5 Simple Things You Can Do to Plan Ahead for the Holiday Season

Plan ahead for the holiday season with these oh-so-easy tips and ideas for getting ready for Christmas!

5 Simple Things You Can Do to Plan Ahead for the Holiday Season Christmas

Don’t hate me. I promise I’m not putting up my Christmas tree yet or skipping right over Thanksgiving. But what I am doing is trying to plan ahead so that I can actually soak up the holidays with my family this year instead of running around in a chaotic, stressed-out tizzy!

Maybe you have already been on this for months. Maybe the holidays are something that are on your radar all year long, and you’re always on the lookout and preparing for them. If this is you, you are my hero! I often wish my personality was more like this, but alas, it is not.

I kind of tend to be more of a “deal with the problem right in front of me” kind of person, which means that I’m not always the best at thinking ahead. Oops.

For this reason, Christmas seems to sneak up on me every single year. Between keeping up with the boys’ school events and activities, work stuff, family stuff, church stuff, friends stuff and more, it seems like by the middle of December, I always end up in total survival mode, rushing around to wrap gifts, attend events, send cards, decorate, and do alllll the Christmas things.

I end up so being so busy trying to check things off my to-do list, that I don’t take the time to enjoy the season and truly prepare my heart for the things that truly matter.

But not this year!!!

This year I decided to start planning ahead in several different areas so that by the time the holidays roll around, I will be prepared and will be able to enjoy the season instead of just rushing through it.

Christmas Decor and Nativity Scene on a Dining Room Side Board

(Also, enjoy some photos of our house from Christmases past to make this post a little prettier! 🙂 )

If you are like me and tend to wait until you’re in the crux of the chaos to make a plan, consider this your friendly reminder to maybe perhaps start thinking a little bit ahead this year to spare some of your sanity! 😉

Here are a few of the things I’m doing to plan ahead…

5 Simple Things You Can Do to Plan Ahead for the Holiday Season

1. Create a Budget

I should know better by now, but inevitably, the holidays always end up being more expensive than I expect, so this year I’m taking a more proactive approach by creating a budget.

I like to break down my expenses by category, so I’ll have a section for charitable giving, another for decor, one for entertainment and gatherings, and then I split gifting up by type.

Set Up a Budget for Christmas and Holiday Expenses

(This budgeting printable and the other printables shown in this post are part of my Christmas / Holiday Planner!)

Since we purchase the most gifts for our boys, they each have their own category. Then I categorize other gifting by groups– extended family, helpers (like teachers, bus drivers, mailman, etc.), and friends.

I set a projected amount for each category, so that when I’m purchasing holiday items or gifts, I have a set number I’m shooting to stay under. This will help me hit everything on my list without being surprised when the holiday bills start rolling in!

Christmas Tree Lit Up at Night

2. Make a Bucket List

It’s no secret that I’m a list maker, and one thing I love so much about lists is that they help me be more intentional. Every holiday season there always seem to be certain traditions we want to uphold, places we want to visit, activities we want to complete, etc., so we’ve started making a bucket list that helps us keep track of it all!

Make a Christmas Bucket List for All of the Things You Want to Do This Holiday Season

[Grab this printable in our Deluxe Christmas/Holiday Planner!]

We break down our list into six different areas– acts of kindness, outdoor excursions, crafts and learning, food fun, trips to take, and miscellaneous– and write down a few things we’d like to do for each one. Once we’ve decided on the most important items, we can block off time on the calendar to complete them.

Pencil Tree for Christmas and Dining Room Sideboard

Now one little caveat for the bucket list: as tempting as it is to write down allllllllll the things, I really try not to overload our list because it just adds to the craziness I’m trying to avoid by planning ahead! We try to stick with the things that are most important to us so that we can stay sane in the midst of the busy holiday schedule.

3. Start Compiling Gift Ideas

If you haven’t already, now is a great time to start “making your list and checking it twice”! Having gift ideas in mind for everyone on my list allows me to start keeping an eye out for sales and deals so I can be sure to stay on budget. (See #1!)

Printable Christmas Gift List for the Holidays

Gift Giving Guide

Starting my list now also gives me time to think through or find out what my recipients will really need and love, rather than waiting until the last minute and choosing whatever I can order to get here in time.

Holiday Gifts Under the Christmas Tree

4. Make a Decor Plan

My most favorite part! Decorating for Christmas is a blast, but it can also be overwhelming and take a lot of time! This year I decided to get a head start by making a plan for each room ahead of time. I decide on my theme/color scheme for the space, write down which items I want to use to decorate, and make a “wish list” of any items I want to purchase to add to our decor.

Make a Christmas Decorating Plan

Christmas/Holiday Decorating Plan

I then take the time to make a rough sketch of what I envision for the room so that when it’s time to decorate, I can just pull out my bins of decor and put everything where I have planned. (Don’t worry! No one is judging your artistic abilities! Stick people and stick furniture are most definitely allowed!)

Christmas Entryway Decorated for the Holidays

5. Make or Order Your Advent Calendar/Countdown to Christmas

Finally, one of our favorite Christmas traditions is to use an advent calendar to count down the days! If you’re planning to buy an Advent Calendar, they are often cheaper if you purchase now rather than waiting until the last minute, so it’s worth it to get a head start.

Or if you prefer to make your Advent Calendar, doing so in advance means one less thing you’ll have to do at the end of November/beginning of December!

Christmas Advent Calendar with Brown Paper Bags and Numbered Tags

printable Advent Calendar numbers

If you need some ideas, here are some of the DIY countdowns we’ve done in the past…

Red and Green Advent Calendar with Little Boxes and Number Tags

Red and Green Advent Calendar

Gold and White Advent Calendar with Mini Boxes on a Cork Board

Gold and White Advent Calendar

So that’s the plan! I’m hoping that by putting in a little bit of planning and work ahead of time, this year’s holiday season will be less stressful and more fun!

All of the planning ideas shown above can, of course, be written out on plain paper, but if you’d like the printables I’ve used to get organized, you can head here to get more details and grab your Christmas/Holiday Planner!

What are some of the things you like to do ahead of time to make the holiday season go more smoothly?


  1. Great post! I personally limit myself to one new decor item a year! but for present I usually start shopping the middle of September for smaller things and wait to make large purchases on black Friday/cyber Monday. This way its an equal ratio of saving and spending.


    1. justagirlabby says:

      That’s a great way to keep the holidays low stress! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

      ~Abby =)

    2. Im an oldie here, girls. Married 30 yrs. The years fly, and before you know it, all that collecting really adds up! Have fun collecting!

  2. Carol Federoff says:

    A Decor Plan? How about keep it really simple and the same each year? Why do we need to plan it? And why do people put so much time effort and money into decorations each year??? I mean , I decorate, I do…. but I only buy what I will use each year and I keep it…. to me that’s a lot more simple than all the time to plan out each room.

    I’m sorry if I sound critical, but if you’re talking about keeping things simple…. everything else is a good idea. ESPECIALLY the budget. People way overspend and I think half of that is poor planning on budget and gift ideas ahead of time.

    1. justagirlabby says:

      To each their own! 🙂 Have a great week, Carol!

      ~Abby =)

  3. I love to shop all year round; I have at least 3 boxes of stuffed packed up (but not wrapped yet. Bought on clearnace, it let’s me buy nicer/more stuff than I could if I paid full price–and it’s paid for by Christmas. I have made cloth gift bags for my church bazaar and have kept a few for myself to wrap things quickly, too. I am slowly assembling ingriedients for soap making and have made a large batch of Epsom bath salts already. Christmas ornaments for bazaar, to sell, and for family, done! Articles for theme baskets collected, not assembled–yet! It is time to start buying fudge and baking ingridients so that I don’t ruin the grocery budget all at once, too! Pretty soon, I’ll start my annual Christmas letter; maybe people will get them on time this year!

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Sounds like you have a great system in place, Kathy! It’s so nice to not have to do all of that last minute! 🙂

      ~Abby =)

  4. Stephanie Burris says:

    When my son was born we first got into the overload of presents and big production Christmases. We spent way too much money and truthfully I don’t even remember anything about those Christmases! . It didn’t take us long to limit the gift giving to 1 present from each person, a Santa Gift, and a stocking. We started to travel over the holidays instead. Now we stay at a little Caboose in the woods in a little town that is deserted over the holidays and enjoy the river, snow, and quiet. We look forward to it each year, the presents aren’t as important (even my 15 year-old agrees). We have found we like our time together, uninterrupted, and have more fun filling the stockings for each other than anything else we do over the holiday! We eat, play UNO, and watch DVD’s. . .we laugh, sleep, walk, and cook together! I remember each and every moment of those trips!

    Thanks for the post. . .makes me excited to get our trip organized! But first Halloween–this I haven’t completely minimized!

    1. justagirlabby says:

      LOVE this, Stephanie! Sounds like your family has created some wonderful traditions and memories that I’m sure you all will cherish for a long time. Thanks so much for sharing. Have a great weekend! <3

      ~Abby =)

  5. April at LoveOurRealLife says:

    Your Christmas planner is brilliant! I was just telling my husband this past weekend that we need to get started with our Christmas shopping so we don’t have the last-minute-stress when Christmas rolls around!! Looks like you thought of everything with this!

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Aw, thank you! So glad it will be helpful for you, April! Have a wonderful weekend! <3

      ~Abby =)

  6. This is the first year that we are planning our Christmas budget BEFORE December. Now that I have extra money set aside for it each month instead of going over budget and calling “hey it’s just Christmas” I can’t believe I haven’t done this sooner! Now I’m off to tackle a few more of these items and hopefully, this will be the smoothest year yet! Thanks for the advice.

    1. justagirlabby says:

      So glad it was helpful for you, Ali! Sounds like you have a great plan in place. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season! 🙂

      ~Abby =)

  7. Steffani Baker says:

    These are such great ideas! It’s easy to let the bliss of fall/Halloween/Thanksgiving distract us from preparing a little for Christmas. Most years, I find that even with some planning and buying gifts throughout the year for people, I’m always last-minute-buying which leads to spending more than anticipated. An actual budget will be key for me this year! Also, what a good reminder to actually enjoy the holidays by creating a bucket list <3
    Thanks Abby! I think these tips will help make Christmas a beautiful, enjoyable one and not a stress-filled, can't wait til it's over one!

    1. justagirlabby says:

      So glad it was helpful for you, Steffani! Have a wonderful weekend! <3

      ~Abby =)

  8. These are great ideas to get going on right away. I’m especially a fan of gift planning early. We have a lot of fall birthdays at our house, so planning for gifts is huge so we don’t end up with a lot of junk by the end of it. Bucket list is my favorite though!! We love having the kids give their ideas and star what’s most important to them. Thanks for the reminder to get going!

    1. Abby Lawson says:

      Thank you so much for your sweet words, Marielle! Happy Planning! 🙂

  9. Miranda Mann says:

    I enjoyed this planner last year and I’ll be using it again this year! Thank you! It’s gorgeous, fun and I truly enjoy using it.

    1. Abby Lawson says:

      Thank you so much for your sweet words, Miranda! So glad the planner was helpful for you!

  10. Donna at AnOrganizedSeason says:

    Wow! Thanks for this post! Ready or not, it’s time to start thinking about organizing for the holiday season! Thanks for all of your inspiration!

    1. Abby Lawson says:

      It will be here before we know it! Have a great week, Donna!

  11. Ooh I love all of this! Getting a head start is the BEST way to enjoy the season!

    1. Abby Lawson says:

      I agree! It definitely has a tendency to sneak up on us, but planning ahead helps a lot! Hope you’re having a wonderful week!

  12. Terry Savage says:

    Thank you! This is just the nudge I needed. It slips up on me each year and each year I plan
    to plan but. so thanks a lot for the inspiration! Terry

    1. Abby Lawson says:

      So glad it was helpful for you, Terry! Hope you’re having a great week! <3

      ~Abby =)

  13. Abby, I love your nativity & wonder whether this was a DIY or purchased item.

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