How to Form a Holiday Co-op—and Get By With a Little Help From Friends

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Holiday Co-OpThere are a lot of “chores” we actually enjoy around the holidays:

Picking out the perfect tree, whether Charlie Brown-esque or 15 feet tall. Building snowmen. Making hot chocolate. Sending out those awesome holiday cards.

And then there are others that just don’t do it for us.

Luckily, we’ve learned through experience that one mom’s “Not another present to wrap!” is another’s “Ooh, I think I’ll use green ribbons for this one!”

You’re short on time, and as we know, time is valuable (here’s how to calculate what your hour is worth). So we’ve worked hard to develop the perfect solution: Gather your friends to form a time-saving team that works together to get odd jobs streamlined … and done. Better yet, you’ll save money by not overspending on last-minute tasks because you’re in a hurry.

We call it a Holiday Mom Co-op. In a co-op, participants share tasks, allowing them to get everything done much quicker, and more sanely, than otherwise. For example, one person might cook a dish that each person can use at her family dinner, while another watches everyone’s kids and another does all the gift wrapping.

With our suggestions on how to pull this off, a little help is only as far away as your closest friends.

Decide Who to Include

Think about this when deciding who to invite into your coop:

  • Aim for six friends, max. After all, making holiday cookies for 20 families would be daunting even for an expert baker.
  • The first time around, stick to people who live nearby. Even if your sister is a whiz at gift-wrapping, that’s not terribly helpful if she lives an hour away.
  • Try to include people with children of similar ages, which will make certain tasks like babysitting or crafting teacher gifts a lot more intuitive.
  • Avoid anyone who’s known for being chronically late, even if she’s your best friend. At the end of the day, it’s fine if Tina is late with her own holiday chores, but not when five other families are counting on her.

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After you’ve decided on your list, send out an email describing what the co-op is and asking invitees to reply if they’d like to join. Include suggested tasks to divvy up, and ask people to tell you if you’ve left out tasks they’d like to include.

Once your group is confirmed, send out the finalized list of tasks and ask everyone to reply with their first, second and third choices. One person should figure out who does what based on that info to keep things streamlined; it’ll be a time-suck to go back and forth with the whole group. Since you’re organizing the group, the task-assigner should probably be you.

Note: Always have everyone reply just to you, not reply-all.

Figure Out Which Tasks to Tackle

While every coop will look different, here are some potential holiday chores to get you thinking about what you want to include in your own:

  • Crafting teacher gifts
  • Gift wrapping
  • Cookie baking
  • Making your most famous side dish for everyone’s holiday meal
  • Babysitting
  • Organizing a charitable outing for everyone’s families
  • Helping to tidy the house before the holidays
  • Cleaning up pine needles and boxing decorations after the holidays

Figure Out the Logistics

Set a Timeframe

After you send out the final list of who’s doing what, have each person reply with when they’ll need their gifts wrapped, cookies baked and other tasks completed. Figure out who needs what earliest, and set that as the deadline for the task. To keep track, use a shared online calendar such as Google Calendar.

If anyone isn’t going to be able to meet the proposed deadlines, have them talk to you as a liaison, so it doesn’t turn into a she-says-she-says by replying all. Take on the task of mediating to find deadlines that are workable all around.

Set a Budget

You’ll probably want to set a budget so no one person spends way more than everyone else (if you’ve already created a holiday gift budget, you might want to consult that first to make sure you’re still on track with your holiday spending). Have a preliminary discussion as a group about how extensive you’d like each project to be (are you talking gourmet, or will $1 icing do?), then have each person take a day or two to gather an estimated price. Add the total cost of all the tasks and divide by the number of people participating. Have the participants who aren’t paying that amount contribute enough to pay back the ones who are.

Set a Time Limit

Time is, we would argue, just as precious as money. Set an estimated time limit for each task, and make sure everyone has a fair number of hours of work. Be sure to include the time that it would take for people to deliver items to the other co-op members, if their projects require it.

When everything is said and done, make sure you take the time to celebrate together as a group, and discuss how you can better the co-op for next year. After all, you’ve just managed to free up tons of time in your schedule!