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7 Steps to Plan Your Holiday Cards (To Avoid the Usual Headaches)

Are you usually looking at your calendar, watching the days go by while sipping your favorite warm seasonal beverage, and thinking "ughhh I have to get my holiday cards out TODAY or they won't even make it on time..."

Ya, me too.

Do you want to avoid that feeling of dread this year in November? In December? Here are a few ways to help avoid the stress, starting with planning NOW.

PRO TIP: Bookmark this tab to easily come back throughout the process.

*Dates proposed are if you start today, August 14.

1. Make your list & check it (yes...twice)

An obvious place to start, but did you know you should start in July? How are you doing, already behind?

Don't worry, me too. It is easy to catch up here.

Let's set ourselves a deadline together. Can you make this list in 1 week?

Complete your list by August 20.

PRO TIP: Make this list directly into Excel if you are starting from scratch, it will help in Step 2.

2. Annual address roundup

Congratulations, you made the list. Now it is time to gather their addresses. Hopefully you have a list from last year (or like me, from your recent wedding). Dust off this Excel file from the archives and check in.

I have a system that I want to share with you to quickly organize an existing Excel.

If you don't have an archived address list, keep reading, I have tips for you too.

Color coding — highlight your Excel file into three categories:

  • Have any of your friends and family moved? Highlight them in red.

  • Anyone you are sending to that you haven't talked to much and need to confirm their address? Highlight them in yellow.

  • Any new friends on the list whose address you don't have yet? Highlight them in green.

Guess what, you can automate updating and receiving addresses! Create a google form that links to your Excel file and have anyone NEW or MOVED fill it out.

Individually follow up with those friends that you haven't chatted with this year with a phone call, it will feel more personal and its an excuse to reach out and say hi. You can still send the link to them after the call so they don't have to dictate their address to you.

And, of course (have you guessed it?), give them a deadline. We can be more generous with their time, give them 2 weeks to get back to you.

Ask your friends & family to send their addresses by September 10.

*If you don't receive their addresses from them by September 10, give them a quick call. Your hard cut off to an address isn't until you order your cards so you can bother the stragglers for a month or so for an address.

3. Research time — find a photographer

Okay, we have people to send your cards to and in the process of getting their addresses. It is time to get the card created!

Start with the photos on the card. Do you have professional images from this year that you can use? Or do you need to schedule a session?

Photographers start booking up their Fall and Holiday sessions in July/August, so this step is KEY to getting your cards completed in time.

But how do you find a photographer?

  • Do you have a family photographer that you used this year? Last year? Contact them first if you enjoyed working with them. They run their own small businesses and love to have repeat clients.

  • Ask your friends! Do they have cute family photos on their social media — look at their tags or send them a quick message.

  • Google, our trusty source. Be specific and search "[your location] + [family photographer]" or "[your location] + [holiday photographer]". If you are in a big city or multi-state area, search your neighborhood or county name to find someone as local to you as possible. For example: "NYC UES Family Photographer" or "NYC UES Holiday Photographer."

Reach out to your photographers in the order above until someone has availability that fits your schedule. And budget.

A few things to consider before we talk numbers for the budget and that will help you determine the right photographer for you.

  • How many photos do you want for your card? One single for the front of the entire family? A family photo + individual of each family member? Relationship images of partners, siblings, pets, etc.?

  • Where do you want the photos taken? In a studio, in your home, in a park, or at a holiday themed setup?

  • Do you want digital files just for your card or do you want any wall portraits of these too?

  • Do you want a photographer that will also design your card for you? That will print it for you? That will get your addresses printed on the envelopes for you?

  • Can your photographer turn around the edited photograph(s) by November 10 so you can send your cards to print on time?

Okay, let's talk numbers. TL;DR below

  • Just like with any service, you get what you pay for. Do you want someone who walks you through the entire process (clothing, location, selected images, ordering) or someone that you meet once in a central location who later sends you a link with files to download?

  • Session fee — this varies by your location, but could go from $150 to $1,500, depending on what you receive with the session fee (if anything)

  • Digital file fee — this varies based on the photographer, are you looking for 1 image, 10 images, or the whole session of images? Average anywhere from $50 to $1,000 here.

  • Printed artwork photograph fee — some photographers are print-first meaning they value you having the artwork printed in your home over only a digital file on your computer or phone. This could vary similar to the digital file fee with a higher range to account for how large your photograph is printed (think up to 5 feet long!) — $150 to $6,000

  • Custom holiday card design fee — is your photographer serving you by taking the design off your hands? Great! This can make your life easier for this entire process. Pay them for the service can range from $75 to $500 on average.

  • Holiday card printing fee — is your photographer also printing these for you? Be sure to ask if they can print your envelopes too with addresses for you! Pay for this awesome service anywhere from $100 to $500, depending on how many cards you are printing.

  • Remember, your photographer has to pay themselves (think of an hourly wage like any other job), cover the cost of any printing or other products, and make a profit to support their business and livelihood. How much do you think they are worth or how much do you think their photography is worth?

  • Now add it all up, what do you want to pay — remember, if you are DIY on the holiday cards, you still have to pay for the printing, your time for address labels, and stamps (see later steps)


My estimated cost for your holiday photos (with all of the above in mind) can range from the DIY end of one digital image at $200, to the entire service by your photographer at $500 to $2,500 (if you get a medium sized printed portrait too!).

Now that you know what can go into pricing, find your perfect photographer for your needs. Give yourself 2 weeks to locate the perfect person, and an estimated photography session date for October (because we want nice weather for a session, not sweating in the Summer heat here in the U.S., and you need the edited photographs back in time for the cards to be printed in November).

Choose and book your photographer by September 3.

4. Photography Session (if necessary)

This is my favorite step of the whole process!

Not only are you completing an important step for your holiday cards by getting photographs taken of you and your family, but you are getting custom artwork created of your family at this exact moment in your lives.

I highly encourage you to work with your photographer to not only get the holiday themed photographs, but photograph(s) to be printed as large wall portrait(s) to hang year-round. This is great for a few reasons:

  • If you have children, you are celebrating them at whatever age they are this year and will never look or feel the same again — you love them and showing it with custom artwork.

  • If you have pets, I sure hope you are including them in the photographs too. Pets are too pure and don't get to be with us for very long. Capture them with you in photographs to keep forever.

  • The investment in the photograph is for multiple reasons and your research, getting your family ready for the session, and money is put towards not only Holiday Cards but also a wall portrait that will be an heirloom piece for your family.


  • Be sure to plan outfits at least a week prior to the session so they can be ironed/steamed and laid to the side. If you need to purchase new shirts, pants, or shoes, plan ahead by two weeks minimum.

  • Do you or your family members need to get hair cuts prior or updos the day of? Book this the moment you schedule a date with your photographer.

  • Do your pre-cheerleading for the session with anyone in the family who may be hesitant in front of a camera (and a photographer they may have never met).

  • Plan a fun treat (ice cream, anyone?) or nice dinner after the session to look forward to.

Complete your photography session by November 5.

*This date is the latest I would recommend to get your images edited by your photographer, be able to design/print cards, and mail cards on time (with recommended dates in Steps 5 - 7 below).

5. Research round two — custom holiday card design & printing

Okay, we talked about this in step 3 if you will have your photographer custom design and print for you then you can skip and disregard, but if you are a DIYer, this step is for you.

There are a lot of places to design and print your holiday cards. When I was growing up, I remember going to Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, etc. and they had computers you could stand at and design your card, upload your own photos via email or plugging in your phone, and clicking print — the holiday cards would be ready to pickup when your shopping in the rest of the store was done. Did anyone else do this?

Nowadays the internet makes this much easier to do at home, curled up on your couch in your coziest clothes, your children or pets next to you, designing while the tv is playing your favorite show (mine is always on HGTV until Hallmark Christmas movies start).

So below are a few sites you can DIY your holiday card designs that you may

have used before (and by no means a full list). My pricing examples below are based on designing and printing 20-25 cards (with the most basic settings and no frills) and does not include tax or shipping. TL;DR below

  • Shutterfly — the classic site to print cheap photos, they offer a variety of designs to add your photos, family names, and send to print. Look at fun foils to add pizazz to your card! Get 25 holiday cards for $84 and look out for sales (I saw 25 cards for $57 when I was researching).

  • Minted — While researching for this article, Minted popped up on Google as an option but when I went directly to Minted's site, I didn't even see cards as an option on the homepage. They are not thinking as far ahead as I recommend, so if you are looking in July/August at their site, simply search "holiday card" or "christmas card" in their search bar. They boast that their designs are created by independent artists, so I love that you as a DIYer can support a small business through a larger company. With a variety of sizes, shapes, and the option for folded or flat cards, you can have a lot of fun here making something feel very custom while using a pre-designed option. 25 cards for $69.

  • TinyPrints — Connected to Shutterfly (as their stationary brand) and Spoonflower (patterns on fabric), you have some fun options on this site including multiple shapes and paper types (which boast "made in America" options that are responsibly sources and Italian specialty papers too). 25 cards for $75.

  • VistaPrint — upload your own design from Canva or Adobe products or use one of their designs, they are known for fast production on a variety of products and offer multiple shipping options to you if you get behind and need your cards 3-day shipped. Two shapes here, squared corners or rounded. They offer 20 cards for $70.

  • Zazzle — If you have never used this site, you can get a 20% off coupon when you subscribe to their newsletter. Also be sure to look for sales if you have already used your 20% off. This is a very DIY site with a variety of options. I once met the founder of this company and loved the way he described the site as the middle-man for anyone to create their own designs on products with less research finding someone to print on anything. This is another site not thinking ahead with holiday cards showing Summer designs in August, but easy to find with the search bar. Choose from multiple shapes and paper types, and get an instant digital download when ordering your prints. 25 cards for $61.

  • Mixbook — same as many we have talked about, with their own designs. Choose all of your paper types, foil colors, and multiple card shape options. You have to create an account before you can start playing with a design on this site. 25 cards here for $78

  • Artifact Uprising — modern, minimal card designs here. They default to no foil and do offer address printing on envelopes for an extra 40 cents per envelop. Decent print quality here as they focus on printing photographs and wedding albums. They offer 20 cards for $58.

TL;DR below

20-25 cards from all sites average $61 before taxes and shipping, without the added fun shapes, foil, paper types, or envelope printing.

This is the most important for timing — design and print your cards by November 13.

*If you print any later, I recommend paying extra for expedited shipping to receive to your home by November 21.

6. Stamp it — holiday edition

One of my favorite steps is to purchase the holiday design stamps from the post office! Each year they commission a few new designs from artists (sometimes artists that I have followed online too) so it always fun to see what is available.

PRO TIP: Purchase your stamps online and have them mailed directly to you (if your mailing address is your home).

You can also find people selling previous year's stamps on eBay and Amazon. Below are a few designs from the past few years that I enjoy.

This can be done anywhere in your timing, but best to be completed by November 6.

7. Trip to the Post Office

My tip in step 5 should have helped you avoid one trip to the post office for stamps, but this trip is a MUST. Drop your Holiday cards in the mail at the Post Office (not in a mail drop box around your town).

Mail is sent faster from the Post Office than the drop boxes.

Mail is safer in the Post Office than in an outside drop box (have you seen the news about people stealing mail from these remote boxes?).

You have the piece of mind that you gave your items directly to the Post Office. You can use the drop box inside the building, you don't have to wait in line.

This is what we were working towards for the entire process, hopefully it is completed by November 27.


  • Have your family help you place cards in envelopes and place stamps on after Thanksgiving dinner as a fun bonding activity (during your food coma).

  • If you did not have your envelopes printed with addresses, you will definitely want help Thanksgiving weekend from those with the best handwriting.

BONUS — 8. Sip your seasonal beverage and relax

You DID it! Yay you, so happy, let's celebrate.

Join me in a Hallmark movie marathon, in your seasonal pajamas, with your favorite holiday beverage (hot chocolate for me).

Thank you family for their help too. Hugs all around.

If you have the extra time, here is your PRO TIP:

  • Create a place within your holiday decorations where you will place all of the cards you will receive — ideas include a bulletin board, hanging from holiday ribbon, within a mini Christmas tree, a menorah with clips for cards — be creative.

  • Place one or two of your cards directly in the center to celebrate your hard work.

  • Post a picture on social media at the end of the holidays to thank everyone for sending their cards.

You DID it! Now time to think gifts, caroling, holiday lights, and so much more. Enjoy!


  • Save this article for next year!

  • Follow me on social media @HannahGoldenPhotographs for the July reminder to start even earlier next year.

  • Sign up for my newsletter for more articles like this one.

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