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SPOTLIGHT
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Planning ahead for Christmas will relieve stress, save money

Published on -10/17/2013, 8:02 AM

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As soon as trick-or-treaters finish their holiday haunting, Halloween candy will disappear from stores and something else will fill the shelves. Do you know what comes next? Yes, Christmas.

Unbelievably, on a business trip to Manhattan in the last week of August, I was surprised to see a large craft store already filled with Christmas decorations. It sure seems awfully early to be thinking about Christmas. Or does it?

Being early with thoughts of the holiday season isn't such a bad idea. Remember the hectic last-minute shopping, the late hours put in to finish a handmade gift, the rush to address cards and finish the holiday baking? Whew! It makes me tired just to think about it.

Maybe we all should begin to think about the holidays just a little now. I'll bet we could enjoy the season more if we didn't feel exhausted and broke during most of it.

What can be done now to prepare for Christmas? Lots of things. Think about your normal holiday activities and consider which parts might be done (or at least started) early. Here are a few ideas to help you plan ahead and spread out those holiday costs a little.

* Start the holiday season by making a list of all the things you are likely to spend money on. This will certainly include Christmas gifts, but think also about holiday extras such as gift wrap, decorations, greeting cards, postage, extra groceries for holiday meals and baking, eating out, extra child care, and gasoline for shopping trips and holiday travel. Compare your list to the amount of money you have available to spend at this time of year. The key is to create a budget -- a spending plan that will help you cover seasonal expenses -- and stick to it.

* Start putting away $1 a day from now until December 23. You'll save about $65 from your pocket change for those extra holiday expenses.

* Start thinking about gifts. Make a list of the people you need to buy for and jot down any preliminary ideas you might have. Don't forget the last minute grab-bag gifts we all seem to need, too. Make a goal to complete this list soon. Divide your list by three for the number of gifts to buy per month in October, November and December. For example, if there are 15 names on your gift list, buy five gifts per month to spread out the cost. Watch for sales on any of your gift ideas and when the price is right, buy them and cross them off your list.

* Ask the people on your gift list to begin making "wish lists" for themselves. I always like to give a gift that the recipient wants or needs. But sometimes my family and friends couldn't think of anything when I asked what they wanted. Or they would say the same thing every year. (My dad's standard reply was always "socks." He figured that was a safe bet.) Given a month or two to think about it, everyone will probably come up with a few items they'd like.

Begin a wish list for yourself, too. Then you'll also be prepared when approached with the what-do-you-want-for-Christmas questions.

* If you plan to make any gifts, now is a good time to select patterns, purchase supplies and get started. This will save money only if it is cheaper to make it yourself, so comparison-shop at local gift shops and crafts fairs. (Remember, the cost is doubled if you run out of time to finish a project and have to buy a gift also.) Be realistic about the time you have to complete the project before you invest in supplies. Starting early might save a lot of sleepy-eyed late nights in the future.

* Watch for sale prices on ingredients for holiday baking. Flour, sugar, shortening, oil, dried fruits and canned goods can be stored easily; nuts can be frozen for longer storage. Buy one or two additional baking ingredients every week to spread out the cost.

* Bake several of your favorite recipes ahead and freeze to enjoy later during the holiday season. We have a fact sheet at the Extension office that gives tips for freezing and thawing baked goods.

* Divide your Christmas card list by six for the number of cards to sign and address each week from now through the end of November. Your cards will be ready to go into the mail in early December and you'll save time the rest of the month for other things.

* Keep track of holiday expenses this year so you know the total cost of your holiday spending. Divide the total by 12 to determine the amount to set aside monthly through the coming year so your holiday funds will be saved in advance next year.

Planning and organizing holiday duties now can save time, energy and money when Christmas arrives. By completing some of the tasks ahead, you'll have more time to enjoy the season. You'll thank yourself.

Linda Beech is a Kansas State University Research & Extension agent in Ellis County specializing in family and consumer sciences. lbeech@ksu.edu

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