10 Ways to Manage Holiday Stress (and Save Money)

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STRESS RELIEF

Regardless how much we love the holidays, stress is the uninvited but ever-present guest. There's a lot to do, a lot of money to spend, and a lot of people to please. Take a deep breath and employ these 10 tactics, which don't cost a thing, to manage stress during the holiday season.

Related: 15 Inexpensive Ways to Make Overnight Holiday Guests Feel at Home

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CELEBRATE WITH IMMEDIATE FAMILY ONLY

Fewer people at a holiday gathering means less food, less money, and less overall stress. As satisfying as it is to be invited to the homes of multiple friends or relatives, this breeds trouble. Each invitation turns into an obligation to buy at least one gift and likely make a contribution to the dinner table as well. Politely decline invitations and explain your new less-stress approach (if an explanation seems warranted).

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SKIP GIFTS

As a family, commit to donating to a charity or to the kids' college funds instead of buying gifts. Set an amount that fits your budget and cut a check to the cause of your choice or deposit the funds in the college account. Get the extended family on board, which reduces gift costs even more. Each nuclear family determines how much and where to contribute, but the end goal is the same: Spend less and stress less.

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HOST A POTLUCK

Rather than buying all the groceries and cooking the entire holiday meal, invite guests to pitch in. Breaking the affair into smaller, more manageable tasks significantly lowers the amount of time, effort, and money expended. Consider choosing a theme so all the contributed dishes complement each other. A menu based on fresh, locally sourced foods, for example, would encourage the family to rethink traditional holiday fare and leave everyone feeling a wee bit virtuous at the end.

Related: Lean Into the Holidays With These 24 Healthy and Cheap Recipes

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PLAN AHEAD

Waiting until the last minute to buy gifts, cook a side dish, or clean the house is just asking for extra holiday anxiety. Set deadlines well in advance so there's no cramming at crunch time. Buy items as you see them -- especially if they're on sale -- and make to-do lists with a "due date" notation; tackle a little at a time. When the big day arrives, you might even feel relaxed.

Related: 25 Go-To Gift Ideas Under $25 for Everyone on Your List

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UPDATE THE HOLIDAY CARD LIST

Holiday cards easily cost more than $1 apiece -- and that doesn't count postage. Have you recently evaluated who is on the receiving end of these missives? Are you sure the addresses are current? Take time to double-check the card list so nothing marked "return to sender" shows up in your mailbox. No sense spending time and money to send out more than necessary.

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GET OUT OF TOWN

Put the money you would have used on gifts toward a family holiday vacation. Set a reasonable budget and stick to it. Be sure to account for transportation, lodging, food, entertainment, and incidentals. If the extended family tags along, have everyone chip in to cover their share. Getting away from the holiday grind can leave you refreshed for next year's celebrations.

Related: How to Fly for Less This Holiday Season

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USE SAVED VACATION DAYS

Why add stress on top of stress? If paid vacation time accrues throughout the year, reserve several days for the holidays. The more time you can take off from work during the season, the better. Time at home during the day means more time to prepare, fewer balls to juggle, and a lot less pressure.
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VOLUNTEER

There are deserving people who may need the help of your family during the holidays. Offer your time serving food at a homeless shelter, packaging items at a food bank, or delivering hot meals to those who don't have access to the bounty your family enjoys. The work will help put minor stresses in perspective.
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DELEGATE

Relieve the pressure by assigning specific jobs to your significant other and the kids. Children can be a big help in the kitchen and your partner can run errands and help with critical chores around the house. With less on your shoulders, you may actually look forward to hosting holiday festivities.

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TRY A NEW TRADITION

Just because you've always celebrated one way doesn't mean you can't change it up. One new tradition or shift in the routine may help manage holiday stress. Dine at a restaurant, celebrate on a different day, buy presents only for the kids -- whatever you need to keep the season feeling special without adding to the burdens.