A Stress-Free Holiday Season

Here are seven tips to get things underway

Does the thought of shopping, cooking, cleaning, and entertaining in the coming months have you worried? It makes sense, especially since millions of Americans spend thousands of dollars in preparation for the holiday season. This year, we’ve developed some tips to help you handle the holiday rush with ease. Some of these suggestions just make perfect sense. Yet others are little-known secrets that will help you stave off holiday stress once and for all. Are you ready to get started? Let’s go!

Start the clock. One way to reduce holiday stress is to have a holiday calendar. Your calendar will serve as your road map. Create a binder with tabbed dividers to keep track of recipes (try bsmithwithstyle.com and epicurean.com), new decorating tips, simple gift ideas, and your to-do list. Each weekend, starting in October, you can set a date to pick up items, start decorating, or finish projects.

Send holiday cards early. Make a list of people to whom you would like to send cards. Prepare cards in mid to late November, so they’ll be ready to go in early December. Personalizing your holiday greetings doesn’t have to be an all-day affair. Snapfish (www.snapfish.com) can transform a photograph into a set of 20 ready-to-mail 4×8 or 5×7 inch postcards for as little as $15 (plus shipping and handling).

Buy gifts online. You want your gifts to be personal, so try sites like overstock.com and smartbargains.com. “Shop early — the early bird gets the best gifts and the best deals,” says Kathryn Finney, author of How to Be a Budget Fashionista: The Ultimate Guide to Looking Fabulous for Less. “Shop online — not only do you avoid crowds and picked-over merchandise, but many stores like Target and Old Navy offer special items and coupons that are only available to shoppers online.”

Organize the house. You’ve got shopping and errands to do, so consider having your house cleaned by a professional such as Molly Maid (www.mollymaid.com) or Merry Maids (www.merrymaids.com), which are nationwide. Depending on where you live, services may cost a few hundred dollars, but if you can include it in the budget, it’s worth it. Next, think about how you’ll entertain. Will it be buffet style, or will this be a sit-down meal in your dining room? Arrange your space accordingly, and make sure you have enough supplies on hand, such as napkins and disposable hand towels.

Prepare the meal. In order to avoid spending hours racing around the kitchen before your guests arrive, prepare dishes in advance and freeze them. Another option is to hire a caterer or personal chef, or have guests bring their favorite dish. “Setting up a coffee bar with flavored liqueurs, brandy, whipped cream, and grated chocolate adds a nice touch,” says Damita Holbrook of Glam Event Solutions in Atlanta.

Set the table. Don’t wait until it’s time to set the table to realize you’re short four dessert spoons or in need of a big bowl for the eggnog. Once your menu is planned and your guest list is set, make

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