Holiday Shopping OnlineThe holidays often present us with tons of stress. A time meant to be set aside for family, rest, relaxation and fun typically turns into a mad dash to buy gifts, host parties, remember to send cards to a million relatives, or travel during the most expensive time of the year.

My gripe this year? Plane tickets to get home cost $500, and on my way to work this morning, the exhaust pipe and muffler decided to fall out of the bottom of my car. Expenses are piling up and I haven’t even begun to get started on my Christmas shopping. Due to Murphy’s Law, this happens to many of us at Christmas time.

On my mind today are 5 simple ways to get started on fighting holiday stress. I’m not sure about you, but when I am presented with an overwhelming amount of things to do, I like to begin by making a list and dealing with one thing at a time. Hopefully this will help you and me both...

Here I have made a list of the typical holiday stresses:

    -Huge Gift Lists
    -Crowded malls and stores
    -Too Many Party/Event Invites
    -Cooking and Cleaning as Host of Your Own Party
    -Visiting Family/Traveling
Here are 5 things you can do to get started on tackling your stresses…

1. Cut Down the Gift List
Who should you buy for? What should you buy? So many things to think about amidst all this stress, right? This year, my family is doing something really helpful. During our Thanksgiving party, we drew names so that each family member is only buying for one other family member. Then we each wrote several things down that we wanted and set a price limit. This drastically reduces my stress this year because I only have one family member to buy for and I have a good idea of what they want!

Cardinal Merry Christmas Personalized OrnamentThere are a few people that we will always buy for, such as a spouse or best friend, but this isn’t so difficult because we know these people so well. And for all of the random relationships in my life, such as aunts, uncles or distant friends, Christmas cards are the perfect solution. I like to send a Christmas picture frame or custom ornament as a greeting card to some of my family members because they are so much fun!

My main piece of advice for the gift list is to simply get together with family and friends and decide to draw names to drastically cut back on your gift list. Then you only have a few people to buy for and feelings don’t get hurt. Be sure to set a price limit though, so no one ends up with something way more expensive or cheaper than everyone else.

2. Shop Online
I hate Christmas shopping! The stores are packed, people are pushy and testy, and the shelves rapidly empty of the top items and best deals. I have begun to do my shopping online. There are more options, and I don’t have to worry about driving around town to compare deals. Plus, I don’t have to wait in line at the post office for eons; I can simply have gifts shipped to my recipients. If I like a particular site, I subscribe to their mailing list to begin receiving e-mails about holiday promotions. The deals are usually really great and I end up saving a bundle on gas, too. Many sites offer free shipping as a promotion, but be careful with this. Usually the free shipping applies to ground shipping only, so order early.

3. Don’t Say Yes to Everything
The holidays are a time for parties, and lots of people get invited to too many parties. On top of this are engagements that we are expected to attend such as holiday office parties, church plays or charity drives, school functions for the kids, etc.

I would suggest prioritizing early to book a comfortable schedule for yourself. Set limits so that you don’t over-extend. I always feel guilty saying no to invites, but this year I’ve determined to put my foot down. I will accept as many engagements as will fit comfortably into my holiday schedule and no more! This will leave me fresh and ready for when I host my own party. Decide how you want your holiday to look and plan accordingly.

Holiday Party Planning4. Enlist the Help of Family or Friends for Your Party
Throwing a party of your own? This task can be daunting, even if the party only includes a few friends and family members. The house needs cleaned, cooking is in order, and who is going to help you with that huge mound of dishes?

Invite guests early so that you can plan for who is coming and how many mouths will need feeding. Plus, you are helping out guests by inviting early, as this helps them prioritize their holiday schedules, too!

Try asking your spouse and children for their help. Have the family clean house while you prepare a menu and do some heavy-duty grocery shopping. If your spouse is willing, enlist him or her to wash dishes while you cook to cut down on kitchen clutter. Never be afraid to ask for help when planning and preparing for your holiday party. When I was a kid, my mom always liked to do everything herself, feeling as though she was responsible for everything. It would have been a huge help for the whole family to pitch in together to get the work done.  Make it out to be something expected each year, so that family members plan to help out. Hopefully this will help everyone associate the hard work of party preparations with the usual holiday fun!

5. Make Travel Plans Early
Holiday Travel
Travel can be a truly painful experience over the holidays. Not only do airlines jack ticket prices up to epic heights, but the weather is almost always poor, making driving dangerous and stressful and flying oftentimes turbulent. For frightened flyers like myself, winter plane rides are an annual source of anxiety and heartburn.

To top it off, there are usually several invitations for Christmas gatherings, especially if you are married, and one side of the family always tends to get irritated if you choose the other.  Get together with your spouse and discuss holiday travel plans to decide what is best for you as a family. Let relatives know about your plans in advance so they can expect your absence or presence during the holidays.

Again, just as with accepting event invitations, set limitations. Decide how much traveling and visiting you really want to do and set a schedule. Plan very early so that tickets can be purchased early. The closer you get to the holiday, the higher prices go. Expect bad weather and delays so that if they occur, you are prepared.

Hopefully, this article is helpful as you begin to plan for the holidays. Just writing it has given me a sense of control! Today began badly as the bottom half of my car seemingly fell off on the way to work, but at least I now have some plans in order. I think my main takeaway is to set limitations. The holidays are simply overwhelming, no questions asked. Form a picture in your head of what you would like your holiday season to look like, and plan to suit it. Prepare for setbacks and catastrophes, (because you know they are going to occur!) and make room for them in your budget and your schedule. Have a happy holiday, and may you make it to January unscathed with a whole year in between you and the holiday trepidations of 2013!

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Louise Bryant

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