Despite how fun the holiday season can it, it can also be one of the most stressful times of the year! Personally, I get excited for all of the holiday hoopla, travel, and gatherings in advance — and then I can feel my blood pressure rising when I’m in the midst of it! There’s a lot to do between pleasing as many family members as possible with an appearance, making travel arrangements, buying the perfect gifts, baking your signature cookies that “you simply must bring,” and squeezing in your 9-to-5 responsibilities on top of it. With the holidays fast approaching (can you believe Thanksgiving is next week?!), I wanted to take a step back before the gift guides start and share some of the tips I’ve learned on how to make the holiday season as stress-free as possible.
A little bit of planning goes a long way.
Sit down with a day planner and go through the next month and a half, marking in travel dates and holiday parties as completely as possible. Once your schedule is firmed up, book any plane tickets and hotel rooms that you’ll need. Advance planning will help you get the best rate and will eliminate any pressure of finding something at he last minute. If you’re having trouble making it to a family gathering, suggest doing it earlier in the month or even in January. Not all holiday gatherings need to happen in the last two weeks of December. Additionally, write down a list of the gift recipients you need to shop for and the items you need to bake. Is there anything you can buy in advance? Can you make cookie dough and freeze it until you’re ready to bake? Anything you can do early will help ease the pressure once we’re knee-deep in the holidays. After the new year, reflect back on what did and didn’t work this year. Did you host a family dinner and found yourself with too much turkey or too little stuffing? Did your mom mention a fantastic gift idea for your dad next year? Keep a notebook specifically for the holidays to jot down your notes so you can reference it next holiday season.
Stick to a budget.
I couldn’t find updated statistics, but the average American spent $882 on holiday gifts in 2015 and was anticipated to spend $929 in 2016. On. Gifts. Alone. This number doesn’t include holiday travel, decorations, and groceries. Knowing that, it’s not surprising that the holidays are a major source of financial stress. Look at your finances with a critical eye this year and choose a reasonable number that you can stick to with your budget for travel, decor, and gifts. I know it’s tempting to tack on a last-minute, splurge-worthy gift that your recipient will just love, but no one wants you to go in debt as a result. Next year, consider setting aside a small amount of money per paycheck in a holiday savings account. I use Capital One 360 for savings and I have one specifically dedicated to the holidays that I put $25 per paycheck into. I don’t notice that amount is missing, but with 26 pay periods, I end up with $650 to put toward holiday spending at the end of the year. I usually still spend a little bit more when it’s all said and done, but accounting for another $300 or so is much easier than a full $900+.
It’s okay to say no.
I jokingly talk about how the holidays are just made for disappointment. It seems that no matter how hard I try, there’s no way I can reasonable fit in every party and every family gathering. And you know what? That’s okay. Pick the holiday gatherings that are most important to you early and add them into your aforementioned holiday calendar. Treat these as your priority items and then consider each additional invitation as it arrives. If you want to go, great! Add it to your calendar. If not, follow up with a thoughtful card expressing your gratitude for being invited, a simple “I have other plans that evening,” and wish the host a happy holiday season. You don’t need to go into detail with what those other plans are — and don’t feel guilty if you’d rather stay in with a bottle of wine and a TV show to binge watch. (If you’re turning down a close friend or relative, send along a small gift, too. I love these kitchen towels so much that I already have two and I’m going to go back for more, and a luxe candle is always a hit.)
Take time for yourself.
The most important piece of advice I can share is listen to your body. Your body shows signs of stress before you even know you’re feeling that way. Are you getting less sleep? Feeling like a cold is coming on? Have mysterious aches and pains? It’s a sign to stop and take care of yourself. In addition to exercising and eating better meals than just holiday cookies, schedule in time to pamper yourself this holiday season and do things that you enjoy. If you love being at home, snuggle in with a cozy blanket and a book. Thinking about pulling the trigger on an item you’ve wanted all year? Now’s the time to do so, assuming it won’t put you in debt! Need a little holiday escape? Take a weekend trip to a nearby city for a change of scenery, or book a day at the spa. (Dave and I always head to Chicago for the annual Christmas market as a way to kick off the season and spend some quality time together.)
Find the humor in things.
I hate to say it, but there are things that will go wrong. One of your relatives might bring up politics that you vehemently disagree with. Your holiday meal might get scorched in the oven. Your Christmas lights might randomly burn out. Or, in the case of my New Year’s Day 2016, you might find yourself with a flat tire the day you’re planning to leave your parents’ house. Shit happens. And it’s so much easier if you can find the humor in things and crack a joke. Ignore your weird relative (roll your eyes only in your head, though), put in a frozen pizza and serve it with sides (or keep some extra rolls and sandwich meat on hand), appreciate that you have fewer lights to pack away this year, and enjoy an extra day with your folks (board games and cocktails help). Besides, any truly awful holiday experience makes for a good story the next year!