It’s tagged the most wonderful time of the year, yet the stress of the holiday season can leave us feeling more crushed than a Peppermint Pig after everyone’s had a good whack at it.
Here are some simple, stress-reducing hacks to help take the hassle out of the days that remain so there’s time to enjoy all that is wonderful.
Deck the halls for less: Don’t feel like you need to spend a fortune in order to create a Christmas wonderland. If you have some extra ornaments lying around, hang them from a light fixture for an instant holiday chandelier. Swap out any photos you have framed with pictures from Christmases past for instant — and sentimental — decor. Conjure up the smells of the season with candles or those nifty pine-scented ornament sticks you can stash on an artificial tree or just about anywhere. Set the holiday mood through music. Take a few minutes and create a festive Christmas soundtrack or just pipe in a playlist of free songs from sites like Amazon, iTunes and Google Play.
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Skip the lavish (and pricey) six-course feast: Here’s an opportunity to take something off your plate. If you’re hosting a holiday party, instead of creating a fancy, over-the-top food spread, save yourself the trouble and serve snacks and finger foods — a simple charcuterie board, a pot of slow-cooked meatballs, chips and dip. You can even ask guests to bring their potluck favorites. When it comes to adult beverages, invite each guest to bring a wine or spirit and you provide the mixers. You can even have each guest bring their favorite brew and host a fun, at-home tasting.
Have someone else do the cooking: Want to avoid the chaotic supermarket and save yourself the stress of shopping, preparing and serving an elaborate meal? Order out. There are a slew of restaurants and caterers offering party platters and reheatable holiday meal packages. The Fresh Market is offering ready-to-heat meals that feed two to a crowd of 14 and Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany is offering a holiday catering menu that includes appetizers, entrees, sides and desserts. Check out the Times Union Tablehopping page for a growing list of local options.
Take advantage of in-store and curbside pickup: Why head out into a mass of moody shoppers when you can purchase what you want from the comfort of your home and pick it up for free? Streamline your shopping, avoid standing in line and spare yourself from needless stress. Nearly all major retailers offer free in-store pickup, including Target, Walmart and Best Buy. In most cases, as long as products are on-hand, they can be ready in under an hour. You can always skip the trip and opt for home delivery. Walmart+ members enjoy free unlimited grocery delivery with a minimum purchase of $35. New members can sign up for a free 30-day trial.
Know shipping deadlines: Few things are more stressful than gifts not arriving on time. Retailers offer a wide variance of delivery options this week. Gift seekers running up against the clock can access a comprehensive list of shipping deadlines at coupon and cash-back site RetailMeNot.com. Major carrier mailing deadlines vary. Check out the box with this story for important dates.
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Save money and support a good cause: Studies show that giving back can reduce cortisol, the stress hormone that can make you feel overwhelmed or anxious. A new website called Give Freely, founded by TripAdvisor co-founder philanthropist Steve Kaufer, aims to help by blending commerce and kindness. Once downloaded to your browser, the online shopping assistant automatically finds discount coupons whenever you shop online. What’s unique is that whenever you buy anything at over 10,000 stores, Give Freely will donate a portion of the purchase to your choice of 1.1 million charities. It’s free to use and for a limited time, shoppers will get an extra $10 for their charity of choice.
Shop stores with easy return policies (just in case…): Retail return policies can vary greatly from store-to-store. Some offer flexibility, while others make you feel like a felon. Keep careful track of receipts and shop stores that will make post-holiday returns and refunds quick and convenient. If you shop Amazon, most gifts purchased between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31 can be returned through Jan. 31. Most items can be returned or exchanged at Walmart within 90 days of purchase, with some exceptions. You can return items to the store, ship them back, drop off curbside or, if you’re a Walmart+ member, someone will swing by your home to grab your cast-off goods.
Pick out presents like a consummate procrastinator: If for whatever reason — lack of inspiration, funds, time — you find yourself caught-up in an eleventh-hour quest for Christmas presents, there are a number of gifts you can purchase and bestow almost instantly, without even leaving the house, like gift cards, tickets to concerts and subscription boxes. There are also a slew of digital services to suit various tastes, like XBox Live for gamers, Kindle Unlimited for bibliophiles, Netflix for TV show bingers and Spotify for music lovers.
Avoid overspending: The stress and chaos of the holiday season — parties, school recitals, community events — can cause even the most dedicated bargain hunter to be duped into spending more. The pressure to get on board with the latest trends spouted on social media can also drive us to drain our bank accounts. The key is to purchase with purpose and heed these tips to avoid retail trappings and financial pitfalls. Ignore credit card offers. Make a list and stick to it. Research products and prices.
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Set limits (it’s not too late): If a shrinking budget is a concern, don’t ignore it or rack up credit card debt to compensate. If you’re worried about how much to spend, stretched too thin or feel as though the entire process has become trite and routine, perhaps it’s time to establish gift-giving guidelines by engaging in open dialogue with friends and family. Take a casual and comfortable approach to conversation and focus on “you.” Frame the conversation with “I feel” or “I want.” Be intentional. You may find that your friends and family feel the same.
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