Christmas is a time for gifts, family and friends. For many people, it’s the best time of year. However, if you’re not careful, Christmas can also be stressful and expensive.
The key to avoiding this fate is to plan ahead – to make sure that your needs are met without breaking the bank or giving up any of the things that make Christmas special. I’m here to provide some ideas for how you can have a perfect Christmas by being prepared beforehand.
With Christmas coming up fast, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all those things we feel we should be doing. And while I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s absolutely ok to have a low-key holiday without a lot of fuss, some people just love to go all out for their kids and family. Still, it can make a person anxious. I am hoping that this article will help break everything down for you so you can get organized, relax and enjoy your holiday season with the people you care about.
A holiday planner is a great idea if you want to keep things organized. They can be as simple or as elaborate as you want, depending on the type of person you are. There are tons available for you to buy online or in stores, or you can definitely make your own. A good Christmas planner should include a calendar, gift lists, grocery lists, to-do lists, card lists (with addresses) and even recipes. You should also include some blank pages for notes and ideas.
Get your children involved by letting them make their own Printable Kid’s Christmas Planner. They’ll love getting to help plan the holidays, and it makes them feel extra special.
Whether you choose to use a planner or not, I highly recommend you start your Christmas planning in November. In fact, here’s a quick rundown of all the things you should get out of the way in November to prepare for Christmas.
NOVEMBER CHRISTMAS PREP
Christmas Gift Lists
Start by making a list of everyone you plan on buying a gift for. Start brainstorming ideas of things you’d like to buy them. Be sure to get clarity on their current sizes if you plan on buying clothing (this is especially important for kids), as well as their current interests, hobbies, favorite stores & brands, as well as any specific wants or needs.
If you find that you have an especially big list due to big families or friend groups, you may want to agree in advance on gift parameters. For instance, maybe the adults buy only for the kids or maybe one gift per family such as a board game or restaurant gift card. Alternatively, families could agree to put names in a hat and pick one family each to gift.
However you decide to do it, making gift lists ahead of time will make sure you are prepared when it comes time to shop for the actual Christmas gifts.
Need a way to keep track? Download this simple Christmas Gift Planner.
It’s so easy to go over budget when Christmas rolls around. If you’re not careful, you can end up paying way more than you bargained for on gifts, food, decor, and activities. Figuring out your budget in advance will allow you to make sure you are buying within your means with money you’ve already set aside for the purpose.
Be sure to figure out what you want to spend on gifts for each person, food (including treats, baking, and Christmas dinners), holiday decorating (such as a tree, lighting, and anything new or single-use), and activities you plan on doing with family or friends. Don’t forget to include any travel plans you may have.
Download our handy Holiday Budget Planner to help you out.
Christmas Card List
November is the perfect time to start gathering addresses for Christmas cards. Double-check that your list is correct and that you have updated information for everyone you want to send cards to. Some friends or family members may have moved this year, so reach out over Facebook or your usual methods to ensure your records are correct.
Order Your Premade Cards
Let’s be honest. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to just buy premade cards online or in stores. Not everyone has the time or energy to set up family photoshoots and create gorgeous cards to send. It can be a lot more cost effective and easy to order a box of Christmas cards and write a quick note to those you love. Get it done early so you can be ready to send them out when the time comes.
Purchase Family Outfits for DIY Christmas Cards
If you DO decide to go the other route and get a family photo shoot to make DIY Christmas cards, now is the time to figure out what you will wear. Most families will want to coordinate outfits in some way. You can go formal in nice dresses and suits, more casual with jeans and color-blocked shirts, or go for all out fun in matching pajama sets. Whatever you decide, get the outfits sorted now so you aren’t scrambling at the last minute.
Update Your Amazon Wish List
Now is a great time to update your Amazon wish list with items you need or want. It’s not just kids who write Christmas lists after all. Moms deserve to get what they want, and creating a wish list is a great way to let people know what you’re interested in. If you need ideas, be sure to check out our Amazon store, as it’s filled with items for moms.
Get Ready for Black Friday
For some, Black Friday is its own holiday. You can get some tremendous deals, which can make holiday shopping much easier and less expensive. Of course, that is only if you’re brave enough to take on the crowds. If you are planning on partaking of Black Friday shopping, be sure to plan ahead. Do your research and know what you’re after before you head out. Check out the reviews to make sure you aren’t standing in long lines for a dud. Compare prices here before you go out. Be sure to take the store ads with you. Take your store cards along for extra savings. Finally, make sure you check the store hours, as more stores are opening on Thanksgiving evening and have extra savings for early shoppers or those who come at night.
DECEMBER CHRISTMAS PREP
Family Photo Shoot
If you have decided to get family photos done for your Christmas cards, now is the time to get them taken. Dress up the family in your chosen outfits, grab your photographer and get your beautiful family immortalized forever. Make sure to have a few options to choose from so you can figure out which one best represents your family.
Now that you have your photos, try and get your editing done as soon as possible. If you have left it in the hands of your photographer, that’s fine, but you may still want to tweak the photos a little to fit with your chosen card template. Whatever the case may be, try to get it sorted out as soon as you get the photos back, as you’ll be able to get your cards done and ordered more quickly.
Order Your DIY Christmas Cards
Once your photos are edited and ready to go, there’s nothing stopping you from ordering your cards. I love Cards Direct for ordering cards, as they’re fast and efficient, but there are many other places if you search online.
Review Gift Lists
Now is a great time to review your gift lists. Figure out who you have already finished shopping for and which items are still left to buy. Remember Cyber Monday is coming, and it’s a great time to get some of the items still left on your list!
Create a Cyber Monday List
Check out the Cyber Monday ads ahead of time to scout which items you might want to buy. There will be tons of deals, just like Black Friday, so do your research and be ready to buy. Make a list of which items and which websites they’re available from so you can jump on them when the time comes.
Cyber Monday Shopping
Now that you have your list ready, grab a cup of coffee and your comfiest leggings and settle in front of your laptop to do your shopping. If you’ve prepared well, you should be able to bag everything on your list quickly and easily.
Make Your Grocery List
Whether you are hosting a big family dinner or contributing to a potluck, you’ll want to plan your grocery list in advance. Now is a good time to figure out which dishes you are going to be making, along with plans for holiday baking or treat-making. Then, break each dish down into its basic ingredients. Take stock of what you already have on hand – like spices, sauces, and pantry staples – then make a master grocery list. Break it down into nonperishable items and fresh items. You may even want a separate list for baked goods so you can shop for them separately.
Download our handy Christmas Grocery List to make it easy.
Take Inventory of Dinnerware
Know how many guests you are having over for the big day so that you can be sure you have enough dishes, utensils, and drinking glasses to accommodate them, along with a few extra. You’ll want to be sure to have enough serving dishes, serving utensils, warming trays, punch bowls, dessert stands and other items depending on your individual needs. If you find you don’t have enough, you can buy, rent or borrow some for the big event. Either way, it all begins by taking stock now. Add any needed items to your Christmas supply list.
If hosting isn’t your family’s thing, there’s no shame in going out to dinner on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. But get your reservations in early. Now’s a great time to figure out exactly where you want to go and how many people will be joining your party. Armed with this information, you can call up your chosen venue and get your reservation sorted.
Take Inventory of Wrapping Supplies
Now is the time to take stock of your wrapping supplies. Hopefully you bought last year in the after Christmas sales to save money, and you’re already prepared. You’ll need plenty of gift boxes, gift bags, gift card holders, wrapping paper, tape, ribbon and bows. Make a list of supplies you may still need to complete your wrapping. You’ll want to wrap gifts as you buy them, so it’s a good idea to get these things early.
Take Inventory of Decorations & Lights
Get your Christmas decor out of storage, and make sure everything is still in good working order. Plug in your lights, and change any broken bulbs. If there’s anything that needs replaced, put it on your supply list. If you are planning on any DIY decorations, add the supplies that you will need to make those, as well.
Shop for Supplies
Now that you’ve inventoried everything and made a list of all you need, it’s time to head to the stores. Do your research beforehand to find the best prices. A lot of things can be easily bought online, and since you’re buying early they will usually arrive in plenty of time. But you will still probably have to head out to buy certain things in person. Take your list with you, and plan in advance which stores you will go to for which items, along with some backups just in case.
Download our Christmas Supply List to make it simple.
Start Your In-Store Christmas Shopping
Since you’ve already done your research and have finished your Black Friday/Cyber Monday shopping, it’s a great time to head to the stores to find the rest of your gifts. Hopefully you’ll be able to find them all, but if not, you will still have plenty of time to figure out where to buy them or figure out back up gifts. Just take them home and wrap them up with all those wrapping supplies you already have on hand!
Start DIY Crafting
You already have all those DIY crafting supplies, so go ahead and start crafting! You can make some cute home decor, tree decorations, wreaths and more. I love using my Cricut to create tons of cute signs, ornaments and cards. If you have one, check out their inspiration page for some ideas to make your own. I also buy a lot of my craft supplies from Dollar Tree, as you can save money and get a lot of value from their stock. Many of my favorite Christmas DIYs are made from DT items. Check out some ideas below.
Easy Christmas DIYs
It’s time to get out all that holiday decor and deck those halls! Grab some hot chocolate, blast some Christmas carols, and fill your home with Christmas cheer. Wrap your stairs with pine garlands, hang a wreath or two and throw up some energy-saving LED lights. I also love getting battery-operated candle sets to really make things look merry and bright.
Buy Your Tree
If you prefer a live Christmas tree – and let’s face it, there’s nothing quite like picking out the perfect tree for your family! – now is the time to do it. Set a date to head out to the tree lot, or if you’re lucky enough to live in an area where you can go and cut down your own, do that instead! Then go and find your perfect tree. Make the day special if you can. Turn it into a family tradition by keeping to the same day each year, then do the same activities – bake cookies, go ice skating or sledding, sip hot chocolate, etc. Your family will look forward to this day every year.
Of course, if you don’t like live trees or have other reasons to stick to artificial versions, you can make this the day you dig it out of storage. You can make the day just as special with the same fun activities. There’s no reason not to make family traditions, no matter what kind of tree you have.
Decorate Your Tree
Now that you have the perfect tree set up and ready to go, it’s time to decorate! Figure out beforehand what your plan is. You may want to pick a color scheme, a theme, or get fancy with designer fashion. On the other hand, you may want to just let everyone in the family help by splitting up the ornaments and letting them place them wherever they want. Every family is different, and no one is going to judge. The idea is to have fun and do what makes you happy. I’ll admit I let my kids place ornaments and help, then I fix it all after they go to bed. Shh – don’t tell!
If you have a live tree, remember that you’ll need to keep it alive through Christmas. For some great tips on keeping it looking fresh, check out these tips from Martha Stewart.
Hang Those Stockings
It’s a great time to hang those stockings up. And great news! If you are worried about hanging them without putting holes in your mantel, you can buy gorgeous mantel hooks that’ll hold up those stockings with no problem at all.
Send Your Christmas Cards
By now you should have all of your Christmas cards in hand and ready for sending. Don’t wait any longer to address, stamp and send them out. This is one of the most boring tasks, so get the whole family involved. Pay one of your kids to address envelopes if you need to, but get it done. Take the time to write a special note if you can, but if you don’t have the time, the card itself is enough to let someone know you care.
Ship Any Out of Town Gifts
Once again, don’t put this one off. Shipping delays happen a lot around Christmas, so you need to get this one done well in advance. You’ve thoughtfully picked out gifts for your loved ones far away, and they deserve to receive them in time for the holiday. Get to the post office or UPS Store and get them sent early so you don’t have to pay for expedited shipping costs.
If you have an out of town child to buy for, consider a subscription box of some type. It saves you having to send things on your own, and it is a great way to show you care. One that I love is Green Kid Crafts. It is a subscription box that sends out creative and eco-friendly craft and STEM activities each month. It has up to 6 activities to help foster a child’s creativity and confidence. It’s a great gift for kids everywhere.
Finish Homemade Gifts
If you have decided to DIY some gifts this year, now is the time to finish them off (or start and finish if you’ve procrastinated!). Handmade gifts are such a thoughtful idea, but we often don’t give ourselves enough time to get them done. Keep in mind they sometimes need to dry or cure or otherwise sit for a while before wrapping, so get them done early so they’re ready to wrap and gift.
Place Catering Orders
If you’ve decided to order in for Christmas dinner or even certain food items you can’t find or don’t want to make yourself, it’s time to get your orders in. You can find the perfect roasted turkey, honey-baked ham or seasonal desserts all delivered direct to your door or picked up locally. Even cookies and other baked goods can be found from all over the country, even from your favorite bakeries thousands of miles away.
Finalize Your Christmas Dinner
Hopefully you’ve already figured out your dinner menu by now, but it’s time to finalize the details. Have your shopping list handy, and organize your recipes by how much time they take to prepare. Figure out which dishes you can make ahead of time, how you’ll store them, and the timing of when you will put things in the oven. Having a schedule and doing some prep work ahead of time will save you from being stuck in the kitchen all day long and allow you to enjoy Christmas day with your family.
Need some ideas for Christmas dinner? Check out some easy recipes below.
Create a Timeline for the Big Day
Most of the time, the days leading up to Christmas are very busy, not to mention the day itself. If you have people traveling in, you’ll need to make arrangements to pick them up from the airport or get them correct addresses for their Uber or GPS. Put flight numbers and arrival times somewhere easy to access. If you are going to church, know which service you are attending so you can make sure you and your family are ready on time. Do your kids need to be dropped off or picked up from activities? Are there parties to attend, babysitters to arrange, obligations to uphold? Get everything written down and form a timeline that everyone can see so that everyone knows what to expect. You’ll have a much smoother holiday experience.
Make Dough for Christmas Cookies
Whether you like to bake cookies for yourselves or you’re participating in a cookie exchange, make the dough in advance if you can. You can either bake some now and freeze the rest, or simply freeze it all and wait until you are ready to bake it all. Simply take it out of the freezer once you’re ready, defrost for an hour and then bake them up to take wherever you need them. You can also bake and freeze the cookies themselves by placing them in freezer bags or plastic food storage containers.
Shop for Nonperishable Food
Doing your grocery shopping early is always a good idea. If you haven’t already, now is the time to head out and buy all the things that don’t need to be fresh for your holiday meal(s). Grab those canned goods, bagged grains, root veggies and even alcohol. Make sure you have your grocery list to make it as quick and easy as possible. Head out in the early morning, as that’s when grocery stores are the least busy.
Now is the time to make sure you deliver those neighbor gifts! Grab the kids and go door to door to make sure they get where they belong. It’s also the time to make sure you take care of your mailman, UPS man, and any service people you want to remember to thank.
Prepare for Guests
It’s time for the final home prep. Whether or not you have guests coming, it’s a good idea to get the house cleaned up and ready for the big day. Focus on areas the guests will see like the living room, kitchen, and especially the bathrooms.
Set the Table
Unless you really can’t be without your table for a few days, do yourself a favor and set your dining room up in advance. Get that table looking picture perfect beforehand so you can save yourself the trouble on the day. Make sure the silver is polished, the wine glasses are washed, the napkins are folded and you know exactly where the serving dishes and serving utensils are going to be used. Check out this Elf on the Shelf Tablescape for a fun Christmas table idea!
Assemble Any Big Toys
If you’ve bought any gifts that need assembly or require batteries, get them done in advance. A child’s excitement over a great present can quickly turn to frustration when they have to wait to play. Make sure they stay happy and grateful by giving them easy access to all of their gifts. Also, think about how you’ll present their gifts. If they are large, will you wrap them or simply leave them unwrapped under the tree? If you decide to wrap it, make sure you have enough wrapping paper. If you leave it unwrapped, consider placing a nice big bow on top. And for goodness sake, make sure you include batteries wherever they’re needed!
Wrap Remaining Presents
Look around to make sure you have wrapped all the presents. It seems like there’s always something that gets missed until the last minute. Make sure everything is done and placed under the tree.
Shop for Fresh Ingredients
As the big day approaches, it’s time to shop for those fresh ingredients. Make sure to buy them as close to the day as you can so everything stays fresh. Also consider buying some nice Christmas flowers or potted poinsettias to keep the festive atmosphere.
Charge Your Camera
Christmas is always a time for taking lots of pictures, so make sure your camera is fully charged up. That goes for video cameras, phones and anything else you plan on using.
Set Up Your Camera Gear
Consider setting up your tripod in a corner so you can capture the day. You can get videos and photos as you go about opening gifts and enjoying your time as a family.
Food Prep For Christmas Meals
Try and get any food prep done that you can. Chop veggies and store them in airtight containers in the fridge. Prepare in advance any dishes that can be stored and reheated on the day. Bake any cookies from the dough your froze earlier, or defrost the cookies you stored in the freezer. Get anything done that you can when things are still calm and no one is there to stress you out too much.
Check out these Christmas cookies and treats you can make.
Christmas Eve and Day
Cook Cook Cook
Whether you have a big dinner on Christmas Eve or not, the night before Christmas still usually involves cooking in some way. Sometimes it’s as simple as baking Christmas cookies to leave out for Santa, other times it’s making some final preparations for the next day. You may also want to prep a gorgeous breakfast for the next morning. Something like this Cheese Danish Breakfast Bake can easily be made the night before and baked in the morning while everyone is opening gifts.
Cookies for Santa
Gather the children and make sure you set up cookies for Santa. You can grab this ADORABLE Santa message plate to make it extra special. And if you really want to get them excited, you can print off this Santa’s Driver’s License to leave behind for them to find. It’s part of our Elf on the Shelf Magical Christmas Bundle that has a ton of awesome and free! printables for your Elf.
Place Your Gifts Under the Tree
Once the kids are in bed, it’s time to set out all those wonderful gifts you’ve bought. You can make piles for each child, or jumble them up so that they can be handed out in no particular order. Or, if you love to make things look aesthetically pleasing, take your time and arrange them in any way that looks good to you.
Open Those Presents!
Once the kids are out of bed, and you’re all awake and ready, grab your camera and catch their reactions as they open their gifts and enjoy the fruits of all your labor. Those little faces will make all that hard work worth it. Make sure you get photos of everyone, and ask others to make sure they get photos with you in them!
Enjoy All That Good Food
If you’ve prepared a nice breakfast like our PB & J French Toast or our Instant Pot Breakfast Tacos, enjoy it as a family, then look forward to that amazing dinner you’ve been preparing for. Snack on those cookies and other treats, and spend time talking and listening to Christmas music.
Christmas planning can be tough if you don’t know how to plan. But if you take it in your stride, get things done in advance and remember to keep calm, you’ll have a stress free Christmas every year. The most important thing to remember is to enjoy yourself and keep your family close and loved.