Christmas should be fun! Here's how to save money and avoid stress!Our family expands nearly every year. This is wonderful, but it can make for chaotic times when you factor in four kiddos under seven, two sets of grandparents, siblings, relatives and friends popping in and out. Since none of us enjoys stress, over the years we have developed a set of strategies to make unavoidable chores easy and fun and eliminate anything not absolutely essential (i.e. extra cleaning and errands).

Here's hoping these tips that work so well for us can help you too!

1. Streamline your gift-wrapping chores.

Giving gifts is fun. Wrapping gifts…not so much. Here are two tips my family and I use to great success (especially since not one of us is "crafty" in terms of being creative wrappers).

  • Wrap on a theme: If every family member has a theme (for instance, you use red paper with silver bows, and your sister uses blue paper with red bows), none of you has to struggle with making each gift look unique.
  • Wrap on a year-round theme: If you can find wrapping paper (for instance, solid colors, generic but festive images) to suit all year long, you don't face the challenge of storing unused Christmas paper—or having to buy new paper for upcoming birthdays and other festivities (this can be a real money-saver too!)
  • Wrap in assembly line teams: If you team up with another family member, you can wrap twice as quickly. It’s super-quick and much more fun this way!

2. Designate one space or room in your house just for holiday preparations.

This keeps clutter out of your way elsewhere and helps you feel sane and in control as things get hectic. A laundry room, baby's room, storage closet or guest room can serve perfectly (at least until the guests arrive!).

3. Stage your preparations on a holiday-specific calendar.

One common cause of stress and chaos during the holidays is setting goals in your head and not writing them down or sharing them with other family members. For example, maybe you want to have your holiday lights up by the 1st of December and your tree in place by the 7th—only you are the only family member who knows about these deadlines!

  • What to do: Print off a November/December calendar. Write down your goal dates for important "to do" items such as lights, tree, gift shopping complete, holiday cards sent, etc. Post it where everyone in the family can see it.

4. Don't wait until the last minute to clean and tidy your house for arriving guests.

If you want to be sure you will greet your arriving guests in a frazzled, stressed-out state, wait until the very last minute (i.e. a few hours before they arrive) to begin preparing your house.

  • What to do: Assign cleaning chores to each family member—along with a "done by" date. Put each family member in charge of keeping "their area" clean and neat until your guests walk across the front doorstep…and throughout their stay with you. You can keep it festive by brewing fragrant cider and serving cookies to celebrate when the chores are all done.

5. Plan for the unplanned.

Nothing feels worse than hearing a knock at the door and finding your thoughtful neighbor who has come over to deliver a lovely gift—and you have nothing to offer in return! So plan for the unplanned and watch your stress disappear.

  • What to do: Keep a few awesome sale items on hand—and wrapped (with labels with what is inside!) for spontaneous gift exchanges. Make sure you have a few wrapped and labeled gifts on hand for your kids' friends too!

6. Do not procrastinate on holiday grocery shopping!

While there’s always a chance you may have to adjust at the last minute to a guest's unknown food allergy or new diet plan, for the most part you can safely plan your holiday menu as much as a month in advance.

  • What to do: Even if you do not know how many you will be serving, you can think "budget and bulk" in your planning stages. You know you will want certain staples: hot chocolate, cider, marshmallows, lots of baking supplies, a turkey or ham, plasticware and paper goods—so go ahead and stock up. Set a "done by" date, and as you bring home each item, set aside space in your pantry/fridge just for holiday supplies (this also makes sure no hungry family member digs in too quick and spoils your plans!).

7. Make cleanup easy and quick.

On Christmas morning, it’s always a gift-fest at our house. Unwrapping flies fast and furiously, and at the end there is a huge pile of paper, ribbons, tape and more. So we just grab a few huge trash bags and pile it all in—cleanup, check!

  • What to do: Make it easy on yourself. Use paper goods and plastic flatware for meals. Use big industrial-size trash bags for cleanup. The less time you spend on washing, cleaning, and tidying, the more time you have to enjoy what matters most—festivities and your loved ones!