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How to Make This the Best Holiday Season Money Can Buy

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The holidays have a way of wreaking havoc on sanity. How do busy parents manage the to-do list and make the holiday merry, too?

We surveyed more than 1,000 parents, as well as their nannies and babysitters to find out. We asked them to share information on the topics that are important to many families during the hectic holiday season, such as what to budget for gifts, how much to tip babysitters or a nanny for the holidays, and finding a sitter for New Year's Eve, one of the year's most coveted nights, The findings revealed trends for managing the mayhem, and enjoying it to the fullest.

1. Budget for gifts that kids and their keepers will love.
Santa duties aren't going to ease up anytime soon. As kids get older, most parents give the same number of gifts, though one-third start to give less and 10 percent give more. What to give? Forty percent of kids have a mobile device on their wish list, and nearly half of them are under age five. Regardless, parents list toys, books, clothes and experiences above electronics as the most popular gifts for kids.

Deciding what to buy those who care for our kids is even tougher than choosing gifts for family. Most parents show their gratitude to caregivers by tipping extra or giving cash (see below for the lowdown on tipping) and 72 percent also give a holiday gift. Gift cards are the most popular present for sitters and nannies, followed by homemade tokens from kids, food, accessories, jewelry and clothes. Nannies and sitters surveyed indicate cash, gift cards, tickets and chocolate as their favorite gifts from families. The worst gifts they've received from well-meaning parents include sweaters, socks, cookies and candy. Cross those items off the list!

2. Show gratitude and earn loyalty by tipping well.
Tipping those we rely on throughout the year--including the nanny, babysitters and daycare staff--is customary during the giving season. Some admit to tipping out of a sense of obligation or because they feel it's the right thing to do, and 66 percent tip to show gratitude. How much do sitters and nannies expect to be tipped? Most babysitters expect about $15 to $50 extra and most nannies expect to be tipped one-week's pay. The reality--almost 75 percent of families tip their nanny a week's pay or more. Many families tip their sitters during the holidays, although almost one-third of those surveyed say they pay generously throughout the year and don't feel a need to give more during the holidays.

3. Seek balance, and don't be afraid to ask for help.
All the merriment takes a toll, not only on the budget but also on time. It's hard not to feel pulled in every direction, balancing everyday responsibilities with holiday obligations and celebration. More than half of families take at least a week off from work to enjoy the time with friends and family, some even more than two weeks. Half of families will travel during the holiday season. While less than 10 percent will bring along a sitter or nanny, nearly two-thirds of childcare providers say they would consider going along to help. A babysitter can assist with responsibilities such as caring for a younger child or staying with a baby who needs to nap, so parents can enjoy activities with older siblings or have time with other adults. Consider it a gift to yourself!

4. Plan ahead for a New Year's Eve babysitter... and entice him or her to take the job by offering extra perks.
Being a parent doesn't have to mean turning down party invitations. Nearly 50 percent of parents are considering hiring a sitter for New Year's Eve. Competition for scoring a sitter on the big night is steep, so most parents plan to book one month in advance and will pay 1.5 times the normal rate. More than half of sitters aim to charge double their normal rate for their services on NYE! To entice a sitter to take the job, consider upping her pay and offering extra incentives, such as a taxi ride home, dinner, allowing her to bring a friend (although, our survey revealed that more than 50 percent of parents will not allow a sitter to bring a significant other), and also giving her the option to stay overnight. The good news: nearly a quarter of sitters surveyed would take a last-minute job and nearly 75 percent would be willing to take a job with multiple families for NYE. There's still time to work it out!

5. Remember that there's always next year.
If you've over indulged or under planned, fret not. The holiday season marks the end of a year, and offers a chance to hit the reset button. More than half of parents surveyed set resolutions for the New Year, typically to save money, live healthier, lose weight, exercise, spend more time with the kids and to be more patient. They hope their kids will start the year by listening better, helping out, not fighting with siblings and simply being happy, healthy and all-around awesome.

Having the inside scoop on how other parents manage the craziness of the holiday season may help you make the most of yours. For more, including additional perspective from nannies and babysitters, check out UrbanSitter's holiday infographic here: