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    Prep for the Holidays Now: A Month-by-Month Guide

    September is a hard month for holiday traditionalists, who are often heard lamenting about Christmas decorations looming over the Halloween candy before Labor Day. But, for the all-year-round holiday music-listening crowd, September is the unofficial kick-off to the best four months of the year, also known as the BER (brrrr, like it's chilly out there!) months.

    Even if you’re not thrilled navigating stacks of pumpkin pie filling cans and crates of candy cane hot chocolate that clog the grocery aisles, you have to admit September, October, November, and December are the fastest moving months on the calendar. 

    So, to get you in the holiday mood all fall and prepare for the inevitable deluge of festive events, we’ve created a month-by-month checklist to keep your spirits bright.

     To start, do yourself a favor each month and accomplish these two things:
    • Deep clean one room family and friends use, like the living and dining room and kitchen. Then, when your gatherings approach, you can spruce up the spaces without spending too much time. 
    • Double your holiday treat recipes and make several dozen to freeze each month. Over the months, you’ll have goodies to share with last-minute guests and enough to package as gifts. 

    Now, for your month-to-month breakdown. 

    Woman with laptop, phone, and calculatorPhoto from  Canva


    Budget for Holiday Expenses 

    The teacher gifts, new turkey pan, holiday outfits, and so much more add up fast, right? Hopefully, you’ve tucked away a little holiday savings each month since the new year, but if you’ve waited until September, it's time to make big savings strides. For an idea of what average consumers spend over the holidays, the National Retail Federation reported that shoppers spent almost $1,000 on gifts and other holiday items in 2022. So, how will your budget compare for 2023?

    Use a checklist to help you create a budget and keep spending expectations realistic as you slot each category. You might need to pick up a side hustle for a few months or cut back on other spending if you're set on a specific dollar amount. 

    Here are the major categories to save for: 

    • Gifts
    • Wrapping supplies
    • Postage and shipping
    • Food and entertaining
    • Decorations
    • Clothing
    • Events and activities
    • Holiday photos and cards
    • Travel
    • Charity and donations 

    Young couple shopping in a supermarketPhoto from Shutterstock

    Shop End-of-Season Sales

    Shopping end-of-season sales is the perfect way to get more bang for your buck. Plus, if you enjoy shopping in-store, there isn’t a crowd to navigate like during Black Friday sales. If you prefer bargain hunting online, set alerts on Google Shopping or use an aggregator like Honey or Camel, Camel, Camel for sale updates. If you find a great deal on something fabulous, grab one or two more in case you forget a host or last-minute holiday party gift. 

    Stock Up on the Basics 

    As you shop this month, you’ll notice household items on sale. Stock up on paper towels, toilet paper, and cleaning supplies. Discounted entertaining items will also trickle in. Buy multiples of your favorite scented candles and heavy-duty disposable plates and cutlery. Don’t forget discounted box mixes for muffins, cakes, cookies, and multi-packs of stock and broth for upcoming holiday cooking. Go one step further and look ahead to gift wrapping season—buy new scissors, tape rolls, and other shipping items. 

    Create an Events Calendar 

    Military families are hard to pin down over the holidays, so you likely already have holiday invitations or requests to visit, and it’s not even Halloween! As best you can, pencil in the most important dates to schedule around. Reiterate to your family and friends that the military still operates even over the holidays, so they should expect changes along the way. 

    Prioritize these events on your calendar and hope and plan for the best. 

    • No school and no work days 
    • Travel days
    • Family and holiday parties 
    • Class and work parties
    • School concerts and extracurricular performances
    • Local must-do festivals and events
    • Family pictures
    • Dates for visitors 

    Cute daughter unpacking moving boxes with her mother in their new homePhoto from Canva

    Declutter and Donate 

    Whether or not you have kids at home or if the dog is your fur child, you’ll accumulate extra items over the holidays like boxes, wrapping supplies, decorations, and bulk buys. Before the festive clutter gets overwhelming, clean out hidden spaces and donate items so you can make room for the holiday trappings that will appear. Now is also a good time to thin your festive decorations to brighten another home over the upcoming holiday season. 

    Extended family at the christmas dinner table at home in the living roomPhoto from Shutterstock


    Plan Holiday Recipes 

    Traditional holiday food appears each year because everyone loves the dishes and expects to see them at family get-togethers. These recipes are easy to plan and shop for, so go ahead and buy the ingredients now. 

    On the other hand, food at holiday gatherings runs the gamut of options these days, so you might need to break from traditional fare if invited to a potluck or holiday open house. October is the month to try a new recipe when the stakes are low. Never bring a first-time dish to a community event! 

    Create Family Wish Lists 

    By now, grandparents, aunts, and uncles have probably started asking what to buy the kids for the holidays. Instead of the standard hmm and haw about how “no one needs anything,” don’t take the joy of gift giving away from your family. Instead, suggest gifts that your family will love and appreciate. If it makes you feel better, limit the price points, insist on an “experience” instead of toys, or attend an event like the Nutcracker as a family gift. 

    Update Your Gift Giving List 

    Did you forget anyone in September? The bus driver or Secret Santa? Maybe you found a great gift on sale for your mom. Update your gift-giving list to ensure you watch your budget and maintain the buying schedule. Plus, it can’t hurt to start shopping sooner because shipping is so unpredictable these days.

    October is perfect to Tackle This Easy Fall Home Maintenance Checklist Over a Couple of Weekends.

    Christmas wrapping paper and ribbonsPhoto by Freestocks via Unsplash


    Finalize Your Meals and Food Plans 

    Plans change, and people change their minds, so your food plans have to change, too. Revise your menu, update your person counts, and hunt for out-of-stock items at the beginning of November so you can coast in the kitchen during the second half of the month. Don’t forget to maximize your commissary and grocery loyalty cards to take advantage of BOGOs and other sales. 

    Order Your Holiday Cards 

    If you aren’t using a spring or summer photo, snap a quick family pic and upload it to one of the many online holiday card printers. Your family doesn’t have to pose in front of a decked-out fireplace mantle; a quick front porch picture works great, too. Many people showcase their pets on holiday and New Year’s cards because they don’t mind the photo shoot. Promo codes are easy to come by for Minted, Snapfish, and Shutterfly. You can even use online stores like Walgreens. 

    Prepare Your Gift Wrap Station

    A gift wrap station doesn’t need to be fancy. Use a corner or a closet, but all your supplies should be in one spot. If you haven’t bulked up on bows and paper, now is the time to fill the gaps in your wrapping strategy. These items typically appear early in big box stores like Costco, often in complete kits so that you can buy a one-and-done set. 

    Keep Up With the Cleaning 

    Since you deep cleaned a couple of rooms each month, you won’t have as much work to do in November. Focus on reducing clutter and touch up the guest bathroom and kitchen surfaces before guests arrive. Don’t forget to add your favorite holiday scent to the air an hour or so before company comes. 

    Christmas wreaths in marketplacePhoto from Canva

    Attend a Holiday Event in Your New Hometown or Start a New Tradition

    Spending the holidays in a new town post-PCS can be wistful if you miss family and friends. So, maximize the new-to-you opportunities in your area to shake the holiday blues. For example, you could attend a tree lighting, have Thanksgiving dinner at a local restaurant, or create a new tradition that your family will remember for years, like buying gifts for another military family in need. It’s also helpful to continue traditions with a twist, like meeting Santa at a botanical garden instead of the mall or visiting a Christmas tree farm instead of buying from a lot. 

    Here are a few more ideas to find holiday fun in your new hometown:

    • Try new cuisine in a restaurant. 
    • Attend a holiday concert.
    • Spend the holiday volunteering.
    • Adopt a local family and provide holiday trimmings. 
    • Foster a dog or cat for the holidays.

    Here’s a guide for visiting holiday markets near your base. Time for new family traditions! 

    It’s always easier to tackle a big job a little bit at a time, and preparing for the holidays is the definition of a big job! So, choose the chores that will impact your home the most and get started. Before you know it, it’s officially time to enjoy your favorite flavored Starbucks, hang out with your family, and eat to your heart’s content.

    Download Fall Home Maintenance Tips!


    Prep for the Holidays Now

    Dawn M. Smith


    Dawn M. Smith

    Dawn is a real estate and military life writer who has a serious HGTV habit. When she is not writing, her teen daughter, Army husband, and golden retriever keep her busy through chauffeur duties, travel planning, and long dog walks. Dawn is pleased to share her experiences with MilitaryByOwner readers who are hoping to simplify military family journeys of all kinds. Follow Dawn on Pinterest for more ideas and resources and visit her site at Dawn M. Smith Custom Content Creation.

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