Now that we've had a few days to recover from Christmas and all the associated eating, shopping and traveling, it is time for me to reflect on my planning and spending. I tend to be a little compulsive about this: I keep a three-ring binder with sections for preparation, cards, food, gifts, and entertaining, and the first page is my budget. I think that I need to add a section for travel, since we seem to travel every holiday season and I'm never prepared for the trip. I won't remember all these clever thoughts next year, so I'd better put them down on paper.
Photo by: krisdecurtis
In the cards section, I update addresses and kids names, and I keep any letters that are full of useful details. I might make a note if I've purchased bargain cards at the after-Christmas sales and might not remember where I've stashed them. (Though this year, my note says: check out the Snapfish service.) I also keep track of the people from whom we've received cards - eventually, non-responders will have to be dropped from the list.
I look at the menus that I served for major meals last year and check to see what needs to be revised. One important thing that I'm adding this year is quantities: how many green beans did I cook, and how many were left over? Which dishes did people rave about, and which ones were just okay? We have a family tradition of ordering Chinese on Christmas Eve, and we always order too much food. This year, I've put our order, a list of leftovers, and the number of people served behind the food tab. Hopefully, next year we'll order somewhere near the right amount, save a few dollars and not end up with a fridge full of food days before we go out of town.
We usually have a large open house in December, so I keep track of the guest list, the food (and the leftovers) and any notes. For example, last year I wrote that we should start the party an hour later, since no one showed up for the first hour. I also include a preparation schedule that reminds me that I can make the dip two days ahead, and that I shouldn't wait until the party starts to bake the chocolate chip cookies. (Either it makes the house hot, or I forget and we never get the cookies.) I've kept notes on the prices of various menus and drink offerings in hopes of hitting a good balance of frugal and festive. A lovely punch isn't a good choice if no one drinks it, and I might be able to stretch the popular crab dip by adding a little bit more cream cheese.
One thing that has really helped with the extended family is the gift section. We have a few cousins that we don't see often, and I frequently end up having the same ideas for them every year. I'm so glad to have notes that remind me that I gave them USB drives two years ago so that I don't give the same gift again. In a good year, I keep track of ideas throughout the year, and then keep a list of gifts that I've purchased and stashed away so that nothing gets forgotten. That amazing August bargain isn't much of a bargain if you forget to give it as a gift, and it doesn't make much sense to save tons through thoughful gift purchases if you end up running out and dropping a ton of money on people you don't see very often and don't have any ideas for.
I really need to add a travel section. We travel every holiday season, and I'm never prepared. There is always a last minute scramble to pack and get safely out of the house. This year, we completely failed to pack numerous important toiletries, plus we forgot a group of presents. I'm going to prepare a clear list of clothings (weather appropriate would be a plus), gifts, and things that will make the trip more pleasant (drinks, snacks, good music, etc.) Given what a ridiculous amount of money and time we've spent at the drug store and the snack shop, I know that these notes will be valuable next year.
You don't have to make a holiday binder to be organized, but it does help me. If your memory is better than mine, just some thinking about what worked and what didn't will help make next year's holiday season run more smoothly and will save you money. Even a quick list inside a holiday box (with a note to open first on the outside) could jog your memory enough to save some stress, and hopefully some money, too.