Christmas is Coming! How to Plan Ahead.

We all know that Christmas isn’t until December 25th, but if you ask Hobby Lobby it’s been here since July, and if ask anyone else it’s still months away. Even though I think the retails stores might get a bit ahead of themselves, they do have the right idea about preparing for the Holiday Season plenty ahead of time.

Christmas is coming and we need to know how to prepare for it. It sneaks up on us doesn’t it? It’s like one minute the weather is cooling off and the next it’s two weeks til Christmas and we’re scrambling to get the shopping done, afford the gifts, and do ALL of the things...cause it’s the greatest time of year, am I right? I absolutely LOVE Christmas and everything thing that comes with it. I also know that I started enjoying it even more since I started making a written plan and sticking to a budget. I know what my mom would say, “I just love to walk the mall and buy whatever jumps out at me for each person.” That’s great, and I know it can be a lot more fun that way, and if you’re that kind of shopper these tips can still help you!

How to plan ahead for Christmas:

1. Set a total spending budget ASAP! 
First let’s set a budget. Be realistic. How much could you actually save between now and then? And please don’t go into debt all in the name of the holiday spirit. Your family wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself just to buy them a silly gift, and Jesus sure wouldn’t want you to go into debt in honor of His birth!

2. Decide who you’re shopping for!
Now that you know how much you’re going to be able to spend you can decide how that money will be divided up per person. Make a list of your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, kids’ teachers, and charitable organizations you’d like to shop for. Divvy up that spending budget however you feel is appropriate. You might be shocked that your money doesn’t spread as far as you hoped...I was completely shocked my first budgeting year when I was on a super tight $500 budget for over 20 people (including my own kids).
See if some people need to be taken off the list...sorry neighbor lady. See who is getting a practically free gift...sorry kids’ teachers, you’re just getting a card and some cookies this year. And see who you can afford to spoil this year!

3. Start saving now!
Pick that realistic, attainable goal budget and then divide it by how many paychecks you have between now and the end of the Christmas shopping season (could be a month or a week before Christmas Day...whatever you prefer).
If you’re a cash spender grab a shoe box or an envelope to stash the money in. If you’re a debit card shopper then you might want to consider a separate savings or checking account for only Holidays and Birthdays. Whichever method will keep your hands out of that money for non-Christmas purchases!
Save save save friends! Remember no new debt in the name of Christmas!

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4. Brainstorm gift ideas!
Take your list of friends and family that you’ve decided you’d love to give a gift to this year and brainstorm some gift ideas. I find that it’s much easier to think of ideas while you’re sitting quietly at your dining room table with plenty of time throughout the year versus last minute in a packed mall.
You know your loved one's hobbies and favorite colors….write them down! There’s no wrong ideas when brainstorming. One person’s might have a whole page of brilliant ideas and another person’s might just say “blue”...find her something blue then, it’s that simple!

5. Be thoughtful!
When I did that first Christmas Budget I was honestly a little sad when I saw that I’d have scrimp on some people’s gifts. I hated doing this, and I felt like such a cheapskate, but I tried to get creative and be as thoughtful as possible. Most of my friends only had a $5 budget next to their name, that kind of broke my heart, but my budget was so strict that I couldn’t go over! My first budgeting year I was lucky enough to have access to some wholesale clothing at the time and picked up some adorable scarves for about $5 apiece for each of my girlfriends and even my Mother-in-law and Grandmother-in-law….DONE!
For my sisters I shopped The Dollar Tree for cute plastic baskets and filled each one with Christmas themed oven mitts, dish towels, and spatulas, then I grabbed boxes of muffin mix and snuck those into my normal grocery budget….DONE!
Some other people on my list were a little more difficult, but I tried to put some thought into everyone’s gifts and give them from the heart, not just from my budget sheet.
I remembered who loved to read and bought them a book from a resale shop and added in a heartfelt note. I remembered who needed a new jacket and picked one up during an awesome Black Friday sale. I also shopped around A LOT for all of kids’ gifts! The hard part about kids is that they want that Elsa dress and they don’t care how much it costs because cost is irrelevant to them, they just know that they love Elsa more than most adults love coffee. So I googled and googled and scored an awesome Elsa knock-off dress for under $20! I also scored an Elsa crown off Amazon and some Elsa high heels from Target.com. My daughter was in heaven and Santa was a hero!
Homemade gifts are also so awesome if you’re a crafty girl….which I am! I’ve painted wall hangings with cute sayings, made Barbie furniture out of foam board and acrylic paint, made quiet books out of felt, made fleece blankets, and put together lots of goodie baskets. Creativity shows your true heart!
Another idea I love for Christmas gifts is paying for an experience. Since we adopted Minimalism I try to not bombard my loved ones with unnecessary clutter type of gifts. Consider some concert tickets, a restaurant gift card, a spa day gift certificate, or simply wrap up a brochure and a handwritten itinerary for a really fun adventure day. These type of gifts are about so much more than the money spent, they’re also about making a memory too.
I also decided to spruce up my gift wrapping a little, to make a better first impression with my (gasp) $5 gift! I bought plenty of plain white gift boxes, a nice roll of paper from Hobby Lobby (and used the 40% off online coupon), picked up tissue paper at The Dollar Tree, grabbed some fancy ribbon and bows, and spent some time making the outside of the presents a little fancier than I normally would.
Just put your heart into your gifts, plan them out, take your time, and everyone will see the thought that you put into their gifts, even if they aren't as expensive as they’re used to.

6. Start shopping!
Glance at sale and clearance sections every time you find yourself at your giftee’s favorite store. If you know your Mother-in-law loves bath soaps then swing by Bath and Body Works next time you’re at the mall and they have a great sale going on. Since you’ve already started saving you can just log that purchase and take it out of your Christmas Stash. Check her gift off your list, one less thing to worry about in December.
If you know your parents have been browsing around the outdoor furniture section a lot lately, maybe snatch up a patio set during the end of summer sales or be on the lookout for a good used set at garage sales or on your Facebook Classifieds Sites.
When your husband mentions something he’d love to own, write it down or order it that day before you forget.
Don’t be afraid to start shopping earlier. Stash those gifts in the attic or at Grandma’s house where the kids can’t find them. This year you’re going to be ready!

7. Enjoy your Christmas!
Your budget is set, your savings is piling up, most of your shopping is already done...now enjoy the season! Bake some cookies, put your feet up, read The Night Before Christmas at bedtime, watch every single Christmas movie, giggle with your kids every time Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer Comes on! It’s a beautiful time of year...don’t ruin it by not being prepared!