3 Ways To Prepare For Christmas (yup! Christmas.)

I know…doesn’t it seem like Christmas just passed?

You probably can hardly stand to think about lights and trees and ornaments and gifts anymore, let alone consider the coming Christmas and all its trappings.

But, if you are one of the many people who received a depressing pile of post-Christmas bills in the mail during these past 6 weeks, I’d love to encourage you to think about next Christmas, and perhaps consider doing a couple of things starting now.

(Mmmhhmmm. In February!)

1. Start Saving

My husband and I start saving for Christmas in January, and we continue that all throughout the year. We don’t go crazy at Christmas, so we don’t have to save a LOT each month. We just have $40 automatically sent to our Capital One Christmas Savings account* every month, and by the end of the year, we have a nice little pile of money saved for gifts.

For many years, we didn’t operate this way, and I can tell you that the saving-ahead-of-time route is SO much less stressful…I really can’t recommend it enough! Even if you can only save $5 a week, that’s better than nothing.

*ING (now Capital One 360) is a perfect place to stash your Christmas savings because the money is not readily available for withdrawal. To take it out, you have to request a transfer to your regular checking account, and that takes several days. This makes it much less tempting to pull the money out for something frivolous.

2. Keep Your Eyes Open For Gifts

The thing about looking for bargains at thrift stores or regular stores is that it’s sort of difficult to predict when they’ll be available (especially at thrift stores!). So, if you wait until December 15th, 2010 to start shopping, odds are good that you’ll have difficulty finding what you want, or you’ll have to pay more than you’d prefer to pay.

Obviously it’s not always good to buy things way ahead of time, but by the same token, it does work out well sometimes.

For instance, I know that Sonia is going to enjoy receiving bath products at Christmas time, so I’m already keeping a eye out to see if I can find some at Goodwill, and I’ll do that all year long. As another example, I know we’re going to let Lisey get her ears pierced this year, so I bought some fun Christmas earrings for her on clearance in January.

The little silver picture frame above is one that I found at Goodwill for my sister-in-law, who collects old silver frames. By taking a quick look through the frames each week at Goodwill, I’ve been able to find 5 different silver frames for her collection, and though these cost far less than new frames at the store, she much prefers to receive the older variety.

3. Think About What You Could Make For Christmas

If you want to learn how to make candy so that you can give it for gifts at Christmas, start practicing now so that you have a good recipe and a good skill set by December. The same goes if you want to learn how to make bread, jelly, scrapbooks, knit hats, or who knows what else.

If you start learning a skill now, your gifts will be that much better in December.

Another advantage to thinking ahead about making things for Christmas is that you can start ahead of time. This is especially handy if you are making time-consuming gifts, non-perishable gifts like knit items, or scrapbooks. As a for instance, I got the idea to make the leather album for my sister back in May, and I added a few pages to the album every time I did a photo shoot of my nephew.

This was much less stressful than starting the album for my husband’s grandma 4 days before Christmas. <cough that was stupid cough>

If you’re at a loss when it comes to homemade gift ideas, you might find the suggestions in my post on homemade Christmas gifts to be helpful.


So, that’s how I prepare ahead of time. But if you’ve got a good planning-ahead idea for Christmas that’s different than mine, do share with us in the comments. You might inspire me!

*If you need to open a 360 Capital One account, just click right here. (full disclosure: I get a small commission if you open an account using that link). I highly recommend opening an online savings account…it’s free, there’s no minimums, and the money is just slightly inconvenient to access, which means you’ll be more likely to keep it there until Christmas.


  1. says

    You’re off your rocker, lady! Just kidding.

    I definitely think it’s a great time to start saving for Christmas. I love your ideas. I should start a separate ING account for Christmas.

  2. HeatherS says

    We save for Christmas this way also. I was curious as to how you handle the purchases you make throughout the year when you see a good deal at the thrift store or on clearance. Do you transfer that money over from your ING Christmas account or just take it out of your cash you are carrying around? I don’t usually bother to transfer small amounts but end up slipping it out of my grocery money which I probably shouldn’t do!

    We have used ING for years and I also highly recommend them! We save up for other areas in ING also. Just this month I had to write checks for 1/2 year property taxes, 1/2 year car insurance and quarterly city income taxes. I hated to write out those amounts but what a relief to have the money already in savings and ready to go. Compare that to years past when these things would come up and we would have to put in on credit cards! This is one of the most important strategies that led to us being debt free (except our house) this past November!

    • Kristen says

      If I pick something up at a thrift store for a couple of dollars, I usually just take that out of the petty cash I have in my wallet. If I buy something at a regular store for something like $20, I just put $20 less into the ING account that month.

      That’s AWESOME that you’re saving up for anticipated expenses…it’s such a relief, isn’t it??

  3. says

    I know I want to make some of my Christmas gifts this year, so I am already starting to think about that. I would especially like to try making soap and candles, so I plan to hit up the library and look for helpful how-to books. Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. says

    Every April, come strawberry picking time here in North Carolina, I make up several batches of homemade jam. These are my Christmas gifts to neighbors, teachers, Scout leaders, the piano teacher and anyone else special to us. What a great feeling to have all those gifts taken care of that early in the year. When December rolls around, all I do is punch a tag out of my scrapbooking paper scraps and tie with twine. On the tag, I write: “Enjoy a little taste of spring on a cold winter day.” Festive, homemade, delicious and frugal.

  5. says

    These are great tips. My husband’s pay periods work out so that he usually receives an extra paycheck around October, and we use some of that money on Christmas. I like the idea of putting some away every month, though!

    I’m considering making a scrapbook for my mother-in-law for Christmas, but I need to get on that..

  6. says

    Great post! I use ING as well, although not specifically for Christmas. I like them a lot.

    There is also Smarty Pig, which is cool because when you finish saving for your “goal” (you can create several), you can get the money back the traditional way, or have it put on a gift card with a percentage boost of some percentage. The highest is Macy’s, I think — if you ask for $100 on a Macy’s card, you get $114, or 14% extra back. I think more general retailers like Amazon and Target are on there too.

    But back to Christmas, I’m a HUGE fan of buying gradually throughout the year — especially because almost all of my many inlaws have birthdays in November and December. Talk about a double whammy at that time of year!

    I hope it’s OK to mention, but my stocking stuffers blog has several do-it-yourself ideas — there’s a list of tags on the left, and one is DIY. (I don’t sell anything on this site; it’s just for me and for fun.)

  7. Amanda says

    We are doing the $40 a month into ING for Christmas too. I am looking forward to a less stressed Christmas 2010.

    I need to keep an eye out for canning jars on sale or at thrift stores as I’d like to give more homemade food gifts this year. I have a few people on my list that are (newly) gluten free and I think it would be cool to give a jar of dry mix cookies or cinnamon buns that just need the wet ingredients. Something like that is so simple but it isn’t simple when you need to start from scratch.

    I just started getting back into thrift stores again. (Thanks to your weekly Goodwill talk.) I forgot how much fun it was to just go looking. Even if I only have $20 it doesn’t mean I have to spend it. I can take my time and look at all the little trinkets to see if they are a treasure for my family.

  8. Rebecca says

    We also do many of these things. I made apple butter and granola for my sons’ teachers, therapists, and husb’s coworkers this year, and spent about $100 to make over 50 gifts, including the jars and packaging! I also have a running list of those for whom I buy holiday gifts on my phone, with ideas on what they like, then if I see something at a thrift store I pick it up and note it on my phone. I immediately wrap it when I get home with a name tag. The gift goes into a storage box with other pre purchased gifts that has a master list to help me if I forget what I got someone. This helps me cuz I HATE GIFT WRAPPING! So I only have to do one at a time.

    Later in the fall, like early november, I start prepping baked goods. I make enough piecrust, roll it out, then roll it up and store to make about 12 2 crust pies. Then when I need one I just defrost and add my filling. This often gets me through Easter! And since I eat GF, and so do my brothers, I can’t just run out and buy a pre made crust. I also make up my cookie dough ahead of time. One or two nights I make about 7 types of dough, and freeze it. Then it takes little time to bake them the week before christmas.

    • Amanda says

      May I have your pie crust recipe? I have been buying it at a GF specialty store and it is so pricey. My husband has also been asking for a chicken pot pie lately.

      • Rebecca says

        Amanda, there are many GF pie crust recipes out there so I suggest you experiment for your favorite. One I use a lot for both sweet and savory pies is adapted from a Bette Hagman book. It makes enough for two pie crusts, and a little left over.

        1/2 cup tapioca flour
        1/2 cup cornstarch
        1/4 cup potato starch
        1 cup sweet rice flour, or regular white rice flour
        1 and 1/2 teaspoons of xanthan gum, optional but it helps give the dough stretch
        1/2 teaspoon salt
        1 teaspoon sugar

        1/2 cup of margarine or butter, or 1/2 cup cream cheese
        1/2 cup of shortening, I like butter flavor Crisco

        1 egg, cold
        1 tablespoon vinegar
        4 tablespoons of cold water

        Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl, or use a food processor. Cut in the marg and shortening till pea sized, then combine the liquids together and add to the butter/ flour mix. Chill before rolling out, or just separate into 2 even amts, roll flat, cover wtih plastic wrap and roll them up and store them in a large freezer bag. I have stored them up to 4 months in the freezer,, no problem.

        I roll my pastry between sheets of plastic wrap, remove one side of wrap, and invert into the pie dish. If it tears, just press it into place. GF piecrust does not get tough like regular crust, so you can work with it a lot.

        • Amanda says

          Thank you and I will try. I’ve been doing pretty good with baking and so far a sour dough recipe has been our favorite. The sticky buns aren’t so bad either. ;)

  9. sheridan says

    i love love love ING too – especially how you can nickname your accounts for their specific purpose! I have a christmas account that i use not just for gifts, but special holiday dinners, tips etc. I save all year long (i even rolled over a little from last year) so it makes the season much less stressful. I have a few other accounts with ING that also benefit from automatic transfers from each paycheck. I have a bridesmaid/wedding account that i use to help smooth out the expenses when i am in and/or attending a bunch of weddings at the same time. Also have a vacation account, emergency fund, opportunity fund (great for funding bulk or sale purchases) as well as some CDs. i encourage everyone to use ING!

  10. Michelle says

    Do you have to do automatic deposits to ING? or can you just send them money occasionally? How is ING better than a regular bank’s savings account?

    • Kristen says

      Nope, you don’t have to do it automatically. I do most of ours manually, in fact!

      I like ING better than my local credit union for savings (I do use them for checking) for several reasons.

      -their interest rates are better
      -the money is not instantly accessible, making it less tempting to withdraw on a whim
      -you can open TONS of savings accounts, making it easy to separate your savings into categories (for instance, one for Christmas, one for vacation, one for auto maintenance, etc)
      -the customer service is excellent
      -they don’t nickel and dime their customers to death with fees

  11. says

    Great tips! I write down some of the ones you share with us, but I will definitely be visiting your site all the time once my husband and I start having children. :)

  12. Laurie says

    Speaking of ING, does anyone have a mortgage with them? If so, could you share how you feel about it. Since opening a savings account with them, they sent me an good offer to refinance. I’d like to, but I’m leary(new to online banking).

    Thanks for the Christmas reminder Kristen. My husband’s aunt was just saying how her favorite gift was a photo album I made for them one year. I’d like to keep up with it all year – more of a calendar effect. Unfortunatley, I don’t have any pics for January of my boys. With your reminder, I plan not to let Feb go by.

  13. Michelle says

    I like to give photo calendars as Christmas gifts. It’s super easy through on-line photo processors such as Winkflash–you just choose 12 photos and download them to the site. I make one for my husband’s cubicle each year, give them to far-flung relatives so they can keep in touch with our kids, and this year I made one for my brother who was recently married, using photos we’d snapped at their wedding. They run about $15 each, depending on what size you choose.

  14. Adrienne says

    Another thing to think about for xmas 2010 – do you want to do anything differently? So often people want to change the gift giving traditions (only give to kids, yankee swap, only homemade, dollar limit, etc.) but don’t bring it up until Dec. where people who have been buying ahead would not want to change. Start talking up new ways with one or two people to get the ideas started. (changing traditions is harder than you think)
    Laurie – The ING mortgage is a variable rate mortgage (5 or 7 yrs fixed). With rates so low I would go for a fixed rate instead.

  15. says

    In an effort to combat spending while we pay off debt, I’ve been avoiding thrift stores lately. But I will start getting back into the swing of things in the summer, I think.

    That said, most of my surprise gifts (as in: Surprise! Bet you weren’t even thinking about getting gifts yet!) have been at garage sales. For the last two years I’ve found near-perfect condition board games for Tim at garage sales. In one case, the shrink wrap was still on it! (Marvel Scene It) The other looked barely used. (Star Wars Trivial Pursuit)

    The only trouble is: Here in Arizona, there is no “garage sale season.” That means more opportunities to shop, but it also means… well… more opportunities to shop. Plus, of course, I used to go garage sale-ing with my mom. She’d drive, making it easier on me, and garage sale shopping is a lot more fun with a buddy! Sigh. I guess I’ll just have to adjust, if I hope to get any good shopping done this year!

  16. WilliamB says

    I’m making tree ornaments for certain relatives. I started just after Dr. King weekend – if I start them any later they might not be done in time. By starting just after the holiday season I also benefit from the “drat I should done this *last* year” impetus.

  17. says

    We set aside $$ every week for Christmas too… it makes Christmas shopping MUCH easier and less stressful! Now that i’m trying to buy used & find good deals, maybe I won’t need as much as I think. I WAY overdid it last Christmas and i’m really trying to get out of that.. you’re my inspiration for these things! :)

  18. Erika says

    It always surprises me when I hear that people rack up a bunch of credit card debt for Christmas gifts. I only use my credit cards for emergencies or really big necessary purchases I can’t afford out of pocket (graduate classes, car repairs, etc). I don’t even like using it for that! I would never expect a gift from a person who was having trouble financially, and would never want someone to have to charge a gift for me! It just seems so unnecessary…though it might be different if children are involved… Just my thoughts on charging Christmas gifts :)

  19. says

    Strangely, I have always been on the lookout for gifts all during the year, even back in college when I would go to swap meets and craft fairs and get things for my family that I knew they would like. And especially after I was so busy one year that I left the shopping too late and hated being in the stores so much that I vowed “never again!”

    It’s not so much being fixated on Christmas, it’s almost the opposite. If you’re not stressed about it, you can find things all year long and have time to enjoy the holiday when it comes around.

    I’m going to operate based on what were hits this year and add a few new things. I like to do experience gifts best, and then some homemade consumables. Last year I made egg nog, rosemary shortbread cookies, bourbon balls, pumpkin bread, and granola. They are all fun for me to make. This year I’ll drop the egg nog for all but the diehard fans because it was really pricey (mostly because of the alcohol). And I think I’ll add fresh rosemary bread, and marmalade if my friend will teach me how to make it.

  20. Linda says

    I prepare for Christmas all year round too. My yearly goal is to be done and wrapped by Thanksgiving and I usually make it. I make gifts, shop thrift and garage sales and also “regular” stores for good sales. I have a large Rubbermaid tote in a designated closet and when I get a gift I pop it in there and enter it into a list on the computer with the person’s name and the item so I don’t forget. I find you are much more thoughtful and get much better bargains when you are relaxed and not rushing to find the perfect gift in the Dec. mall crowds. (I despise malls!) I already have some items put away for Christmas 2010 that I got at after Christmas sales, including some sterling silver necklaces originally marked $35.00 for $2.99! Yahoo!

  21. Lynnessa says

    I bought my first Christmas presents for the year today! Glad to see I’m not the only one :) We also like to shop the after Christmas sales for ornaments for the next year. We like to give nice ornaments to our parents for Christmas but they are so expensive! Usually the ornaments are 1/2 off at the specialty stores the day after Christmas… These were great tips Kristen and gave me the push I needed to get started up again.

  22. says

    Hey Kristen…it’s been a long while since I have posted and blogged. :-)

    My question: I like the ING idea and appreciate you letting me know about it but my question is…how do you get the money when you need it? and just so I understand you right…I can attach the ING account to my CU account and transfer money there online…right?!?!?! and I can have as many of those as I need for different categories….fee free?!?!?!?!

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