Family specialists and financial experts who conduct seminars on keeping holidays enjoyable offer these tips:

Create a budget. Be reasonable and realistic about gift-buying. Determine an amount in advance and stick to it. If overspending is a problem, consider using cash instead of credit cards or checks.

Make lists of what you need to buy - gifts, decorations, food. Use catalogs, either for efficient shopping or as a source of gift-giving ideas. Start early with shopping, baking, and other preparations.

Challenge traditions. If cooking a large dinner is difficult, establish a new tradition - having a potluck, for example, where each guest brings part of the meal. Or invite guests for dessert rather than a complete dinner.

Delegate responsibilities. Ask other family members to help, perhaps in buying gifts or in hosting the holiday dinner. "Parents don't give children enough responsibilities in helping for the holidays and taking some of the load off," says Lisa Poelle of Work and Family Focus in San Jose, Calif. "The older they get, the more they should be involved and asked to help with cooking, cleaning, shopping."

Simplify. If you don't like to bake cookies, buy them. Set reasonable limits for gift-giving, entertaining, partying.

Avoid perfectionism. Don't think you need to make the perfect meal, buy the perfect present, be the perfect host.

Reward yourself. "Put yourself on pause, and sit down and let somebody else serve you, even if it's just a lemonade or hot cider," says Linda Miller, a corporate trainer at Concern in Mountain View, Calif.

Give of yourself. Instead of feeling obligated to purchase gifts, offer coupons for services, such as "This coupon entitles you to an evening of baby-sitting," or "I will wash your car for the coming year."

Do something for other people. "Serve in a church outreach group," Miller suggests. "Deliver food. Sing to an elderly group."

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.