I inadvertently caused a reader over on our Facebook page to have a bit of a panic attack when I mentioned all the Black Friday ads that were already hitting the internet.
Having been there, done that, for more years than I care to remember, I’m providing an article chock full of wisdom for those of you sitting there either inhaling a fistful of Prozac, drowning in a sea of paper lists for every member of your family, or have gone into hibernation until the New Year comes. I use this article myself, every year, to remind me of what I need to do and to prep the lists to make it through the holidays.
Breathe. We’re gonna get through this. Just follow these tips okay?
Download an App or Two
I don’t care what type of phone you have, you need an app where you can quickly organize shopping lists and gift lists. No paper wasted or lost, everything will be right at your fingertips whether you are on your laptop, waiting for your boss to finish a meeting (we won’t tell your shopping online at work), or standing in line at the grocery store and overhear an excellent gift idea you don’t want to forget.
Favorite List App
My personal favorite is Microsoft To-Do because I can have 100 specialized lists at one time. I have a list for Christmas Dinner, one for Christmas Cookie Ingredients, a Gift Ideas List (which I use for birthdays, Christmas, and anniversaries), a Birthday and Anniversary List, a Grocery List, a Holiday Events List for local happenings we want to attend, a Holiday Decor Ideas List – you get the picture. I am a list person so this works for my organizational bug and keeps me organized.
Desktop/Phone Shopping Apps
I love Smarty+ and use it on my laptop on a daily basis when I’m shopping for something. It will tell you which stores are offering cashback incentives, how much, and provide you with coupon codes if they are available.
You should also include slickdeals.net on your phone and download the app on your computer. Slickdeals is the largest deal-sharing community on the Web with millions of people regularly using it to discover, share, rate, and shop the best deals and coupons for their favorite stores.
They know when Kohl’s has 30% off and if Walmart is price matching Amazon, and when Groupon has your favorite restaurant deal. If there’s a deal, coupon, rebate, promo, or freebie out there, they have it on the front page.
I have alerts set for a handful of items I am looking for this year. When a deal comes through on a particular item at any store or a particular store I’ve chosen, I get an email immediately. It’s how I scored a $199 television for my husband for just $98.
Know Your Deadlines
If you’re leaving to go out of town for the holidays on December 15, then you need to know whose presents you are taking with you and whose you need to ship.
Here is an infographic of this year’s shipping deadlines for the United States Postal Service (USPS), Federal Express, and United Parcel Service (UPS).
Plan Your Holiday
You need to have a plan or you will forget something. It’s that simple. So look over these items and tick them off as you go.
- FIGURE OUT YOUR BUDGET. Don’t go overboard trying to keep up with the Joneses. Stay within your means and find creative and meaningful ways to make the holidays special and stick to your budget.
- ARE YOU STAYING HOME OR VISITING FAMILY? If you’re the house where everyone is congregating this year, prepare and figure out where everyone will sleep. Buy some new towels and bed sheets if necessary.
- TAKE INVENTORY OF YOUR DECORATIONS & HOLIDAY DECOR. Do this a few weeks before you plan to decorate to take stock of anything you may be missing or that mysteriously no longer works or somehow got broken in the past 8-10 months while sitting in a box. Add whatever you are missing to your Deck the Halls list. I knew in 2020 that I wanted to change the color scheme of my Christmas tree and switch from glass bulbs to shatterproof/recycled plastic ornaments because we now have grandchildren. I waited until the holiday ornaments went on sale and picked up my new silver and gold decorations for 80% off after the holidays!
- Speaking of lists… Now is the time to set up those lists. I find having small, specialized lists work best for me. I set a due date so I don’t miss a deadline I’ve made for myself and I set reminders if I need to follow up on something. Here are a few basic lists to get you started.
- Home for the Holidays – everything you need to do for your home to get it holiday and guest-ready.
- Holiday Baking – pull out all the family cookie, cake, dessert recipes and make a list of the ingredients to ensure your pantry is stocked and any specialty items needed are purchased. Having everything on hand and readily available makes those impromptu baking afternoons with the kids much more fun!
- Deck the Halls – make a list of ornaments and decorations you want to pick up for your home (indoors and outdoors). Yes, here is where you add the tree.
- Making Holiday Memories – does your town go all out for the holidays and have tons of activities that you always seem to miss out on because you’ve forgotten them until two days after the event? Add ’em to the list and set a reminder to take that Tacky Light Tour, or enter the Gingerbread House Contest at the local fire department, take in the Christmas parade, attend the Tree Lighting Ceremony, deliver meals to the elderly, try a make your own wreath class … and um, yeah – I watch way too many Hallmark Christmas shows.
- Gift Lists – make a separate list for everyone you are buying for. If you will be getting clothing – ask them their sizes – for EVERYTHING. Also, ask if they WANT clothing gifts as some people do not want you spending money on an article of clothing that they wouldn’t wear if hell froze over – even if it is their favorite shade of purple. Don’t guess – ask them the types of gifts that they would like to receive and jot it down. It doesn’t mean you have to buy those specific items – but it DOES give you an idea of what they like – enabling you to find something for them within your budget.
- Make a Cleaning List – I know, I hate that “c-word” too but it’s got to be done – unless Santa gave you a maid last year for Christmas. Regardless, we all want our homes to be spic-n-span for the holidays and guests dropping in, so might I suggest 14 Days to a Holiday Shine Home Cleaning Schedule from Wunder-Mom. A woman after my own heart who breaks it all down in easily manageable steps!
- Then after you finish that list, make one for the weekly things that you need to stay on top of. We’ll tell the dust bunnies to stay under the bed till after the holidays for you. You’re welcome.
Now, About Those Gifts…
There is absolutely nothing wrong with a store-bought gift, but if you have a tight budget this year, consider making gifts for friends and family. Personally speaking, something that someone has taken the time to make for me means so much more than something that they ordered or picked up in the store at the last minute. I can’t tell you where half the gifts are that I’ve received over the years, but those handmade items from friends and my kids? I can tell you when I received it, from who, and I know where every last one of them is.
So with that being said, here’s a list of suggestions on gift selections to help you get started.
Are you crafty? Make personalized stockings for everyone on your gift list this year. Buy them for a dollar at Dollar Tree and bling them out with each recipient in mind and what they like.
Bookmark GMA Deals and check it daily for great deals. While some of the items shared may not be your taste or that of someone on your gift list – it’s a great place to get inspiration.
Big family? Get the entire family involved and do Secret Santa. Buy one present for one person and you’re done.
Make mason jar gifts. You can pretty much stick anything in a mason jar and add a pretty label and some ribbon and have a beautiful gift to give, and edible too at times, with a nice mason jar to have afterward. You can even give a collection of mason jars to someone with different flavored popcorn in each. Get some great flavor ideas from The Organised Housewife.
Like to cook? Bake a batch of cookies, or chocolates, or even a cake to hand-deliver or send to family and friends you don’t see very often.
Gift Guides & Giveaways
Having a hard time trying to decide on a gift for someone? I have oodles of help for you there. Check out our Gift Guide Central page with gift ideas for any occasion and any individual. You can also browse through our gift ideas category till you see something that catches your eye. Naturally, don’t miss out on all of our current and past gift guides on Life in a House. While the sales may no longer be available, the gift inspiration never goes out of style!
Lastly, don’t miss our 2021 Holiday Gift Guide. I have personally hand-selected these items from items our family has purchased or received to review that we truly loved. You can’t go wrong with this list. There are a small handful of items on there that I have not reviewed or purchased that I came across that I just thought were pretty darn cool … and would not mind receiving!
Black Friday Shopping Prep
Are Black Friday and Cyber Monday causing you stress? Don’t. Get your game plan together if you are going to brave the masses and head out for some doorbuster deals after Thanksgiving dinner by reading our article, How to Prepare for Black Friday Shopping.
Give the Most Valuable Gift – Yourself
There have been more years than I care to remember that I haven’t had a pot to piss in if you know what I mean – but that doesn’t stop me from spreading joy any chance that I can. When it comes right down to it, this holiday season is about spending time with family and friends, building (or repairing) relationships, helping others less fortunate, and counting the blessings (no matter how large or small) that each of us has been given.
In 2013, our family decided to do something different while we were home in Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving with my sister and her family. We volunteered to help serve Thanksgiving dinner to the men at The Hope Rescue Mission in Reading, Pennsylvania. Those 5 hours that we spent setting up the room for the meal and decorating the tables, then serving the men – talking to them, laughing with them, getting to know them – meant more to my family than the past 12 Christmases combined.
My passion for #GivingTuesday blossomed that year, and I have been actively promoting my own events online and participating in local events every year. If you would like to help your family participate in #GivingTuesday, check out this article, and visit the #GivingTuesday website.
Sometimes, You Just Can’t, You Know?
There are some years, no matter how hard you plan, scrimp, and save, that you just won’t be able to do everything you want to do or give your kids everything you want to be able to give them – or everything they want.
One year, my kids were being especially difficult with more wants than needs, so I wrote this for them – and it had the desired effect to drive home that they were being greedy children.
If you lose your job, or the car breaks down, or the bills are about to drown you and you just don’t have a penny extra to spare here’s some advice.
I’ve been there. I’ve had to sit my kids down and explain to them over the years that Santa was going to be “late” that particular year for one reason or another. That’s when The Christmas Promise was born. I didn’t share it with anyone else until last year. I told one of my regular customers about it, and she was brought to tears and encouraged me to share it with other parents out there who might need some help.
Just … RELAX
Holidays are a time to build memories, to be with the ones you love, to celebrate the reason for the season. It isn’t about the gifts, or the food, or the parties, or who has the best-decorated house. We put so much emphasis on cramming as much as we can into a short amount of time, that we end up being grumpy or snapping at the ones we cherish the most. Make some hot cocoa and sit back and watch some holiday movies and just RELAX.
No childhood Christmas is complete without these classics which include Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Comin' To Town, The Little Drummer Boy, Frosty the Snowman, and Cricket on the Hearth.
It just isn't Christmas in our household until Clarence gets his wings and we sing Sisters and White Christmas! You'll love these movies if you have even one ounce of Christmas in your heart.
So, there you have it, my friends. The Life in a House Manual to Surviving the Holidays. With a bit of planning, some ingenious thinking, a maid, and a couple of gallons of wine, you’ll survive … I promise.