, classroom party donations, increased electric bill, stocking stuffers, gifts per person, sibling gifts, extended family gifts, stamps and Christmas cards, the Christmas tree, and other items you like to do each year. How much do you think you will need? How many months do you have left to save up to that amount? Can you reach that goal or do you need to scale back? Whatever you decide, make sure it's a clear goal for you and your spouse and stick to it. Use an app like Mint or other budgeting software to help you keep track of your savings and expenses. You may have to scale back in other areas as you save money for Christmas. If you are an early shopper, remember to track your expenses as Christmas even though its August. No matter how early you shop, you have to stick to your budget. Once you've maxed out your budget, you should be done. However, if there really are things you want to still get, consider using only gift cards that you have earned throughout the year (see below). Christmas isn't any fun if you are going to start the New Year in greater debt. Keep track of your Christmas budget, gifts, and more with this printable Christmas planner or use something like Mint (that's what we use).
Stock Up on Gift Cards
Pay attention to all the great gift card opportunities now. You can earn gift cards as you shop for back to school supplies (Target always has those buy x get x gift card offers) or earn some through Swagbucks (it's how we paid for diapers for years and now we use it for Christmas). A little more diligence in this department now means you'll have gift cards to spend come November instead of cash and that always feels nice. All the money you save using gift cards, you can put away for your next family vacation or towards another financial goal. Follow this guide on how to earn gift cards and you'll have plenty by Black Friday.
Plan Your Advent Activities and Service
Do you want to go Christmas caroling this year or make a fun Christmas treat you saw on Pinterest? Make a specific board on Pinterest focused on all the things you really want to do this year and gather your ideas (I keep mine private so the kids or other relatives can't see my plans just yet). Start by examining the ideas on my Christmas! Pinterest board. Then break out your calendar and schedule the most important things. Don't know when the Christmas lights will start at the zoo? Call now- they probably already know even if it's not up on their website. Worried about a crazy work schedule? Plan a couple of different dates for outings and make back up activities for the days that won't pan out.
This Christ-Centered Christmas Countdown from The Dating Divas makes it easy to have fun and keep things focused on the reason for Christmas. Remember to schedule some time for just you and your spouse too (it's a great time to strengthen your marriage)- this Spouse Christmas Countdown makes it's really easy.
Remember to plan your acts of service as well- start looking for people or community organizations you want to help (Justserve.org is a great place to start). A lot of the food banks fill up fast over the holidays so reserve your spot now. Make plans to do a 12 Days of Christmas for someone (print my free labels) or start putting your change into a jar so you can donate it to a family that could use a little extra cheer. When you plan your service early, it's that much easier to do it when the time comes. Want Christmas service ideas and printables? Fill Your Christmas with Christ-like Service with my family service packet. It comes with loads of ideas and ways to get started.
Check Your Stockings
Do you need another stocking because you've been blessed with another family member? Do any of your stockings need some mending? Do they still have treats left in them from last year or suffered from chocolate melting? Double check your stockings now to clean and fix them up. Want to make your own knit stockings? My Mom and I made up this knit stocking pattern which I have loved. If you start knitting now you'll be done in plenty of time (unlike me who finished at least one of them on Christmas Eve).
Now that all the stockings are ready, start buying the fillers! Things like chapstick, cool bandaids, rolls of quarters, books, and CTR rings are great things to buy now. You can often take advantage of clearances in August and September since stores want to clear things out to make room for the Christmas items. I love grabbing little things at the LDS Bookstore to help keep Christmas focused on the Savior.
Start Freezing Your Dough
Depending on your recipe, you can start making cookie and bread dough now and freeze it for December. Get all the mess out of the way and enjoy the fun later. It's the perfect time to try out a new recipe too. Bake one batch to see if you like it. If not, you can offer it to someone that will. Are there any appetizers or other sides you can start now and freeze? Do as much as you can now so you don't have to stress about the time or the mess later. Make a few extra meals so when you have a long day in November and December you're ready with one in the freezer. Try this Clean Eating Freezer Meals Cookbook for new ideas. If you want to add some more great traditions to your holidays, I recommend A Year with Six Sisters' Stuff as it includes family dinner questions, traditions to start, and plenty of recipes (Psstt... it's included in your Deseret Bookshelf PLUS subscription).
Make Your List and Check it Twice
Make a list of all the people you will be giving gifts to this year. Remember your children's teachers and tutors, your neighbors, and other people that make a difference in your life. Figure out who you'll give gift cards to and start crossing them off the list as you earn them. What neighbor gifts do you want to give this year? Can you make the same gift work for the teachers and mailman too or do you want them all to be different? If you can make them all now, do! If you can't, you can at least get a head start on it. Print off neighbor gift tags and sayings now so all you have to do later is attach the gift. If it's something that won't spoil over the months you can make a big basket of general gifts and have them ready to give at a moment's notice. Seriously, it's such a stress reliever.
Do your kids and spouse already know what they want? Write it on a list and carry it with you so when you see a good deal you can grab it and be done. I love using Google Keep for our list making. I add my husband to the list and it automatically updates on all our devices. This helps us share the load and grab the items when we see the deals. Are you making homemade gifts? Get them done this next month so you can breathe and have plenty of time to get them shipped off on time...especially if you have to worry about over seas. Want to try something beyond the typical gifts this year? These gifts are all about time well spent with family.
After all this preparation, you can take a deep breath and sigh with relief. You have crossed off so much on your list already! Now the most important part is to remember where you are going to put all these preparations! Label your freezer items clearly. Keep your budget and ongoing total somewhere that both you and your spouse can update it regularly. Are you going to keep all the gift cards you earn in your purse so you can use them as needed or do you want to stash them away for Black Friday? Assign one spot and only one spot for your Christmas gifts and let your spouse know so if you forget, someone can remember (or tell your Google Home or Alexa- they are great at remembering).