So much of this holiday season focuses on giving; obligatory or expected gifts to everyone and anyone we know, but also of our time and energy. Planning, finding, and paying for holiday gifts can cause stress levels to spike. We spend way too much precious time at the mall and/or online, only to still not be done at the very end of the countdown leading up to Christmas Day. While everyone’s list and budget will be different, the best thing you can do to alleviate holiday stress is make a few guidelines for yourself, and stick to them.
Don’t feel guilty about setting a budget. It is far too easy to overspend this time of year. By setting a budget for yourself, and adhering to it, you can enjoy the season without the worry of how to pay off your credit cards when it’s over. Start with a list of the people you need to buy for, as well as the holiday meals you will be preparing, and what other expenses you need to account for, such as decorations, postage, and clothing for holiday events; and estimate how much you can afford to spend.
Don’t wait till the last minute to shop. Do as much as possible early. The sooner you can start, the more time you will have to find the perfect gifts, and the less stressed you will feel to finish by December 25th. My kids’ birthdays are in the summer and fall, so once their birthday parties were done, I often had leftover present ideas to consider for Christmas, and could be on the lookout for sales early in the year.
Craft stores and costume stores, for example, both run clearance sales in the summer, and department stores frequently have early clearance sales before the holidays to make room for seasonal merchandise. Keep your eyes open, and your potential gift recipients in mind as you do your regular shopping. You may find the perfect gift long before December.
If braving the holiday crowds in stores is not your favorite thing, try to do your shopping midweek, or early morning or late at night to avoid some of the traffic. Of course, many of us take advantage of online retailers like Amazon, or options from places like JC Penney or Best Buy for ordering online to pick up in the store. These services afforded by technology can really make life easier.
Homemade gifts are still a valid option. Do you have a talent for knitting or baking? Many of the people on your list may appreciate a custom, handmade original from you. Consider doing a cookie exchange with relatives or neighbors; you can spend quality time together and share something everyone will love. Instead of shopping for individual gifts for every coworker in your office, especially if it is a large one, consider bringing in a few containers of homemade treats that everyone can enjoy. The care you put into such delights will most likely mean more to them than another coffee mug or Starbucks gift card would.
Share the love-give to those in need. The holiday season is the perfect time of year to share with others, not that we need wait until now to do so. There are so many people who are cold and hungry, who are lacking in necessities, or are just lonely, and that would appreciate being remembered. Helping others brings a remembrance of the true nature of the season to mind, with the side effect of reminding us how fortunate we truly are.
Take your family to volunteer in a homeless shelter or a nursing home, dispensing food or just visiting. Offer a word of comfort, or a warm coat or blanket. Give to your local food pantry, or a verified charity like the Salvation Army or Redcross. Consider making a group donation or taking names off a charity “giving tree” to buy gifts for a family in need, instead of exchanging gifts in your office.
Encourage your children to have realistic expectations for Christmas morning. Children of all ages get excited about presents, it’s true, but children in particular sometimes want everything they see in the store or in commercials. While it’s natural as parents to have trouble denying our darlings anything, another part of us realizes that more is not always better. Develop a “wish list” with your children of what they may hope to find under the tree. (Here is another place to keep your budget in mind.)
By all means, indulge your children when you can, but at the same time, it’s okay to set limits on the number and prices of presents they receive. After all, most of us do not have unlimited funds or space to hold unlimited presents, especially if what the children really want this year is as large as a pony.
Explain in terms your children can understand, that Santa or mom and dad can only give them so much this year. Take time to listen and watch your children in the months and weeks leading up to the holiday to find out what gifts they’re really interested in, what will keep them happy or involved longer than it takes to unwrap.
I hope these simple tactics will help you as you prepare for your own wonderful, chaotic holiday season. Remember, the holidays are a magical time, perfect for spending time with loved ones and making memories that will last forever. Don’t allow yourself to be too stressed out to enjoy them. Next week I’ll tackle another “stress” topic, holiday food.