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How to Prepare for the Holidays (and save a little money, too!)

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With the end of the year rapidly approaching, I am almost constantly considering how to prepare for the holidays. The food, spending time with family, cookie baking, snow, church services, and the joy that comes with finding gifts and wrapping them for people: my favorite time of the year is the holidays.

My husband and I tend to go overboard and have exceeded our gift budget more than once in years past. Now, I’m more careful and have found a few ways to plan and save here and there on our Christmas gift budget.

Full disclaimer: I am not a financial advisor. Just a stepmom/mom/wife trying to come in under our holiday budget every year. My 9-5 job isn’t accounting or at a bank. I’ll be totally honest and tell you that I don’t even do our budgeting at home. However, this year we’ve implemented these tips, and my husband is shocked that we’re coming in under budget for our kids’ gifts.

How to Prepare for the Holidays (and save a little money, too!)

Shop at the Dollar Store

This one is two-fold and the biggest way that I save money on the holidays.

There has been a Dollar Tree everywhere I’ve lived (thank goodness!). The toy aisle, holiday, and hair sections have become my best friend for stocking stuffers. It’s so easy to walk up and down the aisles a few times throughout the fall and early winter to find some small items for the kids’ stockings.

In addition to stocking stuffers, Dollar Tree is the best place for all things wrapping. You really need to price-check between Dollar Tree and Walmart when it comes to the best deal on tissue paper and bags, but when it comes to wrapping paper, Dollar Tree usually has the best price.

I typically find the same size roll as I would at Hallmark or Walmart for just $1. And if you go after Christmas, I’ve noticed that they’ve had sales with wrapping paper listed for 50¢. You can also pick up tape for $1. What a steal!

Hit the “Going out of Business” Sales

These are a gold mine, but only if you wait until right before the store closes.

If it’s right after they announce the closure, it seems like they boost the “regular” price listed up so that the sale price is still close to full price. My husband and I have had greater success with actually getting going out of business deals if we wait until the bitter end.

Shop Throughout the Year

I’m a firm believer in this one, and it’s helped me to kick my bad habit of procrastination!

For the past few years, I’ve been done with Christmas shopping for my kids and husband in mid-October. That just leaves my parents and in-laws plus the annual extended family drawing. (All of those combined are less stressful than shopping for my husband!)

I’ll pick up things on clearance in March for Christmas (or a birthday) later in the year. It’s nice to spread the holiday gift spending out through the year, too. The trick with this is to keep track of your spending and where you keep the gifts in your house.

I’ve heard of people getting bins or baskets that they call the “Gift Spot” and they just stick anything they pick up there that can be used for birthdays throughout the year or Christmas. I usually designate a shelf in my closet or an entire closet as the “Christmas Closet.”

You can find other great Christmas organization tools, including a full holiday budget printable, in this Sanity-Saving Christmas Organization Binder!

Get Crafty

I’ve always been someone who likes to make gifts. If you have a lot of craft supplies, see if there’s a way to use them for Christmas gifts.

This year, I used up some extra supplies to make a Mickey ear headband holder for my stepdaughter. There wasn’t a direct hit to our holiday budget, and it freed up some space in my craft bin.

Another way to do this if you’re a crafter, is to make your own holiday cards or gift tags. Every year since my husband and I got married, I’ve made specific gift tags for Santa presents. It’s a way to make the magic a little more real for our kids, and it’s something that Santa does every year. I found a stamp on sale after Christmas at Hobby Lobby that says “Santa Approved.”

In the past, I’ve cut rectangles big enough to fold in half, stamp the front, and write the “To” and “From” on the inside. It’s so easy and saves us money because I bought the stamp once for $2, always have white cardstock on hand, and the red ink pad served me well since before I got married.

Choose Gifts Intentionally

This is one I’m not great at every year, but I try. When it comes to how to prepare for the holidays, this is what often takes the most pre-planning.

If there’s something coming up within the next year that I know about, I try to buy gifts that go with that specific event (if they’re needed).

Last year, we had a trip coming up and my stepdaughter’s suitcase needed to be replaced. Instead of just buying one and sticking it in her closet, Santa brought a matching set that was on sale at Walmart in June for $25 and each girl got one.

Something popular is to get four gifts for your kids: something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. Limiting the number of gifts could change your budget significantly depending on what the four gifts are, especially in a multi-child family!

The Bottom Line on How to Prepare for the Holidays

The holidays can be a stressful time for blended families and stepmoms. Balancing your own traditions and extended family with the custody agreements and parenting time exchanges can be tricky.

It’s an easy trigger for anxiety or worries to take over your mind. It’s easy to be overwhelmed and frustrated.

For me, having parts of the holidays that I can control—our gift budget and wrapping—helps to make those uncontrollable parts cause less anxiety when they do happen.

I know that what I’m able to take care of has been done. It never stops the uncontrollable from happening, but it does make me feel like I completed my piece of the puzzle.

At the end of the day, any chaos that occurs behind the scenes or in the weeks leading up to the holidays will hopefully be forgotten once the celebration starts and your blended family is all together.

I hope these tips helped give you ideas on how to prepare for the holidays. Happy planning!

P.S. Before you check out the wrapping paper at Dollar Tree, take a look at Kristen’s blended family wrapping paper hack!

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