Plan your peaceful Christmas: task 3

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About Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and lives in Bend, Oregon with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

So far in our steps for a peaceful Christmas series, we’ve talked about preparing your holiday budget, planning your gift giving, and organizing your calendar. One thing per week, a little at a time… they help make the holidays enjoyable instead of chaotic.

What’s the next step? Well, doing this week’s task early enough will save you money, keep your hand from aching, and protect your late nights from grumbling over something that’s meant to be a blessing.

It’s not an essential part of everyone’s holidays, but it’s important to our family. That’s why I like doing it with plenty of time to spare.

Organize, order, and address your holiday cards

Not everyone bothers with Christmas cards anymore, and I understand why. It’s expensive, it’s time consuming, and they’re not as essential as other aspects of the season, such as gifts or food.

But I still love sending cards—because I love receiving them. We hang photo cards on our fridge the entire following year. To me, it’s one of the few things during the holidays that keep us connected, tangibly, to the people we love.

It’s expensive, yes. But you can save money the earlier you plan.

Photo card options

My preference is sending photo cards, because it’s what I like to receive. I love seeing how kids have grown, and it puts faces to the names of people we talk about with our kids. Photo cards remind us to pray for people.

(And as a side note, I prefer seeing entire families in the photos, and not just the kids. C’mon, grownups—get behind the camera, too!)

Pre-made photo cards

• Tiny Prints has a beautiful selection. They’re pricier, but you can’t go wrong with any of their designs. High-quality printing as well.

• Snapfish has a good deal right now—30% off and free shipping on all photo cards until November 22 (that’s in five days).

• Shutterfly currently has free shipping on orders over $30.

• I love supporting designers at Etsy! Order a photo card design from stores like Roxter Designs, Paper Kite, Grace & Co, and Harper Gray, and they’ll usually customize them for you (I used to do this as a side business, and I loved creating photo cards exactly how someone wanted them). Search “photo cards,” and you’ll have more than your pick.

Added: Grace & Co created a coupon code for Simple Mom readers—10% off all purchases until November 30. Just use the coupon code SIMPLEMOM1130 at checkout. Thanks, Grace & Co!


Photo card by Roxter Designs

And of course, brick-and-mortar stores like Target, CVS, Costco, and the like always have photo card options. I prefer to use these guys just for printing, though, especially when I buy an Etsy design and print them myself.

DIY photo cards

If you have a knack for Photoshop (or its equivalent), make photo cards yourself and have them printed. This is what I do almost every year, and it saves me bundles. As you design, keep in mind that 4×6 photos are considerably cheaper to print than 5×7.

A 4×6 photo will need a size A6 envelope, and a 5×7 photo will need an A7 envelope. I usually order them from Amazon because we send out quite a few cards, but you can easily find high-quality envelopes sold individually at local paper stores.

A cheaper alternative is to turn your photo cards into postcards—you won’t have to buy envelopes, and you can use postcard stamps, which are less expensive (at least in the U.S.).

My favorite places to order postcards are Overnight Prints, Vistaprint (they’re in Canada, too!), and Budget Prints (which currently has free shipping over $30). All have reasonable prices.

Gather your addresses

It’s no fun writing friends and family the night before you want to mail cards, asking them for their snail mail address. Start gathering them now, when you’re not rushed or panicked.

Order stamps

If you’re in the States, order stamps online, and they’ll be delivered the next day. I haven’t bought stamps at an actual post office in years.

Address envelopes early

This activity is a great excuse to pop in a holiday movie and sip on hot cocoa. Just do a few each night for a week, and you’re done. Kids with readable penmanship might enjoy this task, too.


Return address stamp by Primele

I print our return address directly on the envelopes—I’d rather run them through the printer for 30 minutes than spend hours writing the same thing repeatedly. One day, I may splurge on a beautiful return address stamp—I’m drooling over the ones at Primele.

Digital options

If you simply can’t afford snail mail greetings, email is still a friendly, etiquette-approved option (if you’re asking me, anyway, but I’m no Emily Post). Please don’t go overboard with the flashing lights and instamusic, though. A simple informative-yet-not-long email with an attached photo is great.

I’d rather receive these than nothing—I can always print out the photo and stick it on my fridge if I want.

Sending hand-signed cards is a dying art, but it’s personally important to me. I want my kids to know the value of writing letters, so for us, sending holiday cards is an annual family affair.

When I plan in plenty of time, creating and sending cards is a festive tradition, and not a hand-aching chore. I love it.

How about you—do you send out cards? Newsletters? E-greetings? Don’t bother? I’d love to hear your reasons.

Join the Conversation

Comments

  1. Thank you for the additional options for postcard printing on this post! I want to print double-sided postcards and forgo envelopes for this year’s cards. So far I’d found GotPrint.com, Vistaprint, and Zazzle. I’ll be comparing all the options now, although I still may do a 5×7 card, which will be standard envelope postage as opposed to postcard postage. Check the USPS site for postage and size requirements.

    • I still did a 5×7 postcard last year because, well, I wanted to. And yeah, it was normal postage. But I still saved on envelopes, and the printing was just as cheap as normal photo cards.

  2. Order stamps online…brilliant! Looks like there’s a $1 handling fee, but I guess that’s not so bad for saving me a trip to the post office.

    Return address rubber stamp…I never thought of that. The one you linked is gorgeous! Pricey, though.

    • Totally pricey, which is one of the reasons I don’t have it yet. But maybe down the road…

      And yeah, it’s rather silly of USPS to charge a $1 shipping fee because, well, aren’t they the shippers? Oh well… I figure I save that much in gas money just for the drive there, not to mention the saved brain cells from waiting in a long line with small children.

      • At the grocery stores around here, you can buy stamps at the check-out line. I had no idea until the person in front of me asked for a book of stamps and the woman got them out of the drawer. It’s super convenient. Might be worth a shot to ask where you are.

        • Costco too. But, of course it’s a BIG pack. Maybe 100 stamps, as I recall. But, they were cute ornament designs, and I can always use them eventually. :)

      • avatar
        Brooke Winstead says:

        Last year the mail carriers were selling stamps as well. It might be worth asking them…seems like I had to order with them and they delivered the next day.

  3. We live far from family and many of our friends, so I like to order business-card-sized refrigerator magnets printed with a family photo, our names, and my personal blog URL. Vistaprint is competitively priced, at least here in Australia, and they often have special offers on return address labels as I check out online. We don’t have a printer, so that’s a great option for us.

  4. I have Photoshop Elements, but I’m not completely sure how to make my own cards. I guess I will just have to experiment with it more. I assume if I specify the size in inches (4×6 or 5×7) I would just have to worry about resolution and whether they will print out nicely. Any ideas? Love your post!

    • 300 dpi for photo cards (or any photo printing, really). Not sure what all you can do with Elements (I have regular), but think layers. Layers are your friend with Photoshop. :)

  5. I love sending cards each year! In fact, I bought mine a month ago when Shutterfly had them 20% off plus free shipping and I’ve been dying to address them. I actually truly enjoy hand addressing them all. I limit myself to 50 and actually do keep a list of who I send them to each year and who I receive cards back from. If someone sends one to me, I want to be sure to return the favor because they must also enjoy them! I’m a stickler about waiting until after Thanksgiving to do anything Christmasy (I know it’s silly) so I’ve got one more week before I can grab that pen and get started!

    • I keep a list of who I’ve sent to and who sends to us too. I have tons of various Christmas card designs that I’ve purchased on sale after Christmas, so I also have a spreadsheet of who has received what card in the past.

  6. I print both the addresses and the return addresses onto the envelopes with my printer! I save all my addresses in a spreadsheet and then I have to fumble around to remember how to do a mail merge ;), but it always turns out so well! I can pick the font to go with my cards (that I typically throw together in photoshop) and have even added little holiday pictures next to the names/addresses that match, too – like a snowflake or a sprig of holly (from clipart, usually). It sounds cheesy, but totally looks great!

  7. Thank you for the nudge! I took the time this morning to put together a family card using a few favorite photos and Picnik Premium. Excited to mail out my own creation this year!

  8. I do send out cards to our friends and family every year, but I prefer to make them myself. I print a holiday-ish saying on the inside, fold them and stamp on the front. I’m big into scrapbooking too so this is a very enjoyable extension of that hobby! Last year was busy around here so I went through an Etsy seller for some very nice handmade cards. I haven’t gotten into using photo cards yet. I’m much more indecisive about what I want. This year I’m at least going to slip a family photo into the card.

    I agree with you with hand-signing the cards. I think my favorite part of it all is getting out my favorite pen and addressing the envelopes. It feels so much more personal. The return address stamp you pictured above is SOO nice! Love it.

  9. I’ve noticed I’ve been receiving fewer Christmas cards each year, and that makes me sad. I send them for the same reason you do; I love finding a mailbox full of them! I’ve ordered cards from ministries I support. Their catalogs and flyers usually come out in late August. I take my address list and envelopes with me whenever I need to loiter somewhere and work on addressing cards. I write a newsletter, usually just telling a couple of funny family stories. The feedback I got on the Christmas letters is what encouraged me to start blogging. Thanks for this post, Tsh. Love that address stamp!

  10. I send out cards every year because, frankly, it’s the only time some people actually hear from me. I always buy cards after the holidays for the following year. That saves SO much money! Stores are just trying to get rid of them at that point. I always include a “newsletter”, but since I hate reading pages and pages about what so and so’s kid eats for breakfast I have a rule . . . if it doesn’t fit on 1/2 of a sheet of paper it’s not important. I never included a photo until my daughter was born two years ago. I think this year I’ll send out New Year’s cards instead so I can include her 2 year picture (her birthday’s the beginning of January).

  11. I’m glad I’m not the only one who sends out cards mainly because she loves receiving them! I just took last years’s bunch down and made a little coffee table book with a hole punch and a spiral ring.
    Hope we’re on your list! :-)

  12. I love sending Christmas cards because, like you, I love receiving them. It seems I get fewer and fewer each year which is sad. I just finished all of our cards a couple days ago. I won’t mail them off until the first of December, but they are addressed and ready to go. I can’t imagine not doing it. Every year I get thank yous from people who then explain that they don’t send out cards or ran out of time or …. I keep a running list of people I send them to and then check off who I received them from. That way the following year I can amend our list of who gets what. Some people will always receive a card whether we get one in return others I just let it go and then I add a name or two each year as well. I always hit the after Christmas sales for cards for the next year, but include a picture as well.

  13. I make my own photo cards as well but what I do is select a photo i have taken that i really like (i always keep this in mind around christmastime and try to get a goid one for next year, buy blank cards at michaels and use double sided tape to tape the photo to the card. I do a one size fits all letter with the latest news and then do a personal line or two or sometimes just a signature. I use excel to print out all the labels then have a Christmas movie marathon and assemble them all in one night!
    (now I’m going to but my stamps online -thanks!). When I was in grad school and it was often to much work to get this done during finals sometimes they isn’t get sent out til march. People said the loved getting my annual spring Christmas card hen thy really had a chance to sit and enjoy it!

  14. I keep an eye on Vistaprint as you can get free return address labels there quite often (you just pay the shipping charge). I got some beautiful personal and holiday style ones a couple of months ago so am all set for my card sending! I am coveting one of those beautiful rubber stamps though.

  15. We are a new blended family and a family Christmas card might be just the thing! I haven’t made out cards in years – mainly because no one returned them! But, this year…maybe it’s time to begin again.
    ~

  16. Great tips for getting ahead! We typically do not send out cards. We will probably start this tradition next year once we have a little one :).

  17. I LOVE sending & receiving holiday cards ~ especially photo cards of families! I’ve done a card of my kids & pets every year since my oldest was a baby – 25 years now. Last year I finally did one with multiple photos & included my boyfriend & myself in the pictures.

    I save time & money by printing return address labels with a Christmas theme. I maintain an address list in MS Word in a label format for addressing the envelopes. I keep this updated during the year as people move or I add new people to the list. I print a few sheets of labels for return addresses & a few for the addresses quickly & easily. That saves time for putting personal notes in cards for those we don’t see as often.

    For me, holiday cards are well worth the time & effort!

  18. avatar
    Onjali Pettingill says:

    Thank you so much for linking to my shop(paper kite)! I am a huge fan of your blog.

  19. Being in the greeting card business for many years, I enjoy sending cards all year and especially during the holidays.

    The current software that I use lets you send all your holiday cards right from your computer. You can upload your photo, write a personalized greeting inside the card, type in the address and it’s all printed, put in an envelope, stamped and mailed for you. One of the nicest things about it is that you can send dozens or hundreds of cards in minutes just by uploading your contact list. I use it for all my holiday cards, birthday cards and for making people feel appreciated during the rest of the year.

    When our family gets together over the holidays, I make sure to take a ton of photos and then I make a special greeting card to send to my kids. I call the special card Christmas Memories 2011 (or whatever year it is). Then I upload the photos and make a special card for everyone to remember our holiday together. It makes a great keepsake and everyone looks forward to receiving it once the holidays are over.

  20. I am with you, I love getting cards especially photo cards and I actually love making and sending them because I love to see how they are different year to year especially with our little ever growing family. I just ordered ours for this year and with the shutterfly free shipping and the deal they were running for 40% (it has ended) I ordered 75 cards shipped for $30…not bad.

  21. This year we are strictly limiting our Christmas cards that get mailed. Luckily my husband’s family has a big party every year around New Years so I can hand deliver their cards a few weeks late.

    I am going to try to focus only on families with kids and then I’m going to have my 4 yr old son practice writing his name by signing the cards himself. It may take a little longer, but I figure after writing his name 25 or 30 times, he should pretty much know how to do it :) “Killing 2 birds with 1 stone”

  22. We do still send out cards in the mail, and for the same reason as you…it is SUCH a pleasure to get a personal note in the mail, something that is not a bill or a flyer or junk mail but a hand-written thing from a real live person. I buys cards on sale at the end of the season and save them for next year. Sometimes we have done a newsletter, but we keep it short and light. After all, no one needs to read every detail of every single thing we did this year.
    This year I have some vintage cards that came from my husband’s grandma, so I may also scan those and use them as e-cards, because they are just so unique and beautiful.

  23. Somehow e-cards just aren’t quite as exciting!

  24. Great post. I’m happy to say that for the first time ever our orange Shutterfly box full of Christmas cards is sitting on my desk! I’d written an article for a magazine last summer talking about early steps we can take to get things in order for Christmastime. I thought it prudent to follow my own advise.

    We have two fun traditions attached to Christmas cards. The first is that I have a very simple book that my husband designed. Each year, we place our Christmas card and letter on a new page of this book. Over time (14 years now) it has become a great/simple way to capture memories from each year.

    After the season ends, we also take down all the cards we received and put them in a pottery dish on our dining room table. Each night, the kids get to pick out a card and we talk a bit about the people on that card and then we say a simple prayer for this family.

    Thanks too for the tip of ordering stamps online. I just place my order minutes ago at your advise.

    Cari

  25. I usually send photos (4×6 with a fun border that I make in photoshop and a Bible verse), and hand-write a note on the back. This year, however, I am challenging myself to take the money I would have spent on holiday “stuff” and change how I do things, and donate that money toward necessities for others – dinner for the homeless, clean water for people in other countries, etc. I’ll still send cards to my grandparents and those not online, but this is something of a “reset” button on what Christmas is really about for us. I also love when people change when they send their “yearly” greetings – at Easter, or the new year, because then it’s fun to get the update at a different time! It creates one less “stress” for what we “should” do at Christmas.

  26. What a great article! Thank you SO much for including my shop (Harper Gray) in your list!

  27. I am actually obsessed with sending Christmas cards. For me, it’s a sweet moment of reflection. Praying for and feeling the connection to each family they are sent to. It’s like reaching out and giving a hug! I always include a family letter that shares a glimpse of our life over the past year and is truly one of the greatest gifts for me to reflect upon as I write it. Without these family letters, would I take the time to meditate on the big picture of the life we created together? Sadly, probably not. I love recieving cards in return. Love many of the ideas above and we’ve tried many ourselves. They’ve decorated the frig for a year and been the focus of dinner prayer when picked from a basket. This year, I’m thinking of cutting the pictures out with die-cuts and collaging them together in basic oval shapes then laminating them for placemats.

  28. Great post! I too love to receive cards and do make an effort to send out a photo card with or without a newsletter to family and friends. I too am finding that the number we receive continues to dwindle. I admit to not often getting this done on time so we usually do a happy new year card and set it out in January (or once or twice even February – eek!). We do have a birthday on Dec 22nd so it is even busier and we often coordinate a photo shoot for both events.
    I usually print off labels through Word and we try to write a personal greeting on each one. We use the return labels we receive from charities. We often put the whole process off but do find in the end that it is time well spent. I am learning to “delegate” my husband to do the labeling and sometimes even the greeting. I do the writing of the family newsletter.

    We keep the cards we have received hanging in our doorway until Valentine’s Day. After that I cut the photo cards apart that we have received and put them in a scrapbook. It is fun to look back over the years and see the family changes.

  29. We (okay, it was me) decided to do New Year’s Cards this year. For two reasons. The first being that I was trying to spread out the holiday work so I’m not trying to get so much done the first few weeks after Thanksgiving. I’m a musician and that’s my busy time. This year I want to do a better job taking care of myself so I’m not so frantic by mid-December (and yes, I do plan well so everything gets done without a huge amount of stress). Secondly, to spread out the holiday cheer. If we send a card, created by my graphic designer husband rather than bought on clearance at Target the year before, the first week in January we are hoping it will cheer people in an otherwise dreary time of year. And our greeting won’t be lost among all the other cards people get around Christmas.

  30. Unfortunately, sending cards was not something my mother did, and I tried to a few years, but always found Christmas coming and going and boxes of cards still sitting. Now my kids are grown, some with families of their own, I’d like to do what my aunt and uncle do. A one page color print newsletter that tells a little about each child’s family and a picture. I love to receive these each year, maybe it is time to make my own!

  31. I’ve been ordering from Tiny Prints for awhile and have never been disappointed. We’ll be making photo ornaments this year!

  32. This post made me feel great, because that was the Christmas task I already checked off my list this week, almost. I designed and ordered the cards. I updated the address spreadsheet. I wrote the letter I include for family and close friends. I will still have to address them when they arrive, but you’re right, add a Christmas movie and a peppermint mocha and it’s a great evening, relaxing and productive all rolled into one! My goal was to get our cards out right after Thanksgiving this year because we just moved cross country, and this way people will have our new address without emailing me all season long! :)

    Oh, and I had NO idea you could buy stamps online. That is my new favorite thing. Our post office is always understaffed, and it can take forever if you wait in line to get holiday stamps instead of the generic ones they have in the automated machine. And that’s definitely not a fun activity for two little kids. Plus they have all the options. Nothing I hate more than asking for holiday stamps, and the teller is out, and she huffs at you as she must go retrieve more!

  33. A good friend of mine gave me an excellent idea for prining 5×7 cards from my Etsy template. Toward the end of October, PS Prints has a 70% off sale for their 5×7 double-sided postcards which may be used for cards as well. The best part is I was able to order and pay for my cards on sale and upload the images later (like mid-November after that photo is taken). I know it won’t work for this year but tuck it away for next year. Saved me tons!

  34. Also, if you’re not great at designing but still want an awesome photo card, Google “photo card template” and there are quite a few downloadable FREE templates available online. Just bring it up in Photoshop and drag and drop and resize your photos to fit each blank space, highlight and customize the text and PRESTO! your’ done. Totally way easy!!

    P.S. usps charges shipping because they still have to pay their employees who sort the mail and the gas to get the stuff to your box.

  35. We’re photo card fans too…LOVE, love, LOVE the return stamp idea! Every year I’m either clamoring to find return address labels in the house, or to print plain ones on clear labels…but I’m never in love with them…might have to make this splurge this year! We usually use Shutterfly…but I may check out a couple of these other sites. Thanks!

  36. What do you all do with the cards you receive? I think the one thing that stops me from sending them out is that I don’t really see the point of keeping boxes of cards around the house, and throwing them all in the trash seems so wasteful. I’m toying with the idea of doing cards this year, but that’s the one thing holding me back. Any suggestions/thoughts?

  37. My family votes each year on our favorite Christmas card received and we have it framed and they are all hung on the stairway wall.

    And technically Christmas isn’t over until epiphany on jan. 6th so we are not late if they get out before then!

  38. I personally love sending photo cards with pictures of the kids. Every year for the past two years and this Christmas there has been a new kid in the pictures!(having two kids so close together) I enjoy sending the photo cards more than giving gifts!

  39. I used to send out tons of cards in the mail. After getting married, we started cutting the list down, but we still sent quite a few the past couple of years. This year I plan to only send cards with a picture to family and a few of my husbands friends. The rest will get an email. I figure with email, I can attach several pictures and it won’t cost a thing. I print up a letter on holiday paper, scan it and then send that via email.

    I love getting cards with pictures and also reading about what everyone has been up to. But I never know what to do with it all after the holidays. I hate to throw them away, but also don’t want them floating all over my house.

  40. I noticed your site looks different today…love the new look!

  41. We just got a friend to take our family photo today, so this post is very timely! Thank you for the wonderful links. My goal is to have these ready within the next 3 days. Thanks, Tsh!

  42. Love the suggestions! I’m all about finding ways to create peace in my life nowadays!

  43. Thank you so much for all your PEACEFUL christmas tips. I am already done shopping! Last time this happend was…ummmm…never! So excited

  44. i usually make christmas cards by hand – but send just a few (less than 10). it’s more effort, but feels really special.

  45. I am with you on this!
    After 5 years (grieving for my mom) I finally took the family back to JC Penney for a photo shoot. They renewed my club membership (cheaper) and used the 3.99/sheet coupons I brought. Different sizes for different folks, and we’re good to go! Slip inside the cards I stockpiled and have left over from Christmases past. Yay!
    Send me your address (post it, I dare you) and I’ll mail you a card you’ll love! We homeschool, so “days off” from now on will be full of Christmass prep, and writing assignments will include cards.
    Blessings!

  46. I like getting Christmas cards, but I LOVE it when there’s a handwritten note. Even a sentence. When there’s just a signature, I’m a little disapppointed… But, a personal note is such a delight! Like, that person really, really cares about me and my family.

  47. Tsh, when you design your own cards and then print them like photos, do you just sign the back of the photo print and send them that way? I have wanted to do this, but the prints always have stamped info on the back of the photos (like the date, placed printed, picture number, etc. depending on where I print from) which looks funny to write a note and sign.

  48. Also be sure to check out Pear Tree Greetings or Paper Culture for Pre-made Photo cards. Love your Etsy suggestions, I added Roxter Designs to my list. Where I include a couple of fun iphone/ipad apps for creating photo cards.

    http://www.skinnyscoop.com/list/larissa/best-sites-to-order-custom-holiday-cards

  49. I love receiving Christmas cards every year! Especially now that we’ve moved across country, it’s so fun to see updated pictures of our friends’ families..and, if we’re lucky, a little update on them, as well.

    You have some great options here for stress-free Christmas cards, and I have one more to add to the list. SendOutCards allows you to create custom greeting cards with your own photos and messages and they mail out your cards for you. Best part? It costs less than Wal-mart (and is about 1/2 the price of Shutterfly). You have a lot more design options, and you can even select the date you want the cards sent. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJic3b_MU9Q)

    I posted a video on you-tube showing the difference between Wal-Mart, Shutterfly, and SendOutCards, so you can see for yourself the quality & the price differences. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4dgryibPDUY

    I hope this extra option helps some of you simplify your holidays!

  50. avatar
    FMMama-Anne Arato says:

    I love those Epiphanie bags-the marke ing seems very French…. especially the fact that they are camera bags Despite the fact that my camera is small, it needs a better bag than my purse. These are the bags I could use! I loved the Ginger bag a lot, with all its outer pockets. Thanks for showing the to us…Love from a mom of twins.

  51. Love the camera bags! Especially the Lyric…

  52. I used Paper Culture this year which offers 100% recycled paper. I love them and am excited to sit down and mail them. I ordered them pre-Thanksgiving so the box was at home once we returned from the holidays.

  53. I was wondering the same thing about signing the back of photo cards. I love, love, love the return address stamp that was pictured! I had just fallen in love with it when my husband asked what I’d like for Christmas. I’m excited for it to arrive in the mail and to use it for the fun process of mailing Christmas cards next year!

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