This is a MomTini first – I haven’t yet posted ideas from the same author twice so quickly, but this one is so timely, that I’m sending a “shout out” to Coauthors David & Andrea Reiser (Letters from Home), who recently provided tips on gratitude.

This post, “Make Merry Meaningful” has a Dozen Tips to Design the Holiday You’ve Always Dreamed Of.

“Most families get into trouble in three major areas: finances, time management, and what they do (or don’t do) with their kids,” points out David Reister, a senior vice president-wealth management at MorganStanley SmithBarney in Westport, CT. “Now is the time to start thinking about how you want to handle these responsibilities. The key is to respond, not react, and to remember that it’s about cutting out what’s extraneous. By having a game plan in place before the madness starts, you’ll not only be able to rise above the fray—you’ll be able to make the holidays truly meaningful.”

Sure, the holidays CAN be stressful. (BTW – did you vote in our new poll? See the bottom of our home page to weigh in…). But here are some tips (edited to give you a quick look) to pump up the “merry”:


Budget in advance. Admit it: You’re guilty of spending twice what you should have on your mother’s gift to make up for the fact that you didn’t visit earlier in the year. Or grudgingly shelling out way more than you anticipated for the large number of “obligatory” gifts on a list that seems to grow with each passing year.

Before you head out to do your shopping, know what the hard numbers look like, and map out in advance what sort of cash reserve you’ll have to dip into. Consider a budgeted Christmas cash on a pre-paid card. You’ll watch your budget more carefully and when the money is gone—it’s gone. You’ll be less tempted to add just one more gift to the pile because of a super sale.

Be honest about any financial changes. If you have to downsize your holiday expenses, it’s better that you—and your family and friends—know it now instead of when the credit card bills start rolling in. There’s no shame in readjusting the scope of your gifts in order to avoid a sackful of debt. If your loved ones truly care about you, that’s the last thing they’ll want!

Think outside the gift box to all the “other” holiday expenses. If you aren’t careful, some of the more costly aspects of the season will sneak up on you and your wallet—and will leave you paying for it (literally!) in January. Whether you’re feeding your family, bringing a dish to the office potluck, or hosting an event, grocery bills can add up at an alarming rate this time of year. Don’t forget about the little “extras” like the holiday tip for your hair stylist and mail carrier or the gifts for the kids’ soccer coach or piano teacher. And those twinkling Christmas lights give your power bill a boost—so think ahead for the next month’s budget. Try to anticipate what you’ll need to spend—down to the tiniest of details—and plan accordingly.

Time Management

Be realistic. Unless you actually have Santa’s magical ability to make it around the world in one night, chances are you aren’t going to make it to every party, event, play, performance, and gathering to which you’re invited. Instead of over-committing yourself and your family, sit down together before the madness starts, make out a list of priorities, and then schedule accordingly.

Start the season early. Most people instinctively try to plan holiday events as close to “the day” as possible. That’s understandable…but it results in a week-long period of crammed schedules and stressed people. If you start now, you can hold events and make your visits in the first half of December…and you’ll probably be able to deck the halls with your friends’ and family’s thanks!

Aim a bit lower than absolute perfection.
If you’ve ever watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, you know how well Clark Griswold’s attempt to have the perfect family holiday turned out. It’s funny onscreen, but not so much in real life. Remember that meals are really about company more than food, for example, and that the annual family get-together is more about fellowship and fun than about how impressive your decorations are. With this attitude, you’ll make more memories you’ll actually want to revisit, and people will enjoy being around you.

Add an hour. If you think you’ll be at the company party until 9:30, add an hour. If you think you’ll be at Grandma’s until lunchtime, add an hour. Everything always takes longer than you think it will—that’s why you’re rushing around town like a crazy person, trying to hold your last nerve together for just a little longer every day for a month. Save yourself the stress…and if, by some holiday miracle you do stick to your original schedule, you’ll treasure those extra hours.

Reserve some private time. When you’re designing your doable holiday schedule, don’t forget to leave enough free space for family time and for “you” time. If you’re not careful, you might find yourself forgoing the yearly cookie-baking party with your kids and wrapping gifts at 3:00 a.m.


Give them a memorable experience. Instead of showering your kids with a pile of this year’s “it” clothes, toys, and electronics (which, let’s face it, will probably be collecting dust by the end of the school year), give your kids the gift of a meaningful experience. Chances are, your family will remember an event that reinforces values and makes them feel special. (Note to Editor: See attached tipsheet.)

Don’t overstimulate them. These days, the typical kid has more than just visions of sugarplums dancing in his head. He’s thinking about toys, movies, video games, vacations, and food…and that’s just for starters. Yes, the holidays are an extravaganza for all five senses, but by regulating what and how much your children receive and do, you’ll be doing them a favor. Their attention will be more focused, and they’ll be more likely to understand and remember special moments.

Follow a tradition. It’s amazing how much kids value and remember family traditions. Unlike anything else, they’re a source of fun, they strengthen family bonds, and they form a meaningful link to the past. Whether you’re baking cookies, watching a favorite holiday movie, or piling into the car to look at neighborhood lights, don’t underestimate the value of time spent together, enjoying each other’s company.

Editor’s Note: Great tips – and great ideas on how to make these work. What else can we do to make the season less stressful and more happy? Leave a comment below.