23 Tips for Preparing for the Holidays

Getting ready for the holidays

Let’s face it… we could all use some help when it comes to getting ready for the holidays. As soon as December rolls around, it feels like there’s not enough time in the day.

But, spoiler alert, the holidays don’t have to be busy and stressful. There are no rules saying you can’t prepare beforehand!

Let this be your year to take control of your budget and your time so you can enjoy what matters most… your loved ones! The holiday season is a time for celebrating with family and friends, whether it’s a casual gathering or a big family dinner.

And, with the tips below, you’ll be able to enjoy this wonderful time of year with no stress as you’ll have everything ready beforehand.

Christmas preparation tips

Preparing Your Home

Is your home ready for the holidays? Here are some ways to make sure it is:

1. Purge

Get rid of unused items in your home and donate them. Doing so will clear space for the incoming, and donating items will bless someone else (plus it’s a tax write off!).

Need extra cash? Take the items to a consignment store and use the store credit to buy gifts your family WILL use. OR consider getting together with friends and swapping your stuff!

ALSO, check out our post showing my 7 rules when cleaning out my closet. This will help you know what items you REALLY need and which ones should go.

2. Meal Plan

As our favorite time of the year gets closer, the craziness can make for rushed dinner times that often involve fast food and take out. Not only will this hurt your budget, but it’s not good for you!

Use our huge index of freezer meals and set aside a day now to prepare a dozen dinners. Then on a busy day, you can pull one out of the freezer and dinner is taken care of! Here are a few of our favorite freezer meal recipes:

Another great way to meal plan year-round is with the Prepear app! This is such a wonderful tool. You can find all of our recipes in the app, make a weekly schedule, upload your own recipes, and more. Read our full Prepear review to learn more.

3. Prepare cookies

Going along with the meal planning theme, cookies and cookie dough are perfect for preparing beforehand because either baked or unbaked dough can be frozen for later use. Making cookie dough in advance is also a smart and sneaky way to be the house that always has fresh out of the oven cookies on hand!

Plus, cookies are a classic holiday treat, perfect for a cold day. For a good make-ahead recipe, check out this addicting freezable cookie dough.

If decorating cookies is a treasured tradition in your household, you can still prepare the dough beforehand so it’s ready to roll out and decorate when you’re ready to. Check out this sour cream sugar cookie recipe for a good freezable dough.

4. Clean Your Home

Even if you don’t have guests, a clean and organized home will feel good. I find that when my living space is clean and clear, so is my mind.

Check out these posts for more inspiration and tips:

5. Prepare the table

If you’re hosting a holiday dinner at your house, setting an elegant yet festive table may be one of the more daunting tasks on your holiday to-do list. Thankfully, trendy and lavish table settings are easy and inexpensive to make with the right know-how. Two easy and practically free ideas for table settings are pinecone wreaths and personalized napkins.

For the next few weeks, collect pinecones wherever you go. When you feel like you have enough, glue gun them together in the shape of a wreath for a super cute table centerpiece. You can also easily glam up your centerpiece by spray painting the pinecones silver or gold.

Personalized napkins are also super easy to make, just use some fabric paint or fabric markers to write on old napkins. Try cutting an old sponge into a festive shape and use it as a stamp to create repeating designs.

Additionally, practice your calligraphy and write a personal message on each napkin. Or, if calligraphy isn’t your strong suit, easily create the same effect with iron-on decals. It’s easy to find decals online of any text or photos and then easily iron them onto napkins.

Paper reindeer decoration hung on twine

Preparing Your Budget

One of the biggest sources of holiday stress is money. Get your money situation figured out in advance to avoid the anxiety!

6. Make a list (and Check It Twice)

One of the first things you need to do to prepare your budget is to make a holiday season to-do list. Include everything from mailing out cards to making cranberry sauce. Everything you need to buy/do should be on your list.

Once your list is made, read through it and note when each task should be finished, and estimate how much money you’ll have to spend on each thing. This will help you spend your time AND money more strategically.

Planning ahead like this will also help you avoid impulse buying and leave you more time to prepare meaningful and less expensive homemade gifts.

7. Choose NO Debt

Even if you haven’t started saving for Christmas at this point, you can still create a budget. Use a simple spreadsheet if you want, or try these budgeting tips and techniques:

OR, make it even easier with You Need a Budget, a tool that automatically helps you create and manage your budget (I LOVE this tool). Check out my full You Need a Budget Review to learn more.

Remember that you don’t need to spend much to make some cherished memories! (And how many of the items that you purged to prep your home were gifts from last year?)

PS – Gift purchases are a common unexpected expense people often forget to budget for throughout the year. Take this time to start preparing your gift budget for next year! Set aside money each month.

8. Create a Gift Stockpile

Watch for items on clearance and purchase them for a gift stockpile. To get deals sent directly to you RIGHT when they’re found, sign up for our Price Watch Deal Alerts or simply download the Fabulessly Frugal app.

With the app, you can set it up to alert you about deals that you want to see. You can filter by brand, category, and specific products! Plus, the app has a ton of other features like price comparisons, store guides, and giveaways. Download it here!

Price Watch Tool Tide Deal

9. Give Service

Consider a year of giving service instead of giving gifts. How much would Grandma and Grandpa love a summer of mowed lawns instead of another tie, shirt, or PJ’s?

10. Go Homemade

Homemade gifts are cherished and can even teach your children a new skill (sewing, baking, knitting, etc). Plus, your child will have a memory of making and giving something special to a loved one.

Check out these ideas for inspiration:

11. Do Your Research

Don’t waste money on trendy toys and electronics that your child will lose interest in quickly. Do some research now, determine the best product, and then watch for a  deal! Remember you can find our top deals here.

12. Take Advantage of Gift Card Deals

For example, Cheesecake Factory gives you free cheesecake for every $25 gift card you buy. Several restaurants and retailers do promotions like this during the holidays, so keep an eye out for them! Often times you can get $10+ off of priced gift cards which will save you tons of money!

To stay up to date on the best offers, check out the Current Holiday Gift Card Deals, Promotions, & Bonuses.

Fancy white advent calendar with numbered boxes and houses on top

Preparing Early

Here’s where you can save a ton of time and headaches! Get these preparations done in advance and you’ll be relaxing on Christmas day.

13. Christmas Cards

Get your Christmas card list organized or consider alternate ideas to mailing cards like a digital video card. Whenever I mail out cards, I like to organize the addresses, double-check, and print out the labels before thanksgiving! That way once I get the cards ready, all I have to do is stick the labels on!

But lately, I have loved the idea of just doing digital cards. Of course, you can still mail a copy to close family and friends, but if you were to put your Christmas card on facebook (or just send it in facebook messenger) You will be able to reach all the people on your list!

Either way, by starting your card prep early, you can do just a couple every night so that you don’t have to worry about writing several cards in one batch. This will allow you to be more thoughtful with each card as well.

14. Prepare Gifts You Know You Will Need

Make a list of everyone that you want to give a gift to. This year, try to make every gift you plan to give something thoughtful between you and the recipient. By prepping for the holidays early, you can give each gift the time and effort needed to make it truly special.

Some homemade gift ideas for adults are personalized picture frames, throw pillows embroidered with inside jokes and compiling a family recipe book.

If you’re not feeling very crafty, it’s easy to add a beautiful personalized touch to any gift with custom stickers. For example, a plain coffee mug plus a waterproof sticker of your family vacation will make the perfect custom gift without a big price tag.

Personalizing gifts for kids is an excellent way to make an otherwise ordinary toy into ‘the best gift ever’. Something as simple as using a custom sticker to replace the name of a game into something more personalized will make your gift unforgettable. For example, if your gift recipient has a pet snake named Carl, then you can easily make a custom sticker to replace the box cover from Snakes and ladders to Carl and Ladders. SO CUTE!

PS – Check out these family game night ideas if you want something fun to play on Christmas morning with the entire family!

15. Prepare a Few ‘Unexpected Gifts’ and Hostess Favors

Another thing you can prepare in advance are some general gifts to have on hand to avoid any awkward unreciprocated gift-giving situations. These can be multipurpose to give out as hostess gifts, to have on hand if any neighbors come by with an unexpected homemade apple pie or if your cousin unexpectedly comes to town.

Unexpected gifts can still be thoughtful, even when not made specifically for a person. By putting your time and effort into making a homemade gift, both the gift recipient and your wallet will be grateful.

One foolproof homemade yet practical gift idea is ‘Stuff In A Jar’. Gift jars are inexpensive to make, easy to make in bulk and have Pinterest-worthy cuteness. For example, make a gift jar cookie recipe, where the dry ingredients are all in the jar and the instructions are printed on the side prompting to just add butter.

Adult hot chocolate in a jar is another classic. Layer cocoa mix, and marshmallows in a small jar and then tie a mini size bottle of Irish cream liqueur to the spout with ribbon. You could include some DIY hot chocolate spoons as well.

Make custom labels for your jars to make them truly special. You can add your own photos and instructions, like writing ‘made in grandma’s kitchen’ and having baking instructions right on the label.

For more ideas, check out these frugal DIY neighbor gift ideas.

16. Wrap as You Go

Wrapping presents can be time-consuming, so wrapping in advance, or as you buy the presents just makes sense! You can also save money and trees with this cute gift wrapping idea: collect old newspapers and then create and order custom colorful packaging tape online through StickerYou to wrap your gifts with!

The black-and-white newspapers in contrast with the custom tape will make your gifts look so cute and modern. You can customize the tape with your family photos, favorite carol lyrics or anything else you can think of.

Another option is to consider just using gift boxes instead of wrap (buy these on clearance for next year too!).

17. Plan the Holiday Dinner Menu Now

Some people might say that food is the best part of the holiday season. Whether your family has long-standing traditions of recreating grandma’s old recipes, or you like to try to make something new every year, great food sets the tone for a great holiday party.

Unfortunately, cooking the day of the party takes up the valuable time you could be spending with your family and friends. But, if you start early, you can find sales on the groceries you need, and you can start making and freezing certain dishes ahead of time.

For example, dishes like cranberry sauce, cakes, and most appetizers can be premade and frozen. When party day comes, just pop them in the oven! We have lots of Christmas and Thanksgiving menu ideas you can check out as well.

18. Plan some time for R&R

Last but not least, schedule a few days of rest and relaxation after the holidays. Don’t make any plans, log out of your email and take some time for yourself. Plan for a few days to not change out of your PJs, finish a book, have a bubble bath. You deserve it!

Blurred christmas tree lights

Preparing for Next Year

Following the tips below will make things even easier and cheaper for yourself next holidays.

19. Clearance!

Hit after season clearance sales and buy your gift wrap, gift boxes, and other gift-giving accessories when they are 70-90% off.

20. More Clearance!

Shop the clearance sections in January and July, for up to 85% off toys! We share our favorite toy deals all year long too! I have a friend who does ALL of her Christmas shopping in July and then just stores it away. She is never stressed during the holiday season!

You can also check out our guide on what to buy in January for more awesome deals.

21. Build that Gift Stockpile!

Make a list of everyone you are going to shop for next year and buy gifts throughout the year. I often buy birthday gifts in advance when the deals are hot too! This completely eliminates the stress of last-minute shopping.

22. Make a Sinking Fund

We touched on this a bit above, but it’s worth mentioning again. To make sure your budget is prepared for the holidays next year, start putting money into a fund now!

Striped mug of hot cocoa with candy cane poking out

Most Importantly

23. Plan Family Time!

It’s easy to forget about what matters most when you’re busy baking, shopping, cleaning, crafting, going to school programs, and attending office and church parties. Make sure you take specific time out each week to make memories.

Go sledding, look at lights, visit Santa in the mall, see a holiday play. Those memories and traditions are what your kids will remember as adults, not what gift they received.

So, use the preparation tips we’ve shared to free up some time and use that free time to the fullest!

Close-up of christmas tree with family celebrating in the background

Before we go, I have one last Tip/Idea for you!

Have you ever thought about giving a vacation as your Christmas gift? Hear me out, we have had a few years where we gave all the kids a trip instead of gifts. It was unexpected, I didn’t have to wrap up boxes and boxes of toys, and the kids were overjoyed.

There are so many fun ways to surprise your kids and send them on a vacation. We often think that it would be more expensive to travel then it would to just buy them gifts, but there are ways to travel for SO CHEAP. And lately, toys and electronics (which is what most kids want for Christmas) are SO expensive! You’d be amazed at how affordable a vacation can be.

I highly recommend using Get Away Today when planning your family’s gift of a vacation! Not only do they take the stress and worry out of planning your vacation, but they also offer over 1,900 destinations at the best prices! AND they have discounted Disneyland tickets!

You can reserve your vacation on their interest-free layaway plan for as little as $125 down!! How’s that for a great deal!?

Be sure to use our exclusive promo code FABFRUGAL15 to save an additional $10 off their discounted prices on any Southern California vacation. You can use the code online, or call their agents at 855-GET-AWAY (tell them you want the Fabulessly Frugal discount).

You can even start planning a vacation surprise for next year’s holidays. Whatever destination you choose, you can be sure your family will have a great time!

And be sure to check 12 Reasons Why Disneyland Should Be Your Next Family Vacation  AND My Favorite Hacks to Traveling With Kids Without Breaking the Bank for more ideas on how to give the gift of vacation!

Tips for preparing for the holidays

Final Thoughts

We hope that this holiday season is awesome! We want it to be a happy, wonderful time where you can make memories and enjoy each other’s company.

REMEMBER what matters most. It is so easy to get lost in the shopping, baking, prepping… but DO NOT let yourself do that. Remember why we are celebrating!! Happy holidays!

Do you have any holiday preparation tips of your own? What do you do to prepare for all the craziness?

This post was put together with help from Michael Ishak

Michael leads StickerYou’s marketing strategy, including all digital marketing campaigns, affiliate programs, social media, content, PR, direct mail, distributor network marketing, trade shows, sponsorships, and brand activations. He also oversees both divisions of the sales department, custom sales, and the promotional products reseller division. Michael is an e-commerce ninja, in constant pursuit of optimal operational efficiencies and ensuring a world-class customer experience.

Having previously served as Associate Publisher of an international lifestyle and fashion publication headquartered in NYC, Michael has spearheaded omnichannel marketing campaigns for companies such as Audi, Chanel, Cirque du Soleil, Formula 1, Heineken, IBM, L’Oreal, LVMH, Microsoft, Netflix, Twitter and Virgin.

How to prepare for Christmas early

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