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How Can I Make The Holidays Stress Free?
The holidays are a magical time of cheer. Neighbors bring each other quick bread and oranges, and kids are anxiously waiting for Christmas morning. The festivities are all around, spreading smiles and hope. Kids are writing wish lists and friends are sending each other cards. It’s a wonderful time for connection, and to look into the greater parts of life that are too often neglected, like visiting family and appreciating our lives.
The problem is that with all of these festivities and gifts, comes a whole lot of financial pressure and extra time commitment. Because of this, Christmas used to be my least favorite holiday. All of those wonderful concepts of the holiday are supposed to be the reality, and sometimes, they are. Families gather, and the world seems just a little bit more kind during the holiday season. But it’s always so hectic. So stressful. So expensive.
I wish that I could say it was just my overstuffed life that made me feel this way, but I have a feeling that this is still the case for most families. Underneath almost all of my wonderful Christmas memories are memories of tension. Tension from money, from lack of time, and lack of energy. That doesn’t make the memories less wonderful, or the effort that was made less appreciated, but at one point it made me wonder: How can I prevent stress going forward?
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Focus On Creating Connection More Than Anything Else
My Childhood Memory
I think the first step is to stop focusing on the gifts and start focusing on the memories. I remember one year, I was nine, and it was Christmas Eve. My parents had to work, and my brother was at a friends house. I had been begging to put up our Christmas Tree for weeks, and it was still sitting in the corner disassembled. My parents were just so tired that we never got around to it.
The determined nine-year-old version of myself decided that tree was getting up whether I did it alone or not. I remember decorating the tree with the sound of Christmas music and enjoying every moment. I made some hot chocolate and got to work. When my family got home, my parents were-relieved?!
I remember being relieved that they weren’t mad at me for setting up the tree without them. Now that I am a mom, I recognize the look in my mom’s eyes as apologetic and disdainful for just a moment. She brushed it off so quickly and started admiring my work
My Own Failure
I wish that this was the only story that I had of the pressure that Christmas can bring, but it’s not. Until the last two years, I kept getting it wrong. I always imagined that as I grew older, I would make the time for these magical parts of the holiday; That the basics, like setting up the Christmas Tree would just be the tip of the iceberg. For a while, I did. As a teenager, I was a very productive Christmas Elf, putting up lights, ringing the bells for Salvation Army. You name it.
But, when the time came to show up as an adult, the busy-ness of my life started to get in the way. I have not one, but two memories of almost missing the Christmas Tree since my oldest, Parker was born. One of those years, I went to my local Family Dollar and bought a $10 artificial tree on Christmas Eve so that Parker and I could decorate it before it was too late. He was giddy, and it reminded me that in his eyes, it didn’t matter how perfect the tree looked. It wasn’t about that. The mom guilt was fierce that year.
Since I remember how amazing it felt to decorate the tree, I now give my kids full creative authority. This was our tree last year that we decorated together! Parker, five at that point, decided that the stockings should be hung on the tree. He was so proud, and showed everyone that visited! They stayed there until Christmas Eve when Santa came.
This tree is nowhere near Pinterest perfect. The wall has dirty handprints from the chocolate that we were eating while decorating, the garland is wrapped too tight, and that baby gate around the tree is just not attractive. But it was fun!
Stop Trying To Manufacture The Magic
See, I started to realize that I was missing the point. Instead of focusing on time with Parker making memories, I had been trying to create a magical Christmas morning for Parker on a shoestring budget.
I had been staying up late making hand-made gifts for him, so I was tired the next day. I had made all home-made treats for the stockings and wrapped the many, many gifts that I had stashed throughout the year in our gift closet after hours.
It was Pinterest perfect and I thought I had done something really spectacular that year. I didn’t realize that even though it felt like Christmas was in the air to me, Parker was missing all of the action.
Slow Down On Christmas Morning
Instead of focusing on the real point of the holiday spirit-giving, loving, and appreciating each other- I had been too busy manufacturing this fake sense of cheer behind the scenes. That struck me hard on Christmas morning when it was all over after about five minutes. Everyone left to play with their new toys, while I sat in the mess of the day alone.
I vowed that I would never let that happen again, and I haven’t. Our Christmas mornings look completely different than they did four years ago, and I am so incredibly grateful for that! Instead of tearing through everything at lightning speed, we spend time enjoying each item together before we move onto the next gift. It has made legos a pretty popular gift around here!
Planning Ahead For Holiday Spending
Not only have we changed the way that we handle our holiday festivities by focusing on connection, but we have also changed the way that we approach spending for the holidays as well. I used to stock a gift closet for Christmas all year long by shopping clearance and deals. This was an effective way to spend less per item, but we were still spending way more than we could afford at Christmas time. It was basically making us double our gifting rather than helping lessen the cost.
It was clear that this had gotten out of control a couple of years ago. Parker and Aaro were throwing tantrums about opening all of their presents. There were so many that as small children, they couldn’t even get through them all without feeling overwhelmed. I had made the mistake of wrapping every item individually, but it really helped to highlight how much stuff we were buying that wasn’t necessary.
Since that year, I have completely stopped stocking a gift closet for my own family. Instead, we start really paying attention to what they are interested in a few months before Christmas. By paying attention to what they are naturally inclined towards, we can cut through all of the influences from other kids and media when it comes to gifts, and figure out what they will really enjoy.
This is a big reason why I created the Ultimate Christmas Shopping Planner. It’s not because I am a crazy shopping fiend! It’s because it makes it so easy to know what is enough, and helps cut through the pressure. Sit down with your husband and create a game plan. Get the gifting over with so that you can focus on the important things. Make this a stress-free holiday season!
Get the planner for free!
Shopping For The Kids
Chris and I have tried a few different things, and the fact of the matter is that we both enjoy choosing gifts for our kiddos. We have gotten out of the habit of buying toys throughout the year, so Christmas time is really one of our very few opportunities.
We both decide on a big gift that comes from Santa(last year it was a trampoline), and then we take a family shopping trip. Each one of us takes a boy, and they pick out a gift for each other. Then, Chris and I each choose something for each kid. I imagine that once Willow is old enough, we will take turns shopping with them one by one.
Shopping For Each Other
For each other(parent to parent), we have a gift budget of $100 or less depending on what we decide together. We tried the whole “no gifts” idea, and neither of us could resist. We ended up completely blowing our budget that year, so now we talk about what is reasonable with where we are financially. In reality, we both recognize that our money is better spent on big goals like paying off our debt or finishing our house renovation.
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Beside stockings, which I fill with inexpensive odds and ends, these few gifts are all we buy for our kids. Our focus has instead shifted to attending free events and using what we have to create the magic. We love making cookies together, going for walks in the snow, sledding, and looking at the lights around town. There are so many frugal ways to make Christmas magical that don’t have to involve a lot of money or more junk that gets in our way. If your kids say “Let’s make a snowman!”, do it!
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Adding Christmas Into Our Normal Budget
That being said, even with our minimized Christmas spending, it is still an expense that we don’t normally have. That means we budget for it! Instead of scrambling last minute, it makes much more sense to start planning ahead of time! If you haven’t figured out what you will be spending for Christmas this year, now is the time. Don’t wait until you have to pull out your credit card in order to pay.
Sit down a couple of months before the Holiday season and start to brainstorm how much money you will need to save. Think about gift ideas and find what the retail cost would be all added up. Then, count the number of checks between now and Thanksgiving.
Take the budget, divide it by the number of paydays, and now you know exactly what you need to put aside each check. If you can’t afford this number, try prioritizing the gifts that are more important. Then when you are shopping, if you are able to save enough to get your entire list, that’s great, but if not you know exactly what to focus on.
The last step, add the cost to your normal budget! Before I started doing this, I was so bogged down by the pressure of trying to keep up with our normal lives, I never managed to start planning ahead. Now that I plan my basic budget by the quarter, I am able to start putting Christmas money aside far earlier than I ever had before. It has relieved a ton of our stress, and we never end up with a case of the holiday blues.
How To Make Christmas Stress Free
When it comes down to it, the joy of the season is all about everyone coming together to make something feel special. It is about mindset and remembering to focus on the parts of life that are most important. I have some really great memories of the holidays, and none of them include the gifts that I received. If you want to enjoy this holiday season more, focus on connection and plan ahead!
Are You Ready For The Next Step?