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I bought my first Christmas CD of the season yesterday: the Elf soundtrack. If you haven’t seen the film, it’s hilarious. A human raised by elves returns to the real world, where things are quite different than at the North Pole. Buddy’s innocence and awkwardness are enough to bring holiday cheer to anyone’s face.
Buddy’s exuberance is contagious, but it can be a little difficult to stir up that same level of excitement. There’s so much to do and so little time or money to do it all!
By my reckoning, Christmas is about three weeks away. I’ve got big plans—game nights with my kids, s’mores around the firepit and early morning coffee by the Christmas tree, watching the lights blink. Oh, and a maple and brown sugar cinnamon roll for good measure.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, Christmas peace is what I’m after, not a huge list of to-dos or a long wait at the post office. In order to pull it off, I’m going to need to be a little organized. Here’s how:
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1. Start with the big rocks.
While there are many ways to organize your time between now and Christmas, the best way is to make sure the best things are included. Don’t spin your wheels on things that aren’t really important to you and your family. Have a family meeting now to find out what’s really important to each person.
True story: When we were digging out of debt six Christmases ago, we didn’t have cash for many presents. Our kids each wanted one thing: a microwaveable heat pack to warm up cold beds at night. Though I had stored the sewing machine years earlier, I busted it out that Christmas to make sure the project happened. It was totally worth it—and it was a super cheap gift that they loved.
In my book, A Simpler Season, there are a number of exercises to help you make your priorities clear at holiday time. Decide what celebrations and traditions are most important to you and spend the money, time and energy necessary to make those things happen. Other good but less important things get your attention only as time and resources allow.
2. Avoid the hot spots.
Are there certain hot points in your holidays that make it harder to enjoy the time together with your family? Identify these and find ways to reduce the heat.
Are you stressed about money? Then get your budget and savings in gear.
Will cooking a big meal stress you out? Plan some easy dishes you can stash in the freezer or throw in the crockpot.
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Want to make sweet memories with your kids? Create some guidelines for unplugging and plan for some fun holiday adventures.
3. Just say no.
Don’t be afraid to say no to something, no matter how good it is, if you don’t have the time or money to do it.
- No, you don’t need to chip in on a group gift that’s outside your budget.
- No, you don’t need to cart your kids to the home of every grandparent, aunt and uncle on Christmas Day.
- No, you don’t need to bake every Christmas cookie there is.
If you’ve got your priorities lined out (see step one), then there are plenty of things you should feel free to say no to.
4. Start now.
Yes, Christmas seems like it’s a long way away. But really, you can never start too early. With advance planning, you’ll have time to price out the gifts and experiences you are considering without feeling like you need to make a rush decision. You won’t feel the rush and frenzy that is contagious in the malls and super stores every December. You’ll have more time later to rest, relax, and enjoy that cinnamon roll.
Enter the holiday season mindful of what you want to include and what you want to avoid in your celebrations. In doing so, you’ll be able to tell your time as well as your money where to go this year.
Jessica Fisher is the author of A Simpler Season, a guide that provides creative ideas, time-saving tips and budget-minded inspiration for making the most of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. She lives with her husband and six children in San Diego. (And yes, they’re debt-free!)
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