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Holiday triage: How to get ready when you’re not

Nov 20, 2013 | | Comments Comments Off

Christmas shopping woman holding giftsThanksgiving is so late this year that I’ve been drifting along in a lovely bubble of denial. Even my Jewish friends’ preparations for Hanukkah haven’t been enough to alert me that Christmas isn’t far off.

Today a TV crew from a local Chinese-language stopped by to record some tips for enjoying the holidays without creating debt. The key, I said, is planning. So now’s the time to take my own advice.

Holiday season is a busy and expensive time, one that for us includes entertaining, travel, several family birthdays and a bucketload of presents. So here’s what I’ll be doing this weekend to prepare:

Finishing the spreadsheet. I use an Excel spreadsheet to list who will be getting presents and a target spending amount for each person. The spreadsheet also includes an estimate of what we’ll spend on travel (airfare, hotel, gas, food), entertaining (drinks, food, centerpieces), decorations (tree and lights) and holiday tips for the people who make our lives easier (cleaning lady, gardeners, hair stylist and so on). I total everything up, gasp, and start making adjustments so that our spending won’t leave us with huge bills in January.

Going on a treasure hunt. I buy gifts throughout the year and stash them in convenient hidey-holes throughout the house. I’ll dig them out and add them in the appropriate cells on the spreadsheet so I don’t wind up buying duplicate gifts.

Cashing in. I’m not a huge fan of gift cards as gifts, but I love using them to buy real gifts. I also have a rewards credit card program that allows me to use points to get Visa gift cards that, again, can be used to buy gifts or given in lieu of cash as a holiday tip. My daughter and I will also take our coin jar down to the nearest Coinstar to get a fee-free Amazon.com gift card. (Coinstar also offers gift certificates to iTunes, Starbucks and a bunch of other retailers.)

Stocking up. I like to take advantage of holiday sales to buy an extra turkey (to freeze and use later), stock up on baking supplies and lay in a fresh supply of crackers, dips and other nibblies for drop-in guests. This is also a great time of year to double dinner recipes and freeze half for those days that are just too frantic to cook.

I plan to finish this weekend in much better shape for the holidays. How about you? What needs to get done now for you to be ready?

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