Countdown to the holidays checklist

by Julie Snyder

Holiday ChecklistAs you get rid of the sugar from your child's teeth in a post-Halloween haze, it suddenly hits you. The holidays are here! In a few short weeks, everyone will expect food, gifts and hospitality.

As daunting as the tasks may be, the real terror lies in anticipation.

Before you overload your purse with coffee stained lists or download yet another app, cruise our checklist for a foolproof start to the holiday season!

Your holiday countdown checklist

✓ The budget

Making plans without making a budget is like dying your hair without reading the directions. You'll get results, but they may not be what you want!

Rough out a budget for everything -- food, gifts, gas, travel, and heavier than usual utility bills. Now, stick to it! Be diligent about your spending and you'll finish out the year without regrets.

Tip: Put away 10 cents for every dollar you spend! You won't notice the cash missing during the rush. You will be thrilled with that chubby account in January!

✓ The shopping

Broaden your choices for acceptable presents for each person. Take advantage of all that the internet has to offer in the way of shopping, wish lists, and more. Cyber shopping will open up more choices and keep your gas bill and frustration to a minimum.

✓ The traveler

If you're traveling by air or train (and haven't already) get those tickets NOW before prices skyrocket.

If by car, take the vehicle in to the shop for pre-trip inspection (many shops do it for free!) and take care of any repairs. Soon your mechanic will be slammed with holiday travel emergencies, and slam you with the extra charges.

Car rentals prices hike up fast as Thanksgiving approaches. Secure a reasonable rate and a nice vehicle before you get stuck with something you don't want and can't afford.

✓ The decor

Get those pumpkins off your porch! Removing the reminders of the holiday past will put you in a forward state of mind. Christmas is the heaviest of the decorating seasons, so stay light and easy with your autumn adoration and be thankful for the easy transition.

✓ The cleaning

Realistically, no one can keep their house guest-ready throughout the season. The key to quick clean-up is keeping your home as organized as possible!

Challenge yourself to organize, clean out, or otherwise handle a hot spot in your house, like a cupboard, or a closet. Eliminating clutter and crowding makes polishing and scrubbing a snap.

✓ The crafts

Places like Pinterest have a plethora of exciting, adorable and downright irresistible, "do it yourself" ideas. While the idea of a homemade gift is truly heartfelt, balance your time and budget first before deciding to take a crafting adventure.

What may seem simple can end up a complete nightmare. Have all your supplies on hand, and give yourself a full, open day for the project and the clean up.

✓ The guest dilemma

Someone has to accommodate Aunt Harriet, Uncle Ned and all those cousins. This year, be the one to make a few phone calls before the whole family is doing the "spare room scramble."

Be honest about what you can handle. Encourage everyone else to do the same. Taking initiative may belay those holiday pesky squabbles.

✓ The menu

If you're hosting, contact all your guests with the menu, or what they can bring to offer to the feast. Plan early and watch the sales.

If you're the party guest, don't be shy about calling your host, asking about their plans and offering to bring your favorite dish.

✓ The kids

Holidays bring out the best in our children, right? While school is out and anticipations high, kids get...well, antsy. We're busy stressing out about what needs done; they're desperate to be entertained.

Truth is, to get a moment's peace, entertainment is a necessity!

• Keep their fingers occupied making fun crafts or centerpieces for the holiday table.
• Before Christmas, give every child a box and have them fill it with the toys they can give to someone in need.
• Put them to work! Most kids just want to help…so give them small and age appropriate tasks to keep them busy.
• Exchange "play days" with friends and family so everyone can enjoy a "kid free day" and play a little catch-up.

✓ The electronics

Gather the cords, all the cords -- chargers, USB, and download cables! Keep them bundled together in their own recloseable bags or containers and label them clearly.

Our best advice is this: don't try to do it all! After all, friends and family is what this time of year is really about. In the end, those memories will shine brightly long after the decoration and gifts have been put away.

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.