9 Ways to De-Stress and Spend Less Over the Holidays

by Dagmar Bleasdale on December 4, 2010

I guest-blogged for Amy, the lovely Frugal Mama, while she was on a break after having her fourth child and now I get the honor of hosting one of her always well-written posts.

Takes her suggestions to heart and have fun this holiday season! Making the holidays special for the kids doesn’t have to cost a lot.

“Memorize this word over the next four weeks: Simplify.”

That is how Joanie Derrenbacker began her talk — Holiday Stress or Holiday Simplicity — at our last Mothers of Preschoolers meeting in Syracuse, New York. Now a grandmother to six children and one of our group’s mentor mothers, Joanie has the warmth, confidence and calm of someone who has been through it all.

“Do our kids want a stressed and frazzled mom?” she asked us. “Will people care if we don’t send a seven-paragraph treatise about how smart our children are and how many trips we took this year?”

As mothers of young children, we are growing into the role of orchestrator of the holidays, but sometimes we still need mothering ourselves. It was soothing to hear advice from someone who has big-picture perspective.

“Will our kids care if we don’t make 10 kinds of cookies?”  Joanie continued. “Don’t let Martha Stewart intimidate you.  Yes, every single one of her cookies are perfect.” But if baking and decorating is not our thing, we can marvel at their beauty and then simply turn the page. “Everyone has different talents,” she reminded us. “And most kids would be thrilled with the same old chocolate chip cookies with red and green sprinkles on top.”

It’s easy to turn on auto-pilot when the holidays roll around and simply repeat exactly what our own families did. But sometimes that’s not always right for our time, when we might feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff in our houses or the ever-quickening pace of modern life.

Joanie suggests, Take a moment to ask yourself:

  • What is my goal this Christmas?
  • Do I want my home to reflect wonderful foods and traditions?
  • Do I want my kids to be caring and thoughtful?

“Make this Christmas a time when your family will remember feeling special,” she implored.

Here are some of Joanie’s ideas for simplifying the holidays so you can enjoy them (and save money too):

1.  Make up your Christmas list early: Pare it down wherever you can, and stick to it.

2.  Christmas cards: Skip them this year, or send an emailed photo and one line about each family member.  Or send Valentine’s cards instead.  What else is there to do, and who wouldn’t need a bit of cheer in the mailbox, in the deep gray of February?

3.  Stop the flood of stuff: Agree with the grandparents on one gift per child or a dollar amount per person.  With extended family, agree not to exchange, or draw names and have each person give a single gift to one other person. Ask your child to select one or two (new or old) toys to donate to kids who don’t have much.

4. Turn off the TV: Commercials tend to make us feel bad that we haven’t bought enough.  Instead, cook together, read books in front of the fire, wrap presents, or listen to holiday music.

5. Pay with cash: Borrowing money to buy gifts beyond your means only complicates life.

6. Start stocking your freezer now: Make up batches of lasagnas and spaghetti sauces so you don’t have to worry about every meal when life gets busy with guests and activities.

7. Forget wrapping paper: The gift wrap industry accounts for approximately $2.6 billion a year in retail sales. Use what you have: children’s drawings, paper grocery bags turned inside out, comic strips, or last year’s saved paper and ribbons.

8. Make a big deal out of family traditions (honor the old or create your own): Play up the Christmas carols, the hot cider with cinnamon, the tree-lighting ceremonies, the holiday specials like the Grinch Stole Christmas, or delivering goodies to neighbors.

9. Think of ways to give of ourselves: Invite an international student over for Christmas dinner.  University students who can’t afford to travel home are often lonely and longing for connection. Contact the international student services office of your local college or university.

“Affluenza is a disease of our culture and era that we have to battle all the time,” Joanie said, which made me feel better that I wasn’t the only one. “We are all prey to wanting more and more. As parents, we are training our children whether we realize it or not:  If we want a mountain of gifts under the tree, they will want a mountain of gifts under the tree.”

Sometimes it feels easier to just go through the motions and buy the gifts and continue the way we always have.  But we can make subtle yet deep changes in our lives if we remember that “love is not in a package, it’s in us.”  Think of ways to invest giving with your time and effort, and you’ll save money and make life better.

Amy Suardi loves finding the silver lining to living on less. She recently moved from Manhattan to Syracuse with her husband and four children. Subscribe to her blog Frugal Mama to get free bi-weekly ideas on saving money and making life better.

Do you do something special to de-stress the holidays? Share your tips!

And don’t forget to head over to my Holiday Gift Guide for ideas. Hint: I mention two free, frugal photography gifts and two cool giveaways!

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Cheryl @ Swap Savers December 20, 2010 at 3:07 AM

Great tips! I would add:
#1 Swap Toys with a friend (your kids will never know the difference)
#2 Use Reward points to purchase gifts
#3 Homemade Gifts & Cards (i.e. bake cookies)


paty martinez December 7, 2010 at 9:42 PM

Hi there, i love this season, and try to do a special connection with my 3 kidoos so i plan 3 or 4 activities to do before Christmas eve.. maybe bake a pair of cookies (not a full lot), do some brief shopping on our local market, put on the ornaments on the house ( not the tree because its to stressing), print some coloring pages like the ones on my family fun. everything else do it at night… when you have time for focusing and calm to do it. have a great holiday season.. with all my heart!


Amy @ Frugal Mama December 9, 2010 at 3:09 AM

Hi Patty,

I like how you plan ahead some activities, and you put a limit on how many. It’s so easy to get in the spirit and think we can do it all, then regret it later.

Best holiday wishes,


ryan December 6, 2010 at 5:02 PM

Coming from someone that ALWAYS waits until the last minute with Christmas shopping, I decided that this year I would get it out of the way early and live December stress free. Well, I have taken a little bit of action and started already. I have a list made, what I want to get for who, and plan on crossing everything off this weekend as I will have free time! I assume it will be a good feeling once I am done!



Amy @ Frugal Mama December 7, 2010 at 2:45 PM

Hi Ryan,

I love the idea of getting your Christmas shopping done early so you can have a more relaxing December. Plus you avoid the crush at the stores. And yes, create lists — it’s so satisfying to cross things off!



Diane Brooks December 6, 2010 at 12:10 AM

Hi, thanks for the great suggestions. I took my daughters shopping for a special Christmas child today. His name is Gabriel (how appropriate!). My girls helped to select clothes, toys, socks and shoes for Gabriel. One daughter looked at me with a huge grin on her face and said, “this is fun!” I love helping them focus on someone whose needs are much greater than ours.


Amy @ Frugal Mama December 7, 2010 at 2:47 PM

Hi Diane,

What a great teaching moment! It must be hard for many children to buy things for others, when they’d like to have them for themselves. But I love that your daughter is already seeing the joy in giving!



Jennifer December 5, 2010 at 9:38 PM

Great post! Thanks for sharing this information. I still can’t believe it’s Christmas time already!


Amy @ Frugal Mama December 7, 2010 at 2:49 PM

Hi Jennifer,

I know, it sneaks up on us doesn’t it? It seems like school just started, and then there’s the whole Thanksgiving production. I’m glad some of these tips might help — I have to continually remind my own self to simplify!



Duni December 4, 2010 at 12:30 PM

Great advice, Dagmar!

I made most of my gifts myself this year plus a few handmade items from sites like Etsy or Dawand – mostly to avoid the crazy shopping crowds! I have also long dispensed with wrapping paper. Mine come in fabric gift bags or I recycle used paper.

wishing you a fabulous 2. Advent!

Duni (from Westphalia, Germany)


Amy @ Frugal Mama December 7, 2010 at 2:51 PM

Hi Duni from Germany!

I love the idea of handmade gifts — made by you or someone else. Etsy has such fantastic treats, and my children have always loved toys I’ve gotten there.

Good for you for using fabric bags instead of wrap, or recycling.

I hope you have a great Christmas!



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