10 Holiday Hacks to Make the Most of a Joyful, yet Hectic Season

Planning for the holidays? At some point, we’ve all found ourselves with a bit of a post-holiday hangover because we’ve either procrastinated, overspent, overscheduled, or forgotten to set aside time for ourselves. Start following these ten holiday hacks today to save your sanity this holiday season!

First, the elephant in the room. We've got to talk about gifts, because buying bad gifts is a waste of money, and choosing the right gift is often more stressful than it has to be. The good news is, you can take these first four easy steps right now to reduce the stress around gift-giving, and even get better at giving (and getting) meaningful gifts:

1. Create a handy gift list

Create a handy gift list. Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash.

Image: Yes, like Santa. Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash.

Never let the process of choosing the right gift for a loved one stress you out again. Use your favorite mobile note-taking app (e.g. Notes, Wunderlist, even Google Sheets) to maintain a list of your gift ideas for friends and family throughout the year. You’ll be surprised how often hints drop in regular conversation that open the door for a thoughtful (and affordable!) gift.

Your handy gift idea list will make your life easier in a few ways:

  • Stress Less. You won’t find yourself struggling to come up with a holiday gift idea at the last minute.
  • Save Money. You’ll find that the most meaningful gift ideas are often very affordable; it really is the thought that counts.
  • Give Better Gifts. Record a few options for each person in your list. Then you can cross-shop for deals (deals which may mean you can afford a higher quality option for the recipient).
  • Reuse It. You can use the same list for holidays and birthdays, and carry over the best unused gift ideas across different gift-giving occasions.

2. Create your own wishlist

Keep another handy list of things you yourself could really use. That way, if someone asks you what you’d like for the holidays, you have a meaningful response ready to go. You might think that’s a little choosey, but think of it this way: when you give a gift, you’d love to know that the recipient is getting a lot of value out of it. Put yourself in the shoes of someone shopping for you; they’re probably thinking the same thing, so help them out if they ask for pointers.

3. Use your gift cards

Before you spend your hard-earned cash on your gift list, take inventory of any gift cards you have lying around. If a gift card has gone forgotten and unused for a while, now’s the time to check in with the retailer to see if you can check off any gifts for others. Chances are, you’ll discover some pre-holiday deals along the way!

4. Shop early

Shop the Kaftan Life pre-holiday sale, kicking off on Sunday, 11/17/19!

Image: Look out for the Kaftan Life pre-holiday sale, launching this Sunday, 11/17/19!

If you’ve completed item #1 on this list of holiday hacks, shopping doesn’t have to be a last minute rush. You can start shopping early in the season to reduce your stress and save some money.

Shopping early affords you the flexibility to wait for good deals. I like to set up price alerts for items on my gift list before Black Friday, especially if they’re at the high end of my budget, and wait for a bargain to come along. Then if a deal comes along for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, or at any other point in the leadup to holidays, you’re in position to jump on it. camelcamelcamel is a free and easy-to-use price tool if you do a lot of shopping on Amazon. Some more advanced price alert tools like Honey will let you track prices across multiple e-tailers.

Planning gifts is one way to better budget for the holidays. Holiday hack #5 below takes budgeting even further by giving you the full picture of your holiday spending, and where it might make sense to make some compromises that you’ll thank yourself for in the new year.

5. Budget your holiday spending

Create a holiday budget to avoid a post-holiday spending hangover. Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash.

Image: Set a budget ahead of the holidays to avoid finding yourself in a post-holiday spending hangover. Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash.

It never feels good to start out the new year needing to pinch pennies. Here’s how to avoid a spending hangover in 2020, step by step, from a former finance professional:

  • Create a spreadsheet (or for a starting point, copy mine and customize it).
  • Categorize your spending and set limits that make sense for you. I like to set up categories for gifts, travel, hosting, and miscellaneous expenses.
  • I like to include a small buffer under "miscellaneous" so I don’t set myself up for failure if a gift or experience costs a little more than I expected.

6. Break out your slow cooker

Make your life easier when hosting holiday dinners and parties by utilizing your slow cooker! If you ask me, one of the best parts of the holidays is the variety of hearty, savory foods on offer, and a slow cooker makes them easy to prepare for a crowd without taking over your budget or your schedule. As a bonus, it’ll make your home smell amazing. Here are some of my personal favorites from around the internet:

7. Lift your mood with seasonal scents…

Try a seasonal stovetop potpourri to fill your home with decadent aromas on a budget! Photo by Mel Poole on Unsplash.

Image: Use fragrant seasonal ingredients to create an affordable stovetop potpourri. Photo by Mel Poole on Unsplash.

Speaking of filling your home with nice aromas, there are easy ways to create seasonal scents without throwing bundles of money at candles or incense. We previously extolled the virtues of a great stovetop potpourri. Just throw some fragrant spices and/or citrus into a small saucepan of water and bring it to a simmer to release all those wonderful aromas. Here are a few of my favorite stovetop potpourri blends (also called simmer pots):

  • Citrus. Lemon peel/slices, orange or clementine peel/slices, whole cloves
  • Pumpkin Spice. Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, whole cloves
  • Gingerbread. Cinnamon, ginger, almond extract, whole cloves
  • Mulled Wine. Orange peel/slices, cinnamon, vanilla extract, star anise pods

Don’t worry too much about ingredient quantities… It’s safe to experiment, and your desired potency will depend on the size of your space. Generally, I’ll use 2 cups of water, one of each citrus peel or diced citrus fruit, a teaspoon of ground or chopped spices, ½ teaspoon of liquid extracts, 3-4 whole cloves, and 1-2 star anise pods or cinnamon sticks. If your simmer pot becomes too potent, just add some more water! Other nice aromas to experiment with include juniper berries, pine sprigs and cardamom.

8. … and cozy home accents

Add a few cozy home accents to your home to lift your spirits throughout the holidays. Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash.

Image: Add a few touches to your living space that bring you joy throughout the holiday season. Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash.

It’s easy to let “little” things like going to work in the dark and returning home in the dark get you down. This tip is really about overcoming that gloomy feeling by accenting your living space with a few things that bring you joy. For me, it’s soft lighting throughout my home and a favorite blanket on the couch. For you, it might be a candle or two (or ten), an affordable twinkly lighting accent, or some holiday decorations.

9. Make time for yourself

Take some time to focus on your own needs during the holidays. Photo by Georgia de Lotz on Unsplash.

Image: What, you don't have a Feel-Good tray? Photo by Georgia de Lotz on Unsplash.

Surviving the holidays is a balancing act. Every advertiser on the planet is yelling at you to think about others (with your wallet, mainly), but it’s important to take a moment to focus on yourself. I like to set one or two manageable goals for myself that keep me motivated, prevent holiday plans from taking over my life, and leave me feeling fulfilled.

Last year, my goal was to go to the gym four times a week through the holidays. This year, I have two goals: read at least two “fun” books between now and the end of the year (books that aren’t related to work or career development) and try at least two all-new recipes.

10. Be practical with your travel plans

We’re wrapping up with a big holiday hack that, for many of us, is the hardest to put into practice.

Part of making time for yourself is realizing when you’re taking on too much. We all want to see the people we love during the holidays, but it’s important to take a step back and ensure that your travel plans (a) don’t overextend you financially; and (b) don’t leave you exhausted when it’s time to get back to your daily routine in the new year. After all, dates are arbitrary, and while some families have meaningful holiday traditions, most family members will be understanding if you work with them to plan time together outside of the rat race that is holiday travel. And by exercising some flexibility, you open the door to find better travel deals.

Beyond acknowledging that you don’t have to see everyone you care about in the few weeks at the end of every year, I have one suggestion that’s saved me personally a lot of stress. I always try to take an extra day off after my return trip. By doing so, I give myself some time to decompress and tackle a few easy post-holiday to-dos before diving back into work. I also get more enjoyment out of my last day of travel when I’m not thinking about going back to work the next day.

Sure, you can look at this as cutting short your time with your loved ones, and an unreasonable family member might argue that’s what you’re doing. However, by giving yourself a buffer, you’re helping yourself get back to reality on the right foot, reducing your stress, and taking proactive measures to mitigate post-holiday burnout. Do it. Be nice about it, but don’t apologize for taking care of yourself.


I hope you enjoyed my list of holiday tips to help you make this season more joyful and stress-free! Be sure to check out Kaftan Life's pre-holiday sale, launching Sunday, 11/17/19. And in the meantime, hit me with questions, suggestions or tips of your own in the comments!

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Kaftan Life Blog - 10 Holiday Hacks to Make the Most of a Joyful, yet Hectic Season

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