organize-your-homeYes, it is only October. But I can feel them coming. They are on their way. The holidays are just around the corner, and as usual they’re bringing along their favorite sidekick: holiday stress.

This year I’m resolving to turn over a new Zen-inspired leaf by being impressively organized, prepared and calm as the holidays roll in, over and out again. However, I'm also realizing that budgeting well is only part of achieving my goal. I also need to be organized, prepared, and sensible about time as well as money management. Here are some expert tips I plan to put into motion starting now. If enjoying the holidays "Zen style" sounds good to you too, I hope these tips can be helpful!

1. First, take inventory

Just as with back-to-school time and New Year's resolutions, before you can do things differently, you need to know what might hold you back. When it comes to the holidays, this includes overspending on stuff you already own.

In your inventory-taking, look for:

  • Decorations. Holiday lights, blank holiday cards, ornaments, wreaths, wrapping paper/ribbons/bows, party platters, holiday-themed paper goods, etc.
  • Gift cards. How many do you have? Which ones do you want or not want?
  • Clothing. Holiday costumes, formal wear, shoes and accessories.
  • Extras. Presents stashed away from sales earlier in the year, duplicates of gifts you've received, extra toiletries, linens and towels for guests.

Once your inventory-taking is complete, you are no longer at risk of re-buying these items!

2. Consider a "holiday swap party"

If you like to create a new holiday "theme" each year, or you are simply tired of your decorations or clothes, consider hosting a swap party with a few interested friends. Shop out of each other's closets and stash of decorations—this way, everyone saves and still gets something "new!"

3. Get your holiday couponing and savings tools in order

Holidays bring sales and special incentives, for sure, but often these are just thinly veiled tactics to get customers like you and me to spend money on stuff we don't need and weren't planning to purchase.

Here are some tips to outsmart the retailers this year:

  • Download "10 Days to Become a Krazy Coupon Lady" to brush up on your couponing skills.
  • Make a list of the holiday items you know you want/need to purchase (for instance, a disposable holiday tablecloth and paper goods, new holiday lights, a ham for the big family dinner, champagne for New Year’s Eve, new candles, et al).
  • Create a special coupon folder or binder just for your holiday couponing efforts. Clip your holiday coupon "wish list" to the front of the binder/folder and every time you find another holiday coupon or promotional deal you need, check that item off your list.
  • Decide in advance how you will price compare for your holiday gift buying. Will you go to stores then buy online—or vice versa? Get your price comparison tools and apps fired up and ready for action.

4. Move your holiday card sending online

It may not feel as personalized as handwriting and hand-addressing (and hand-stamping, at $0.49 per stamp!) each card, but it is faster, cheaper, and much less stressful to transition to e-cards—and your loved ones will still get the essential message that you are thinking about them and you care.

Example: You want to send holiday cards to 20 people.

  • Time: You have to find the cards, locate the addresses, hand-address (or print labels for) each recipient, then write a personal note to each person, stuff the envelope, seal it, and deliver it to the post office—all before the holiday rush if you want it to arrive on time!
  • Cost: 20 stamps @ $0.49/stamp = $9.80; a box of 20 holiday cards ($9.99-$19.99 for most boxes and you will probably need two boxes). Total estimated cost: $29.99.

OR, you could send those same 20 people an e-card.

  • Time: Import your email list from your email manager to the e-card service, choose an e-card, personalize the note, hit "send."
  • Cost: Very cheap or free.

3 Awesome e-card services:

  • Blue Mountain Arts: Offers a 7-day free trial; after that it is $3.99/month.
  • American Greetings: Offers a 7-day free trial; after that it is $3.99/month.
  • JibJab: Offers a free membership and a paid membership for $1/month.

5. Shop your existing inventory first for gifts

As easy as it is to casually say "oh, the holidays aren't all about gifts," just try remembering that when it comes to your boss, your mother-in-law, or your best friend. Rather than swearing off gift giving or scrambling at the last minute, place everything "gift-able" from your step #1 inventory-taking process in a certain part of your closet or office (my mom keeps a running stash from shopping sales all year long—at a moment's notice, she can shop in her own closet for everyone from the grandkids to me!)

In particular, set aside these items:

  • Gift cards
  • Gift certificates
  • New apparel, accessories or items you haven't opened/used
  • Coupons (Everyone loves getting free coupons for the holidays!)

6. Have a backup plan

No matter how calm you resolve to be, a moment may come when your holiday "buttons" get pushed. The best way to guard against the unknown is to keep a "Plan B" in your back pocket by identifying and addressing each of your "typical" holiday stressors before they hit.

"Typical" holiday stressors and some possible fixes: This list of examples may help you brainstorm.

  • Relatives or in-laws who rub you the wrong way. Designate a "wingman" or "wingwoman" and a secret signal when you need help or rescuing.
  • Bad weather. Make a list of alternate activities for adults and kids alike.
  • Travel delays. Identify where the cell phone lots are at the airport or train station and bring entertainment (books, apps, games, your cell phone charger).
  • A particular task you really hate, such as cooking for 20 or putting the decorations away. Splurge and have the main entrée catered; design a system to make decorations storage simple and quick.
  • Illness. Make sure someone other than you knows all the holiday plans for your family.
  • Unexpected cards or gifts. Shop in your inventory!
  • Running out of things you need. Look to past years to estimate what you might need to stock up on…and get a few more of those things while prices are good.