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Simple ways to give yourself the gift of a debt-free Christmas

Are you still eating turkey sandwiches at your house? We hope you enjoyed a particularly satisfying Thanksgiving with friends and family. There is a bit of irony, isn’t there, that in America in our rush to buy gifts for Christmas, taking time to be grateful gets short shrift!

Christmas and the rest of the holiday season is a wonderful time and we don’t want to sound like Scrooge. However, after years of helping people with budgets and difficult financial situations, over and over again we have seen that overspending at the holidays can make for some pretty tight budgets come January and February.

In fact, sometimes it’s the big splurge during the holidays that means a family goes into the debt abyss and can spend months or years climbing out. With “Black Friday” yesterday, we hope we aren’t getting to you too late!


As we all know, money doesn’t equal happiness. Of course, the same goes for expensive gifts. And while it’s out of a generous heart that people tend to overspend at Christmas – particularly on kids and grandkids – those same loved ones can feel just as loved with something within your budget.

Also, even though money doesn’t equal happiness, it sure comes in handy when paying the bills and living life. Today is considered “Small business Saturday.” So as you shop this year, save some gas money and explore some of our local shops. Shopping on the Harbor helps our local economy.


If you haven’t saved a little Christmas fund ahead of time, often you can find places to cut in your December monthly budget – eating out, coffees, entertainment, clothes and other things for yourself are all good places to look.

Once you’ve determined how much you have to spend, you’ll want to make a few categories. For most people, gift buying is at the top of the list, but don’t forget extra grocery money if you’ll be entertaining or baking a lot, and travel expenses if you’re headed somewhere else for the holidays.

Next is the awkward part for some: List everyone who you plan to give gifts to and put a dollar amount next to their name. (Don’t worry; you are the only one who will see this list.) As obvious as it is, make sure that the numbers add up to the amount of money you actually have to spend. If you are finding this difficult, we have some suggestions.


The research again and again has shown that if you literally write out a budget you are much more likely to follow it than if you have an idea in your head. Putting pen to paper (or thumb to smart phone) is critical to being successful. So, actually writing out that Christmas budget is our first tip! Here are some more:

  • If it is not too late, consider drawing names for groups you typically buy individual gifts for. Quite possibly, others in the group will also be relieved that their gift budget won’t be so strained.

  • Another possibility is to move for a bigger “family” gift for some instead of individual gifts for each person in a family.

  • Decide on a theme for the year – perhaps you will buy a group of people each socks, books, fruit baskets, a particular tool or item for the home, or a gift certificate to a local restaurant. Often you can get economies of scale when you buy all at one time and you certainly will save time and gain money in gas.

  • Speaking of time, it truly is more precious than money. What about creating your own “gift certificate” to offer help for a needed chore? Or you could call an elderly relative or friend who you typically buy a gift for and tell them you are offering your services before Christmas as a gift to them. Decide on a date and arrive with a poinsettia or some Christmas cookies and spend an hour or two working on their “to do” list. This is also a good idea to encourage grandchildren to give to their grandparents.

  • Make something yourself. Even if you don’t feel crafty, there’s likely something you could find on Pinterest or elsewhere on the Internet that you could make for some of the folks on your list.

  • On the other side of the ledger, this is a good time of year to sell some items on the many sites available – both national and local. That old dresser you aren’t using could be a blessing to someone else and bring in a needed $50 or $75 to you.

  • Shop the deals! Take a little time to plan your attack be it shopping online or in brick and mortar stores. There truly are many deals available. Check prices between stores; look for special sales or coupons. Those savings add up.

  • However, remember no matter how good a “deal” is, if you can’t afford it and end up paying interest on your credit card for months, it’s not a deal.

  • Sometimes hosting a holiday dinner, party or open house can serve as your gift to a particular group of people. You spread Christmas cheer, but save time and money buying holiday gifts.

  • What about taking that group – relatives, coworkers or friends and deciding together to forego buying presents for each other. Save a portion of that money and take the rest to “adopt” a family through one of the many local not-for-profit organizations, such as the Union Gospel Mission, Salvation Army, United Way, or your church or service club. Working together to brighten someone else’s Christmas might become one of your favorite Christmas memories.

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