ORLANDO, Fla. - The holidays are a great time of year, but they definitely bring about a set of challenges. There's so much to get done, and it seems like there's never enough time to do it.
But like anything else, you can hack the holidays to make them a little easier.
"Prioritize, you absolutely have to prioritize," said Jen Burg, of TheSuburbanMom.com. "I swear, from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, it's just go, go, go, go, go constantly."
One of the biggest stressors is planning the big holiday meals. Burg said while you're thinking about your priorities, think about what's actually important.
"It's more about just being together, and for my family, it's never been a big food thing," said Burg.
That's why she's made some concessions -- instead of worrying about the parts of the meal that make her anxious, like the turkey -- she orders the turkey from a local restaurant or grocery store, and worries more about the items that are more rooted in tradition for her family.
"You absolutely cannot do everything, so taking the most important, the family traditions, the family dishes and making those the most important and filling in with the things you can buy ready-made, like the turkey, are a great option," she said. "I am perfectly happy saving that time and that energy and buying. There are plenty of places around here that make delicious turkey and I don't think anyone would even know I didn't cook it, except that I saved the time and no one saw me slaving away over it."
The other big recommendation she has-- take pictures of your fridge and pantry before you go shopping. That way, you don't end up needing more trips thinking you had something you didn't-- because you can check the photo when you're at the store. You can also consider using apps like Instacart or Shipt to get your groceries delivered right to your door from your local Publix. You can make the ordering lists right from your home, so you can check for items you already have while do it.
Gifts are the next big panic -- Burg uses Google Docs to stay organized -- and shares the document with her husband.
"I literally put down all the people that we need to buy gifts for, if I've purchased something, what I've purchased," said Burg. "I have a column that's my budget, I've got a column for what I've actually spent because that's not always the same, higher or lower and I can change things and add things and take things away in real time and so can he. My husband often helps me find things that I am looking for or coming up with ideas and things like that, so we have it all in one place. With it written down not only do we make sure we have everyone covered, reasonably where we need to be on budget but it also helps for those last minute, 'What did I get for this person, and where in my house is it?' so at least I know what it is even if I can't find it."
Also, Burg also has a secret for stacking savings on gifts -- buy a gift card from someone who doesn't want it online.
"You can get them at a discount and then you can use those to buy gifts or something for yourself or whatever else and you can combine them with coupons because you're just using a gift card," she said. "There are all kinds of websites and even eBay where you can buy gift cards. Depending on how popular the gift card is depends on how much of a percentage you can get. Something a little bit less popular, you may get a 10 to 12 percent savings, some things that are very popular, you may only save 5 percent, but when you're spending $100, who doesn't want to save $5-10 on a gift card just so they can turn around and buy a gift?"
When it comes to decorating, Burg said no matter how many decorations you actually put out -- the key to a holiday home is making your home smell like Christmas with a simmering stove top potpourri.
"It's as simple as some oranges, cinnamon sticks, some whole cloves and I throw in some nutmeg and sometimes I throw in some cranberries as well for a little pop of color," said Burg. "The base is just water, and as it empties out and the water goes away, I just add another cup of water and just keep letting it simmer as low as it goes."
Of course, as all this is going on, you want to make memories with your children, and it's an added bonus if what you're doing with them actually checks items off your to-do list.
"The Christmas decorating, the tree is definitely a family event in my family," said Burg. "Everybody decorates the tree, that is not a mom job, everybody."
The kids can also help with wrapping presents for other family members, with their own handmade wrappings.
"With three daughters, I have more artwork than I know what to do with in this house," said Burg. "While I save some of it, you certainly cannot save it all, so there are two things you can do with kids' artwork. You can use it as wrapping paper, but you can also make bows. If you pair it with brown paper, just plain craft paper, it makes a really cute package. They actually don't mind me cutting up their artwork as long as I'm using it for something fun."
Christmas cookie decorating is another fun way to get them involved while getting some of the prep done -- and you can do it relatively mess-free.
"I put the icing into a condiment bottle, empty condiment bottle and then they can just squeeze on the icing and they can actually make fun designs, which my kids think is great," said Burg.
And lastly, her favorite tip is a tradition started by her mother.
"My mom has always given everybody Christmas ornaments," said Burg. "That's what we use for gift tags, everybody gets a special ornament. She's always been very good at picking them out for the person who receives them, so when my middle child started playing soccer, she got a little girl playing soccer. She takes a Sharpie or paint pen and writes on the back of them, 'To whoever, from Mimi'--that's what the kids call her -- and the year."
That all circles back to having fun decorating -- Burg said every year, her kids love pulling out the ornaments and reminiscing about all their hobbies and trips and important moments.
"They are sometimes a chore to put up, I will admit that, I'm like, 'Oh, it's time to decorate again,' but as I drag them out, I'm like, 'Oh, I remember when we got this, and we got this on this trip and it was a great trip,' so Christmas ornaments are a great way to go down memory lane."
In the end, the most important thing is to have fun.
"When momma's not happy, ain't nobody happy, and nobody needs that for Christmas, that's not what its all about," said Burg. "Do your best to actually enjoy the holiday season."
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