By Shira Boss
Zero Cost Kids
Late summer and anytime in fall is a great time to look ahead to the holiday season and start to prepare.
With a little planning, organizing and saving up a bit at a time, come Christmas you can focus on merry-making rather than scrambling to buy gifts and worrying about costs.
Christmas Preparation Gameplan
So let’s get to it! Follow the steps below to get a hop on the holidays:
1. Map out what needs to be done
We keep the holidays shockingly simple in our family. With two young children, we don’t travel and it’s honestly a struggle just to get a tree up.
But still, there are things I like to have lined up. For example, instead of a Christmas morning gift-opening extravaganza, we started a tradition of the 12 days of Christmas, one gift per day into January. So, those gift ideas can be sketched out now.
I’ve also been meaning to make our own stockings out of felt. Without some advance planning (choose a pattern, order felt, start sewing!), once again we’ll be using the “temporary” stockings from Target.
Other projects on my want-to-do list include making our own nativity scene, probably out of peg dolls, and making a menorah (I like to borrow celebrations from other religions and cultures – why not?).
Then there are things like gathering Christmas cards, stamps and updated addresses – administrative tasks that can be done well before December.
Everyone’s list will look different – you might have an extensive gift list for friends and family, people to remember to tip, decorations to organize, a holiday party to plan for, etc.
Why not get a handle on what needs to be done, so you can prioritize and start to get bits done ahead of time? That saves time, money and especially stress.
If you find the holidays really overwhelming and would like a detailed gameplan, you can download the free holiday control journal from Fly Lady.
Put your list in some kind of order so you know what you’re tackling next. For me, I’ll need to choose the most important craft project and complete it before getting distracted by the next one – or ending up never getting any of them done (a realistic scenario, as we struggle with the daily routine).
You might prioritize by what has to be done, what you least want to do so you can get that done first, etc. Add some dates and goals. Maybe your preparations will be part of a Fly Lady-inspired weekly “anti-procrastination day,” when we make progress on things we put off.
3. Get a jump on funding
If you don’t already have a holiday budget (we autosave monthly all year long, so we know how much we have to work with), go over your to-do list and figure out costs, at least roughly.
Gifts, tips, travel, decorating, entertaining – you should have an idea what all those things add up to. If you have more list than budget, do some prioritizing now instead of overspending and getting stressed in January. I just tallied the rough cost of our list of gift ideas for the kids and it adds up to twice the amount of our budget. So, we have more work to do!
Once you have a realistic budget, start setting aside money however you can:
- auto-save some of every paycheck
- squirrel bits of “leftover” money into envelopes
- earmark all windfalls for the holiday fund
- sell some things you don’t need
- pick up extra work
- prepay bills to give yourself a break later (see the article How to Have a Month with No Bills)
Whatever your method, just be sure your needs and funds are going to match up come the end of the year. Do not go into debt to celebrate the holidays!
4. Consider your plans carefully
Planning in advance gives you an opportunity to go over your list and your savings goals and to consider both more consciously. Maybe there are traditions or gifts you really can’t afford or just want to drop.
If something on the list (hosting a holiday party, sending out cards, buying gifts for extended family…) is stressful for you in a not-happy way, try to simplify or eliminate it.
Our family stopped giving Christmas gifts a long time ago. We love it! I save the customized photo cards to send from the boys at Valentine’s Day. Mixes things up in a way that seems better for everyone. We used to take a big homemade dish for Christmas eve dinner at the grandparent’s – but with young children, we decided to excuse ourselves from that task.
Yes, the holidays are about sharing, but… I think it’s also important to look after our own needs. Especially since kids pick up on our stress. Simple, inexpensive celebrations are often best for everyone!
5. Start Tackling the Holiday Prep List
Once you’ve mapped out what needs to be done, set priorities, and started saving, you can start tackling preparations!
For me, in addition to making the stockings or nativity or menorah, this means starting to set aside stocking stuffers (and even larger gifts, when I find sales). I hate the idea of rushing to gather small gifts for a stocking, so I try to capture ideas and things as they come up through the months leading up to Christmas.
Setting things aside also stops us from giving the kids little gifts constantly, which is a mistake I’ve made in the past. I want to share a gift the second it comes in the mail, but a steady stream of gifts had my 2 year old demanding “something special!” all the time. Yipes. Now we try to save the excitement of gifts for special occasions.
My sister who doesn’t have children sends the boys stocking stuffers, which is a big help. Perhaps you too could recruit a family member to help with specific gifts or decorating tasks. I think people love to give what’s needed and wanted – even time – rather than trying to come up with gift ideas.
Making Christmas Special for Children
I get sad when I think of any family going into debt to buy gifts at Christmas because they want to “make it special for the children.” I too love giving gifts, but we all need to keep in mind that a pile of gifts is not going to sustain any real happiness in any child.
The more limited funds are, the more important it is to think and plan ahead of time – save up for or make meaningful gifts, and focus on special traditions that will enrobe children in the season’s magic.
Regardless of our means, if a lot of our holiday preparations revolve around shopping and wrapping presents, perhaps we could lessen that and focus more on what holiday traditions will create lasting warm memories for the kids.
As our children get a little older, I look forward to starting some kind of advent tradition, finding a regular holiday concert to attend (this used to be Handel’s Messiah for us, but it’s too long for them right now!), and figuring out other meaningful traditions as we go.
But the habit that I hope stays constant is planning and saving ahead of time and keeping the holiday season as stress-free as possible.
Please share your plans, and any tips, in the comments below. And happy preparations!
You can do this!