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12 weeks until Christmas: prepare your holiday budget now

You’re about to hit the floor — as of today, there’s 12 weeks until Christmas. Yes, 12 weeks until December 25. That seems awfully soon, in some ways, but in other ways, you might be wondering why I’m bringing the holiday up. 12 weeks is still a bit of time off, and there’s plenty of other holidays and events beforehand.

I love the holiday season, but like most people, it is a crazily busy time for our family. It’s easy to get frustrated that this time of year we often cherish exhausts us before December 25 even rolls around.

Traditions, a hectic lifestyle, and conflicting schedules can steamroll a family’s good intentions to have a simple holiday season. In order to savor the festive season without wishing for its end, you need to plan.

When you take care of the little details in advance, the overall holiday season is much more enjoyable.

12weekschristmasLike last year, Simple Mom will run a weekly series on Fridays called 12 Weeks to a Peaceful Christmas. 12 weeks, 12 small weekly projects that should only take a few hours, planning a wee bit for the holidays.

When December hits, as your family schedule runneth over, most of the details are done, leaving you to revel in the season.

12 Weeks to a Peaceful Christmas

  • 12: Solidify the Christmas budget
  • 11: Organize your mailing addresses for Christmas cards, and explore alternative ideas
  • 10: Start (or finish!) gift shopping
  • 9: Research ways to donate gifts or time as a family
  • 8: Inventory your holiday decor and list the items to look for on sale
  • 7: Finalize the holiday calendar and schedule dates and events
  • 6: Prepare a a new family tradition, such as a Jesse Tree
  • 5: Design, buy, or order your Christmas cards and stamps, and address envelopes
  • 4: Decorate for Christmas
  • 3: Make meal plans; batch cook and freeze meals for the next few weeks
  • 2: Make and freeze cookie dough, and prepare any food gifts
  • 1: Clean the home, prepare for guests, or prepare to be a guest

Week 12: Solidify the Christmas Budget

If you haven’t started saving yet for Christmas, it might be a bit challenging.  But it can definitely be done — you don’t need to rely on credit to have a good season.

When you save a little each month all year, the Christmas season becomes something worth anticipating.  As Dave Ramsey says, Christmas is not an emergency – it falls on December 25 every year, so you know it’s coming.

Every family has unique circumstances and spending needs, but I obviously advocate keeping Christmas simple. You don’t need to spend much to have a great holiday.

This weekend, plan what you think your Christmas will cost. I created a simple worksheet to percolate your brain about all your line items. Click here to download it, or you can head to the downloads page and find it there.

You definitely don’t need to budget for each of items — our family has budgeted for about half of this. But these little things can easily add up, and if you don’t plan for them, they’ll knock on your wreath-adorned door when you least expect.

Total your line items, and divide by the months left until December (right now, that would be three). That’s the amount you need to save starting this month to meet your Christmas budget.

christmas ornaments
Photo by Jeff Belmonte

If That Number is Scary

• If you haven’t yet saved for Christmas, that number may seem hefty. Decide now that for 2010, you’ll start saving in January, so that divided over 12 months, it’ll feel like nothing.

• Don’t rely on any sort of credit card. Christmas is absolutely not worth spending money that isn’t yours.

• Choose to embrace a season of simplicity, and decrease your budget. Go for handmade decor, and severely limit your gift giving. It’s more enjoyable anyway, even if you had money to spare. We’ll share ways to simplify gift giving and decor in the coming weeks.

• If your income is cut short, plan on a seasonal holiday job. This provides great additional income with no commitment after the Christmas season. For years, I’ve worked as a gift wrapper at Williams-Sonoma, and it’s a blast. Many stores start stocking up their seasonal help now, so don’t wait to look for a position. Apply for one this weekend.

Have you thought about Christmas yet? How do you budget for the season? Have you ever gotten a holiday job?

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  1. steadymom

    I’m really looking forward to this series. Thanks, Tsh!

    Several years ago we decided to make Christmas much simpler. We don’t buy many gifts for anyone (ourselves or extended family) – we often donate funds toward a charity for relatives who we would normally buy for. I just can’t bear to get stressed out looking for “something” that no one really needs when there are so many in need around the world. The side benefit is that it keeps our festivities simple as well!

    .-= steadymom´s last blog ..Visit The Lovely List =-.

    • sally bjornsen

      Earlier this year, (September 1st) I started It’s a blog made up of over 40 women from all over the U.S. and one in Canada and the U.K. Collectively we have all decided to abstain from purchasing apparel for one year. Gulp. The hard part is not buying apparel for myself while I am buying gifts for others for Christmas. It’s a great way to get some perspective on spending and observing your habits. I must say this month has been the most difficult. The diet ends on August 31st, 2010. We are looking for new dieters. People can join up until Dec. 31st 2009.
      .-= sally bjornsen´s last blog ..I Am Feeling Weak…. =-.

  2. Christi {Jealous Hands}

    I’m glad to see you’re doing this series again – I really enjoyed it last year. Our budget this year is basically non-existent, due to my husband being out of work most of the year. We’ve already talked with family about “toning down” Christmas this year and were pleased to find that everyone was in agreement! So our Christmas will be much simpler this year.
    .-= Christi {Jealous Hands}´s last blog ..things I’ve learned {or remembered} this week =-.

  3. Aimee

    Super series, Tsh. Isn’t that what Christmas is about, Peace on earth?!

    Can’t wait to apply it to our home and enjoy a peaceful Christmas!
    .-= Aimee´s last blog ..The Beef Chronicles:Tacos with Salsa Cruda =-.

  4. Tabitha (From Single to Married)

    Wow – really? I can’t believe it, only 12 weeks! Maybe it’s because I’m pregnant with our first and our little guy is due at the end of January so I’ve been counting weeks FOREVER! But when you put it like this, it doesn’t seem so far away.

    So in answer to your question – no, I haven’t really thought about Christmas yet. Nurseries, labor and babies, now that I’ve thought a lot about! 🙂
    .-= Tabitha (From Single to Married)´s last blog ..Trying to Agree on Art =-.

  5. Tiffany

    Several years ago my husband and I came up with a Christmas budget and we save that money each month. It’s so nice to go into Christmas with the money already set aside. It also keeps us from getting carried away because there is only so much money. I’m looking forward to this series.
    .-= Tiffany´s last blog ..Potato Soup =-.

  6. Amy Reads Good Books

    Yikes! Christmas! Yes, I suppose I do need to start thinking about it. Thanks for the great tips on how to plan a budget!
    .-= Amy Reads Good Books´s last blog ..Booking through the Lies =-.

  7. Kara

    I’m determined that just because our income has been cut and we’re facing some challenges our Christmas will still be a time of joy and giving and, especially for my children, a time of delight!

    All that to say, this series is coming along at the perfect time for me and I’m looking forward to it!

    Best Wishes,
    .-= Kara´s last blog ..October Socktober! =-.

  8. Erin

    What a great series. I will definitely be reading with interest. Christmas tends to stress me out!

    One thing my family started doing last year that I think is just so awesome is that each adult spends only $5 on each other adult. So instead of spending tons of money, we are challenged to come up with inexpensive but meaningful gifts. We hunt sales and buy one get one offers and even garage sales. It’s more time consuming than just buying a random gift would be, but it is also more fun and so much more meaningful. 🙂
    .-= Erin´s last blog ..Lots of Stuff, Mostly Random =-.

  9. Susy

    Well done on this detailed plan aimed to help people with Christmas preparations!
    I’m looking forward to reading more as Christmas gets closer!

    (For those of you who may be interested, I have recently started a Christmas site at:
    Included are some tips to help save money during the holiday season.)

    Keep up the great work!
    .-= Susy´s last blog ..Simple Christmas Decoration Ideas =-.

  10. LobotoME

    Last year for the kids we implemented a new gift buying strategy that keeps it simple – they each get {one gift from santa, one want (something that they ask for), one need (generally snow gear), and one read (a new book)} in addition to stockings filled with art supplies & creative stuff. And we asked the grandparents to limit it to just one gift per child (and encouraged donations to their college funds instead). We are on board fully with this but the grandparents are still learning…. 😉
    .-= LobotoME´s last blog ..{ a day in the life of ME – alli from bird dog press } =-.

  11. Jenn

    Wonderful! Funds are limited this year, but thankfully, not as small as last year. My extended family has agreed to continue last year’s homemade Christmas rule–which limits the amount of money (but not time) we spend on each other’s gifts. My husband and I are making on relatively large purchase for our home soon, and that will do as our gift to each other. We’ve worked hard this year, been blessed, and we’re going to enjoy the holidays without worrying about money. I’m baking LOTS of cookies (on the cheap) to give to friends and family, and will do some sewing, knitting and crafting for a few others. I highly encourage the handmade Christmas, because it’s a great outlet for stress, promotes creativity, and really, who can’t bake a dozen or more cookies for less than 10 bucks? Give everybody 3 or 4 tied with a pretty ribbon. They’ll love them and not have “stuff” to clutter their homes come January, either.
    .-= Jenn´s last blog ..Katie’s Surgery =-.

  12. Chantel

    OH Thank you so much! I am a total freak about organizing and am so on top of this stuff, but this year has had lots of changes (3 kids, move, new job, big house to clean…) I haven’t even realized this was here till I saw your post! Thanks for the reminder I am going to share this on my blog…Awesome ideas, I am so excited for a peaceful Christmas! (last year I had a baby instead)
    .-= Chantel´s last blog ..Fall yummys for your tummys =-.

  13. Emily

    So glad to see this. Things are going to be tight around here this year after our new roof drained most extra spending money. It is a great idea to plan a budget early… it will give us some time to settle into the new, simpler expectations and also thinking about it all from this distance will eliminate any “Oh, but it’s CHRISTMAS after all” emotionality in our decision making.

    In our extended families, the adults have agreed not to buy gifts for one another. I am just happy to see my brothers; I don’t need a gift. And the children receive one gift given by all the aunts and uncles collectively. That helps things stay manageable and keeps it from becoming a consumerism-fest.
    .-= Emily´s last blog ..Darkness =-.

  14. Kika

    We also keep Christmas simple with a budget (saved over 12 months), limit of three gifts/child & stockings, extra $ put aside for special food and tree, etc. We handmake cards most years and each year look for a couple special ornaments or decorations – usually at a big local craft show each October – but keep everything toned down. I begin buying gifts/stocking stuffers in July at the latest and have pretty much everything completed by now. This allows me to take advantage of great sales so this year I greatly underspent my not so big gift budget!

    • Kika

      Forgot to say that I’m looking forward to the rest of your series!

  15. Mama Bird

    We are definitely on board with simplifying Christmas. It’s a very stressful time for me in terms of spending it with my family who do not know the meaning of less is more. I love that they love our kids so much to want to just give and give, but it’s hard on my kids who are quiet and just want to take their time with things. They have too many gifts to get through to make it fun for anyone. It’s teaching them to just tear through opening gifts and that just drives me nuts.

    Okay, deep breaths…getting anxiety about it again!

    This year, however, we will be spending Christmas in Australia with my inlaws. They are the exact opposite. While I grew up with mountains of gifts, my husband grew up getting a few. I like it so much better. Whereas I’m eternally grateful for how I was raised, my parents simply express love in different way. Anyway…we have to PACK our kids Xmas gifts this year, along with others and our clothes, so we are keeping it all small.

    We also use to draw names with family members. We get one person (adult, kids aren’t included in the draw names) to buy for. We set an amount, usually $50, so we aren’t bombarded with lots of little things we don’t really want and instead get something nice that we want. Saves everyone money and more importantly (in my opinion), TIME.
    .-= Mama Bird´s last blog ..Great Quotes, Great Books and Gratitude =-.

  16. Tiffany

    Great post. I’ve been working on Christmas presents for everyone for a few weeks. My mother-in-law will be visiting in late October, and I’m going to have all the gifts for that side of the family purchased by that time so that I can send them back with her and avoid shipping fees. And the holidays are so much more fun when you aren’t out shopping every weekend!
    .-= Tiffany´s last blog ..Truly Awful Wipes…and How I Rescued Them =-.

  17. Jen@Balancing Beauty and Bedlam

    This is going to be a great series. I’m working on my post right now, “How to stay within your holiday budget,” with a huge emphasis on simplicity.
    Years ago, we weren’t in a place to spend any money on gifts and we started our “Three gifts” Christmas.
    To this day, we still save their big present until January 1st because we purchase it during all the after Christmas sales. It allows our holiday season to be virtually stress free and extends the fun just a bit longer.
    Now that we have teens, it’s a bit more of a challenge, but the young ones never care that their most cherished gifts were yard sale finds throughout the year.
    .-= Jen@Balancing Beauty and Bedlam´s last blog ..Frugal Fashionista – one stop shopping =-.

  18. Sarah Martina

    This is such a great resource! Thanks! I’m not like many of the commenters I’m seeing (lol!), I haven’t been completely on top of it this year (for whatever reason), but I am glad I found this site to help kick me into gear! I’ll be opening a Christmas savings account to get things started this January for 2010. Thanks for sharing!
    .-= Sarah Martina´s last blog ..It’s *Limelight* Time! =-.

  19. meredith

    i think i threw up in my mouth a little bit just by reading the title….i can’t believe christmas is so close. thanks for this article to help get me prepared!!

  20. Renee

    We have done most of our Christmas shopping already for the year. Believe it or not, most of our gifts are second hand. We always have our eye out for things that are in second hand shops or yard sales that look brand new. It’s better for our budget an the environment. Some of our find this year…

    A hoodie with the tag still on it for my brother
    A PDA holder that was never taken out of the box for my mom
    Antique tins for my husband’s mom
    Trading/gaming cards that are still in the plastic for another brother

  21. Amber Schmidt

    I am so in love with this series! I cannot wait! I am already getting excited for the holiday season and SO incredibly glad to learn that you are doing this! I wasn’t reading at this time last year so I am anxiously awaiting each post!
    .-= Amber Schmidt´s last blog ..Cardboard Testimonies… =-.

  22. Lisa

    I love the idea of preparing for a peaceful and simple Christmas season. One idea I’ve heard and thought was meaningful around gift giving was to limit gifts to children to three, all of which are related to the gifts of the wise men. One for “physical” health (which relates to the traditional uses for Myrhh) — they expanded this to be “physical” fun like a scooter or new sneakers, ect. One for their mental or spiritual health (relates to the traditional uses for frankincense). And one for just pure fun (relates to gold). Thought I’d share this idea since it incorporated the gift giving into a specific part of the Christmas story.
    .-= Lisa´s last blog ..Five Things to Share =-.

    • Tsh

      We do this! I’ll write more about this on the week that focuses on shopping for gifts.

  23. MamaRose

    Finally, some pre-planning made easy!! I absolutely LOVE, LOVE, the holiday season and usually tend to get in way over my head in everything holiday related, leaving very little time for myself to sit and relax. This is going to be a great help…thank you!!
    .-= MamaRose´s last blog ..Antiquing in the Mother Lode! =-.

  24. Hilary

    Thankfully, my Mary Kay business boosts into my “holiday job.” I love to gift wrap and help people find the perfect gifts for their friends and family members (always have), so this is one of my favorite times of year in my business!
    .-= Hilary´s last blog ..September Newsletter ~ $25 FREE =-.

  25. Tashia

    Oooh, this year will be tough for us. Last year was nice because we had been saving a little money each month (thanks to Dave Ramsey), but this year has been very tough financially, due to the economy.
    I was lucky to find a few great items for the kids at garage sales this year. We have also talked to the extended family and agreed to keep it very simple & cheap this year.
    .-= Tashia´s last blog ..How to Make a Household Planner =-.

  26. Heather

    Like the other commenters, I’m so glad you’re going to do this series. Christmas can be so stressful and expensive – which totally distracts from what it’s really about. I remember listening to a talk from an organizational expert and she suggested just cutting back 10% on what you do for Christmas, whether that means less decoration, less presents, less baking, and so on. I skipped giving out presents to all the neighbors (usually something I baked – ahhh, nothing quite like frosting sugar cookies frantically) – just doing that made a difference in how I enjoyed the season.

    Anyway, I’m glad you’re thinking ahead, though. I’m still focused on getting the rest of our Halloween decorations up and planning for our party in three weeks!
    .-= Heather´s last blog ..Shameless Plug: Mrs. Meyer’s All-Purpose Cleaner =-.

  27. hillary

    I’m so glad I found this series. It felt so much better to see a clear, plan laid out in front of me instead of waiting and then stressing which has been my regular Christmas plan these last few years.

    I specifically like how one week is implement a new family tradition. We have young children and are just starting our own traditions and we have a lot of great ideas, but thinking about introducing one new one every year seems doable.

    Thanks Tsh.

  28. ~Carla~

    I’ve been saving since May since we’re on a tight budget and can’t put out a lot of $$ at once, so in a month we’ll be all set! 🙂 We have 4 kids so it does add up, but I plan on keeping it simple this year and staying *UNDER* budget! 🙂 Looking forward to more posts on this!! 🙂
    .-= ~Carla~´s last blog ..Hello world & October Goals! =-.

  29. Jamie @ Six Bricks High

    You have no idea how much I am looking forward to this series. I’m so longing for a simpler life…not just a simpler Christmas.
    .-= Jamie @ Six Bricks High´s last blog ..How I Met My Best Friend =-.

  30. Micha

    Thank you for this series. I really can’t believe, that Chrismas is up to the next door, but okay, we’ll manage it with the help of your wonderful ideas!
    .-= Micha´s last blog ..Quittendessert =-.

  31. Leisa Hammett

    Been awhile since I’ve checked in on you. Always love what I read & see. I’ve had a Christmas budget for five years now. I have $10 a week deposited into a xmas acct. (I’m a single mother of one.) I’ve also already purchased my xmas gifts for all but my daughter. And, I keep that simple. Christmas in our culture has become about excess. I dropped out of the cultural norm nearly 20 years ago on this issue. It so totally misses the point of the intentional humble birth….
    .-= Leisa Hammett´s last blog ..An Icon, a Festival & a Book =-.

  32. The Working Home Keeper

    This is the first year my husband and I have set aside a small amount each month for Christmas. I’m glad we did because a few months ago, my husband lost his job. So Christmas money-wise is already taken care of. I would however, like to put the focus back on the true meaning of Christmas for our family. And actually enjoy the holidays instead of stress over them. Looking forward to the rest of the series!
    .-= The Working Home Keeper´s last blog ..Market Day – October 3rd =-.

  33. Imene

    I always wait until the very last minute because I dread spending so much money and it just makes it worse.
    I will try to follow your plan this year. Thank you for the post
    .-= Imene´s last blog ..Gratitude sunday =-.

  34. prerna

    I love this idea! I’ll be following the series and doing each project every week.. How wonderful.. This year, there’ll be no last-minute rushing around:-)
    Thank you!
    .-= prerna´s last blog ..Being a Home Maker: Meal Planning =-.

  35. Cara

    What a great way to start this series. I can’t wait to read the rest!
    .-= Cara´s last blog ..Re-balancing =-.

  36. Jim Bauer

    As I’m an avid saver, I found your tips so far to be good ones. Planning is certainly key in anything we do. The lack of it costs a lot of money and a lot of people don’t realize this. Thanks for sharing.
    .-= Jim Bauer´s last blog ..PART TWO: BRINGING HOME THE BACON =-.

  37. Mary @ Parenthood

    I can’t believe only twelve weeks! My girl is going to be one before I know it and it seems like it was only a few months ago that she was born!

    There are so many things to get done before Christmas and I think the idea of simplifying Christmas would be so nice. Part of me wants a really simple Christmas. And part of me doesn’t know how to talk to the family to make it happen. Can I really deny the little kids the chance to experience the excesses of Christmas? I loved all the unwrapping and stockings etc. But that’s not what I want them to value.

    So tips on how to communicate to other family members about simplifying Christmas would be welcome over here…
    .-= Mary @ Parenthood´s last blog ..October 14, 2009 =-.

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