9 Can’t-Miss Holiday Planning Tips for Procrastinators

If you’re anything like me, you wouldn’t need a list like this.

But if you’re anything like you, you might.

No shame to the procrastinators, but I love pre-planning my holiday gifts, food, and activities months in advance. So I figured I’d use that type A personality to help out the mega-procrastinators this year.

So instead of waiting until the week of Christmas to start frantically buying things on Prime because you’ve run out of time again, take a few tips from me, a skilled planner and expert gift-giver, on how to start preparing NOW before you go into another holiday frenzy.

P.s. I tucked a pretty useful gift planning template in here, so read on to steal a copy for yourself!

Holiday planning tips you should use

No need to panic – I’m here to help you be a more organized, less chicken-with-its-head-cut-off type of person this holiday season. Here are nine easy-to-follow tips to make holiday planning for gift-giving, meal planning, and get-togethers – a breeze.

Gift planning tips

While some people want to be less materialistic, most people love receiving gifts at the holidays. Whatever winter holiday you celebrate, you want to come prepared. To make things easier on you, here’s a roundup of the top must-dos to make gift-giving an enjoyable experience.

1. Make a list of who you need to buy gifts for

In short, do your gift list in tiers of must-buy to must-get-a-card-for.

Here’s how I broke it down:

  • Immediate family
  • Close friends
  • Extended family
  • Service providers
  • People you only send cards to

I broke down the most common groups of people that you might need to get gifts for this – and every – holiday season. You can access, copy, and create your own list using my gift list template!

2. Set aside a dollar amount per person

I love spending money on gifts. Gift-giving is one of my love languages. And it might be yours, too. But make sure you don’t go overboard and spend $300 on one person so that you’re tapped out and can only afford $10 for the next. Unless you’re super rich. Go nuts, then, I guess.

Set aside a dollar amount that works best for the most important must-buy people in your life (and allocate more to them obviously), and then set aside smaller amounts for people like coworkers, aunts, uncles, and people who you love, but maybe a little less than your parents, spouse, or cat.

3. If you’re shopping small/local, don’t delay!

It’s not too early. You just like waiting until the last minute. 🙂

But seriously, if you’re planning to buy something off of Etsy, check the location and proposed shipping time. It could take 5-6 weeks for something to ship internationally, so stop twiddling your thumbs and actually hit the purchase button. Then you can breathe a sigh of relief, mark it off of your list, and call it a day.

4. Plan to do a homemade/handmade goods swap

Even with the pandemic, it’s still a good idea to do a homemade goods swap with the people you’re closest to. This can be crafts, photo albums, cookies or other desserts, or anything that you make yourself. Maybe you’re a candle connoisseur or a pottery phenom. Whatever it is, making something handmade is still an awesome route for gift-giving.

If you live in the same city as your friends and family, you can head over to their place and drop off your homemade goods on the doorstep while they leave your gift outside to pick up when you’re dropping yours off. Plan your drop-off before Christmas so they can enjoy your gift on Christmas day.

Holiday meal planning tips

Whether it’s a meal for one, an intimate couple’s meal, you and your immediate family, or something in between, it’s important to be prepared for those extravagant holiday meals we look forward to for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the new year.

5. Write a grocery list

Going in blind is probably one of the biggest holiday meal planning mistakes you could make. Well, other than shopping when hungry.

Break your list down into sections of the store to make shopping a breeze.

  • Protein: meat or some other main entree
  • Vegetables: to comprise your side dishes
  • Bread: biscuits, rolls, whatever you dip into gravy
  • Add-ons: sauces, dips, cheeses, cream, etc.
  • Dessert: for your post-dinner sweet tooth
  • Drinks: soft drinks, champagne, wine, beer, fancy water

Not only will it help you remember everything so you don’t have to make multiple trips, it will help you tell other people who aren’t cooking what they should bring. Maybe leave the bread, dessert, or drinks up to guests and only focus on the mains. Makes sense, saves time, and saves money.

6. Cook some things the night before

No, really. Not the stuff that HAS to be freshly cooked, like your turkey, but the stuff that can bake, cook, or easily reheat the next morning to be like-fresh day of.

Some dishes that fit into this group:

  • Stuffing
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Whole roasted root vegetables (sweet potatoes, squash specifically)

Prep the stuffing the night before, put it in your baking dish, and wrap it with plastic wrap overnight in the fridge. You’ve just saved yourself 45 minutes on Thanksgiving day.

Boil and mash your potatoes the day before, then reheat and add your butter, cream, and milk day of to save another 30-40 minutes of potato boiling time.

Wash and wrap your sweet potatoes or yams in aluminum foil and bake them the night before. That way the cooking part is done, and all you have to do is cut them open and add your butter, seasonings, or whatever add-ins you want to include the next day and reheat them slowly on a baking sheet.

7. Work in teams to cook your meal

Assuming you live with a significant other or your family members, make sure that everyone helps out in the kitchen! Don’t leave everything to mom or dad or your spouse.

If you’re not a skilled cook, that’s fine. See what you can do to help: cut vegetables, wash dishes, gather products, read off recipe cards – whatever it is, lend a helping hand to make lighter work. This isn’t groundbreaking; it’s logical. Many hands = light work, as the saying goes.

8. If you don’t cook, bring something to share

So you can’t cook. That’s fine. But don’t come empty-handed.

Even if holiday parties can’t be big and bountiful this year like years past, if you’re getting together with your parents in a socially-distanced dinner, make sure to bring something to share. A bottle of wine, some after-dinner liqueur, or a pan of box-made cookies will do the trick.

Stores like Aldi or Trader Joe’s have affordable wine (between $5-10 for some good quality stuff) and nicely-priced floral bouquets (under $10), so you can spend $20 or less to bring a little joy to a gathering even if you aren’t Gordon Ramsay in the kitchen.

Event planning tips

Did you really think I was going to tell you how to host a family get-together during the middle of a pandemic? You must be out of your mind.

But I WILL tell you how to plan a virtual event that everyone’s going to love.

9. Virtual holiday party tips

I’m in the process of planning an event for my team at work, and while I’ve planned in-person events before, I’ve never planned a virtual event. Many of you are probably in the same boat, so I did some research to get my footing off the ground.

Here’s a useful checklist of must-haves for a work, friend, or family virtual holiday party:

  • A theme for your event
  • Festive Zoom backgrounds
  • Dedicated activities
  • Gifts and party favors
  • A dress code
  • A contest with prizes

Event theme

Your theme could be something traditional, like “Winter Wonderland,” or something specific to your friend or family group, like “Party Posse Christmas Bash” or “Gomez Holiday Get-Together”.

Get creative and use a punny name plus something holiday-related to get your family, friends, or team in the holiday spirit!

Zoom backgrounds

Since it’s likely your virtual get-together will be hosted on Zoom, make sure to search for some awesome free-use Zoom backgrounds on Google, or if you’re the creative type, you can learn how to make your own.


Not gonna lie, virtual happy hours are pretty overdone at this point. Yeah, I said it. But there are plenty of awesome virtual activities you can choose from to actually get people excited about sitting behind a screen together for a few hours.

Gifts and party favors

This one’s especially important for your work virtual Christmas parties. Other than (hopefully) an end-of-year bonus for your hard workers, you should be providing some kind of gifts, party favors, or treats for your team to share in together, even from afar.

A few ideas include:

  • A custom cocktail kit so everyone can make drinks for the call
  • Gift cards to local restaurants so everyone can enjoy lunch together
  • A gift kit with cookies, fruit, cheese, etc. that can be enjoyed by the recipient for days to come

Dress code

Admittedly one of my favorites, having everyone dress up in a themed outfit is a peak bonding opportunity. If you’re doing this for work, you can get custom-made company branded t-shirts with a little holiday flair, or if it’s among friends, family, or really festive coworkers, ugly Christmas sweaters.

Here’s a shot of me in one of my many Christmas sweaters back in the office, December 2019

I wore a (cute!) ugly Christmas sweater to work on two different occasions last year, and even got my teammates to join me the second day! This is very easily something that can be turned virtual, so it’s a quick win for sure.

You can easily find some really great options on Amazon, or use a site like Tipsy Elves, which frequently has their sweaters on sale for 15-30% off of listing price. Some of their options aren’t family-friendly and can come across as raunchy, but others are super safe for work and cute as heck.

Contest with prizes

You can create a contest out of any of the above: best holiday sweater, nicest painting, trivia winner, or anything of the like, or something completely new, like:

Basically, whatever activities you host, you can turn into a contest, and the prizes can be small and easy to disseminate virtually: $5-10 dollar e-gift cards for coffee, lunch, or to an online retailer of your choosing.

Holly and jolly and cups of good cheer

Hopefully these tips can help you put your anxious holiday mind at ease. I thrive this time of year. If you need any more help, shoot me a message and I can create a custom holiday plan for your party and/or help you with gifting for the special people in your life.

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