Holiday & Travel Planning

Making Three Lists and Checking Them A Lot

Break your seasonal to-do list into three master lists to ensure a smooth and joyous holiday.

Three yellow notepad Blank To Do Lists on Corkboard.

For those of you who are impulsive and/or disorganized, making a “Holiday To-Do List” early is a must. Deciding what to put on it (and what NOT to put on it) however can be confusing. There are activities to schedule, parties to attend, gifts to buy and greetings to send. I suggest you break your holiday agenda down into three master lists.

List # 1: Activities

Don’t wait until the last minute to plan the activities you choose to leave on your list. Plan them now. Get out your paper planner or open your calendar app. Block out time to shop, cook, or just plain have fun. Buy tickets for events early. Write out cards early and have them all ready to go by a cutoff date. Past that date, let it go and don’t worry about it. It just plain didn’t get done and that is all there is to it. Move on to other things and don’t crowd the rest of your holiday schedule by trying to squeeze it in still.

Following are some suggestions of what your list might include. Be sure to add your own.

  • synagogue/church activities
  • card sending
  • gift giving/wrapping/mailing
  • party hosting/attending
  • family fun: caroling, sleigh rides, skating, skiing, etc.
  • viewing special holiday displays or lights
  • volunteer work and/or holiday donation
  • food shopping/menus
  • tree and indoor/outdoor decorating
  • pictures with Santa
  • romantic time with partner
  • holiday movies/theater/concerts
  • holiday cleaning
  • family and/or friend get-togethers
  • holiday baking/cooking

[Read: Manage the Holidays]

List #2: Gift Giving Budget

Making a gift giving list and deciding a spending limit for each person on the list is a lifesaver (and money-saver) for anyone, but especially those of us prone to last-minute shopping.

First, decide what your overall budget is for gifts and cards this season (see our sample below). Then write down the names of family and friends that you usually see over the holidays and exchange gifts with. On the list, put a few blanks for those last minute gifts you really did forget about, with an amount to spend on each that is within your budget — and stick to that number!

Sample Gift Budget (Total: $500.00)

  • Recipient: Spouse
  • Maximum: $100
  • Recipient: Mom
  • Maximum: $40
  • Recipient: Dad
  • Maximum: $40
  • Recipient: Sister or Husband
  • Maximum: $30
  • Recipient: Brother and Wife
  • Maximum: $30
  • Recipient: Nieces and Nephews (up to $10 each)
  • Maximum: $50
  • Recipient: Grandma Smith
  • Maximum: $30
  • Recipient: Grandma and Grandpa Jones
  • Maximum: $30
  • Recipient: Best Friend and Husband
  • Maximum: $30
  • Recipient: Friends (up $10 each)
  • Maximum: $30
  • Recipient: Cards and Miscellaneous
  • Maximum: $30

[Additional Reading: Holiday Stress Relief Begins Here]

List #3: Getting Gifts and Cards to the Right Place at the Right Time

Make a third list of tips or things you can do to make gift giving and card sending manageable. This is the list you want to check a lot! Keep it with you as a reminder that you can’t and aren’t expected to do it all and that shortcuts are quite all right during the busiest time of the year. This list might include the following. Be sure to add your own ideas, especially the ones you might forget about.


  • Send e-mail cards. They save on postage and are a lot of fun! Use e-mail for party invitations too, instead of cards. Great invitations can be found at and
  • Enter your holiday card list into a database (or export your contact list) and do a mail merge for labels. Use a festive holiday looking script and colored font. Heck, while you are at it, print out two sets of labels, so next year’s is already done.
  • If you send cards and do them by hand, pare down your recipients. Have cards/invitations, and stamps stored in a bag with handles, so you can grab it to-go. Write cards while waiting for an appointment or riding on the metro.


  • Shop online or by catalog. Have gifts sent directly to your family and friends. You can get through your entire list in a sitting, with no traffic hassles or slippery roads!
  • Hire a personal shopper if you can afford one. Some of the more upscale department stores supply this service, or you can search for a virtual personal shopper.
  • Know the favorite store of the person you are shopping for? Get them a gift card. It makes a no-hassle gift to both give and receive. And don’t forget — teens love cash!
  • Gift baskets and flowers are lovely to receive and easy to send.
  • Use gift bags instead of wrapping.
  • Have gifts wrapped at the mall by a non-profit organization and feel good about the donation you make.
  • If you insist on wrapping, do a gift wrapping supply inventory (gift-wrap, ribbons, tags, scotch tape, and boxes) early. Store everything in a large, simple cardboard box and keep it easily accessible during the season.

Now, look back on the lists and decide what you really don’t like doing. If everybody in the family still wants Mr. Santa up on the roof, delegate, barter, or beg to get it off your personal list. But maybe your children are getting older and you don’t really need to drag out the plastic Santa this year. Remember, it’s OK to let your family’s traditions evolve.

[Watch This Video: Your Holiday Prioritization Plan]