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How To Plan For Christmas To Avoid Overwhelm

Christmas is my favorite time of year. And despite the craziness that comes with being an adult and wanting to make Christmas special and magical for my family, I still get that warm and cozy feeling when Christmas comes around.

Since I love to plan ahead, I’ve created a type of system that helps organize my thoughts, ideas, to-do’s, and holiday expenses all in one place. My planning routine for the holidays helps me stay calm and enjoy the process instead of feeling overwhelmed and becoming a grinch over how much I have to get done and the little amount of time I have.

I’m going to share with you my planning system for Christmas, along with the Christmas Planner I’ve created to help keep everything organized and on paper (because paper always works better than digital for me).

If you haven’t even thought about Christmas yet, it’s not too late to get started! Just start from where you are at and you’ll feel more in control and confident about the holiday’s in no time.

Also, I’m sure you can tell by now that my family celebrates Christmas, but you can implement this planning system into whatever holiday you are planning for.

The Benefits of Planning Ahead

I start planning for the holidays in late September/early October. But I think about gift ideas and fun things we can do year round and make note of it.

Here are some of the benefits of planning ahead:

  • You save money by taking advantage of sales through out the year (not just on Black Friday or Cyber Monday)
  • You don’t have to worry about shipping timeframes if you purchase gifts online in advance.
  • The months and days leading up to the holidays seem to last longer because you aren’t feeling panicked and rushed. You can enjoy the anticipation of the season.
  • You have time to enlist others in helping out with the holiday so everything doesn’t fall on your shoulders.

My Christmas Planning Routine

Throughout this routine, I reference the Christmas Planner I use. I’m totally in love with this planner because it’s so cute and get’s me in the holiday spirit. It’s also functional and keeps my ideas all in one spot. Another benefit of using a planner is that you can reference it the following year to look at your budget, previous gifts purchased, and notes on what you would like to do next Christmas.

You can grab your own Christmas Planner here.

Step #1 – Keep a Running List Throughout the Year

I keep a running list through out the year of gift ideas, traditions to start, decorations to buy, places to visit, etc. With a running list, you don’t have to count on your brain to store all these ideas, and you have a nice place to start when you sit down in October to do your planning.

You can use anything for your list of ideas. I’ve created a “Christmas Master Ideas List” in the Christmas Planner.

If you took notes the previous year, you can also reference those to help with your Master Idea List. In the Christmas Planner, there’s “Christmas Notes for Next Year”. Once you fill out this page, you can refer to it when you start planning next year.

Some of the things that could go on a “Christmas Master Ideas List” are:

  • Make two DIY gifts
  • Do a fun family craft while watching a Christmas movie
  • Spread decorating over two weeks
  • Hire someone to decorate
  • Gift ideas you’ve collected through out the year
  • Family trip idea
  • A certain store you want to visit

I use the Master Ideas List as a way to brain dump ideas you have through out the year about the holiday.

Step #2 – Starting in October, Fill Out Your Calendar

Use your regular calendar, or the calendar pages in the planner. Record important dates, events and vacation dates. Block off dates that you plan on having holiday party’s or get togethers.

To make it super easy on yourself, at the start of each week, record how many weeks until Christmas. This will help you organize your time better. You can also write in deadlines for when you want to have holiday shopping and wrapping done, and your Christmas cards sent out.

Step #3 – Use a Master To Do List

The next step in this process is to dump everything in your brain (related to the holiday), onto a sheet of paper. You can use the “Christmas Master To Do List” in the planner, or you can use a regular piece of paper.

Write everything out, no matter how small or large the task.

When you think you have it all down, ask yourself, “what else?” And keep writing what comes to mind.

This may feel overwhelming at first, but it’s amazing what starts happening when you write it all down. Your brain will start to quiet down and you will feel so organized after.

Once you have your list, go through and write “To Be Done By” dates next to the tasks. This will help when you start planning your days leading up to Christmas.

Another benefit of creating a Master To Do List is that you might realize you can easily complete some of those tasks today. Checking off a task so early in the holiday season will give you confidence and some momentum to keep going.

Some of the things that could go on a “Christmas Master To Do List” are:

  • Fill out gift list/make list of gifts I need to buy
  • Plan Christmas Brunch
  • Buy gifts for teachers
  • Decorate house
  • Cut down Christmas Tree
  • Create budget for Christmas

Step #4 – Set Your Budget for the Season

It’s so easy to spend, spend, spend around the holidays and tell yourself you’ll worry about it after Christmas. But then once that time hits…it can take a while to get back on track with your money!

Set a budget for the season so you are intentional with how you spend and there aren’t any surprises after the holidays. You can use your previous idea and gift lists to get an idea of how much you want to budget.

When budgeting, take into account the following categories:

  • Gifts
  • Travel
  • Holiday Food
  • Events/Outings/Entertainment
  • Decorations
  • Cards
  • Hosting a Party
  • Donations/Charitable Giving

A few years ago, we opened a checking account for the purpose of saving for Christmas. We started out depositing $25 a week. Once the holidays come around, I’m so thankful for the weekly contributions we make to our Christmas account. I no longer have to wonder where we will get the money for gifts or entertainment, and we don’t rely on credit cards to cover these purchases.

I highly recommend saving ahead of time if you can! I even created a cute “Savings Tracker” in the planner that you can start using now, or in January to save for Christmas 2023.

If you need help budgeting check this out: How to Create a Holiday Budget + Stick to It

Step #5 – Middle of October – Get Serious About Gift Lists

If you have a running list of gift ideas, start organizing those ideas into a master gift list.

Ask family and friends for gift ideas, and clothing sizes (if applicable). Start thinking about stocking stuffers and gifts for teachers, co-workers, and other people outside of your family and friend group.

The Christmas planner contains the following lists to help you organize your gift ideas:

  • Christmas Gift Wish List
  • Christmas Size Chart Tracker
  • Christmas Stocking Stuffer List
  • Christmas Gift List
  • Christmas Black Friday List
  • Christmas Cyber Monday List
  • Christmas Online Order Tracker

If you have the money saved, start shopping around for gifts now. When you’re using a gift tracking list, you won’t have to worry about purchasing something early in the season, and then forgetting you have it.

Don’t forget to write down all purchases in your expense and budget tracker.

Step #6 – Beginning of November – Keep Your Eye on Sales

With Black Friday and Cyber Monday happening in November, use your gift lists to shop around and see if any of the items are part of the big shopping day sales.

You can use the “Black Friday List” and/or “Cyber Monday List” to record and compare items and prices.

If you don’t want to use a paper list, you can take screenshots with your phone so you remember where you saw the gift and the price.

Step #7 – Go Through Your Calendar Again

Once you hit November, look through your calendar and “Master To-Do List” to see what needs to get done this month.

Do you need to send invites out for a party or a save the date text? Do you need to purchase tickets for events? Do you need to purchase your Christmas Tree and decorate the house?

You might have a majority of your plans in December, but use November as a time to prep and get ready for December.

This is also a good time to start thinking about Christmas card ideas, and giving yourself a deadline of when you will have the order placed. Make sure to block out time to clean up your Christmas card list, print/write out addresses, stamp and mail cards. I plan about three weeks to create, order, receive and send out the cards.

Step #8 – Middle of November

Finalize your Christmas card ideas and order cards to be delivered the beginning of December.

Buy stamps and use the “Christmas Card Tracker” (or your personal Christmas card list) to address the cards.

This is also a great time to get a head start on wrapping. If you’ve purchased gifts in October, schedule a few hours with a Hallmark movie and get some wrapping done. You will be so happy you did this next month!

Step #9 – Beginning of December – Create Holiday Fun Lists with Family

Sit down with your family and create your “Christmas Bucket List” and discuss your Christmas traditions.

It’s also fun to write out what Christmas books and movies you want to enjoy. You can add to these lists as the month goes on.

I read Elin Hilderbrand’s Winter Street Series a few years ago and I’ve decided I want to read the series again this Christmas. While decorating the house, I fill a basket full of Christmas books that we’ve enjoyed year after year. One of our Christmas traditions is to give the kids a Christmas Eve box that contains pajama’s, a Christmas book, and an ornament. We’ve collected a lot of holiday books over the years.

I watched White Christmas a few years ago and now it’s on our list of movie’s to watch during the holiday season. We also watch Elf, Home Alone, and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

Once you have your bucket and traditions list, go to your calendar and schedule these events. This is the best way to ensure they will happen.

The Christmas planner contains the following fun lists to help you stay enjoy Christmas:

  • Pre-filled Christmas Bucket List
  • Blank Christmas Bucket List
  • Christmas Traditions Sheet
  • Christmas Books To Read
  • Christmas Movies To Watch

Step #10 – Create Specific To-Do Lists

In the beginning of December, look at your Master To-Do List and use the tasks on that list to create a separate to-do list broken down by events or projects.

For example, if you are hosting Christmas morning, create a to-do list for that event and write out everything you need to do. If you are traveling out of town, create a to-do list and write out everything you have to prepare to go out of town.

Using to-do lists will make it easy to delegate tasks so that you don’t have to take care of EVERYTHING. Speaking of delegating, please enlist the help of others this time of year. This is your holiday also, not just your families. You don’t need to take care of every single detail yourself.

Over the years, my husband and I have worked together to make sure we create the Christmas we want for our family. We work together on gift ideas and purchasing/ordering those gifts. He is also responsible for purchasing stocking stuffers and he pretty much handles all the food prep and cooking for Christmas brunch.

I feel like I’m on a soap box now, but just one more thing – schedule something for yourself over the holidays that brings you joy. It doesn’t even have to cost money. Over the last two years, I take one day and block out time to watch Hallmark movies while wrapping and enjoying a holiday treat. Last year, I treated myself to the Peppermint Chip Shake from Chick-Fil-A and it was delightful. I already have this date with myself on the calendar for this year and I can’t wait.

Step #11 – Weekly and Daily Planning

When Christmas is a few weeks out, look at your to-do lists and transfer the tasks/items into your weekly and daily planning. Every tasks should have a plan for completion. This eliminates last minute shopping and stress because you know everything has it’s time.

If the thought of scheduling everything seems overwhelming, check out this post, How To Plan Your Week for Productivity. I share how I implement my To-Do list into my weekly plan so I know everything will get done.

Step #12 – Enjoy + Reflect

Now that you’ve done all this planning, you can sit back and enjoy the holiday, knowing you have it all covered.

Once the holiday is over, take a few minutes to reflect on the holiday. You can use the “Christmas Notes for Next Year” in the Christmas Planner, or you could type up a document for reference next year.

Answer the following questions:

  • What did I love about this Christmas?
  • What did my family love about this Christmas?
  • What went really well?
  • What wasn’t so great?
  • What do I want to keep doing next year?
  • What could’ve been better this year?
  • What will I forget next year?
  • Did I stay on budget? Why or why not?
  • What are three things I rocked this holiday season?

After you answer these questions, you are officially finished with your planning and prep for Christmas.

Keep all your planner or your planning documents handy because you can reference them again for next year, and once the holiday hangovers subside, you can start your Christmas Ideas List all over again 😉

Start Your Christmas Planning Today

I’ve shared with you my thorough routine for Christmas planning so I can enjoy it all without stress and overwhelm.

Remember, any amount of planning you can do ahead of time will help save you money and time in the long run. Plus, it ensures that you create the holiday you and your family desire.

I would love it if you purchased the Christmas Planner to help you along! You can check it out here.

What’s one tip you can share to help other mom’s avoid holiday overwhelm? Please share in the comments below.

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