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An unfortunate side-effect of all the merry-making, partying, giving, and time with friends and family, is the rapid rate by which our to-do list seems to grow in December. It often makes for increased stress, when this should be one time of year that we can just relax, be present, and enjoy.

Following are some practices I have collected over the years that have decreased the load on my wallet, my stress, and my peace of mind.  I hope you find them helpful.

1.  By far, the one thing that helps me the most with my Christmas shopping is a Note-taking application. [UPDATE: If Evernote is old news to you, try Christmas List (iPhone) or Free Christmas List (Android) which are specifically for gifting. I love Evernote but Christmas List offers gifting features that make it a very useful addition.]  Evernote is the one I currently use, and it has a desktop app, a web-based app, and an app for virtually every smartphone.  I first started with a “Christmas List” note that contains a list of every person I buy gifts for.  I also have a note called “gift ideas.”  When someone casually mentions something they’d like, or when I have a stroke of genius about gift giving, I enter it on my “gift ideas” note.  These two lists make it easy for me to shop all year round, which is easier on my budget than spending hundreds of dollars or more every December.  As I purchase gifts, I enter what I bought for the person on the “Christmas List” note.  You can also enter on the note the location in your house you are storing the gift, if that’s an issue for you.  By Christmas (often much earlier in the year) my “Christmas List” note is full of everything I purchased, and for whom.  I then add a year to the title of the note (“Christmas List 2010”) and then I copy the note with next year’s date (Christmas List 2011), delete the purchases, and I’m ready for next year.  This helps me to remember what I’ve bought in the current year, and also allows me to look back at what I bought for each person in years’ past.  Also, armed with ideas and individuals in mind, I usually just have a few little things to pick up in December, and I can get things wrapped and shipped early as well.

limoncello-thumb2.  Take advantage of after Christmas sales. This is the best time to buy decorations, wrapping paper, and cards for yourself, and holiday-themed gifts to give to others next year.  Tree ornaments and pretty holiday food accessories (tins, plates, bowls, jars, etc) make great gifts for neighbors, teachers, hair-stylist, etc., especially when they are filled with home-made treats.  After Christmas is a great time to stock up on these for next year.  Typical baked goods are yummy.  Also consider jars or bottles full of infused olive oil, flavored syrup for coffee, or homemade liquors. Most of these are easy and the recipes can be found with a quick visit to your favorite search engine.  Don’t forget to note your purchases on your “Christmas List” note.

3. What’s the best gift for the person who has everything?  There are many ways to offer heartfelt gifts that truly give back, are easy on your budget, and don’t contribute to “more stuff.”  This could include a “coupon” to cook dinner or babysit for someone, or agree to forego gifts to each other and spend time together instead, like going out to dinner or lunch.  Another idea is a charitable donation in their name.  Many charities make it easy to offer a lovely gift or gift card that represents a donation to a worthy cause.  One of my favorites for children is the Save the Manatee Club, where your donation to “adopt” a manatee provides a child with a full-color picture and story of the life  of “their” manatee.  Another for adults and children alike is, where your recipient can choose an entrepreneurial venture in a developing country that they’d like to support.  You can make a donation in someone’s name via Greater Good or directly at most charities’ websites, or you can buy a gift that supports women working to rise out of poverty at Global Girlfriend or other fair-trade sites such as Ten Thousand Villages.

I hope you found these ideas helpful, and I’d love to hear your favorite practices for ensuring the holidays are enjoyable and stress free.  Please feel free to share them in the comments.  Thanks for reading, and happy holidays!