When the bills came in from my first Christmas as a newlywed, I was shocked to discover that my husband and I had run up quite a tab. After avoiding debt for almost the entire year, we now faced a monthly payment for something I hadn’t even enjoyed.
Can you relate?
It was easy to see how it happened. My husband’s family was coming to our house, and I wanted it to be perfect. I got away from the whole meaning of Christmas because I was trying to cook, buy, and be everything—all in an attempt to impress the folks. But my new family didn’t want to be impressed; they just wanted to spend time getting to know me. I had fallen squarely into the Christmas trap, enticed by consumer-driven fantasies that ended in the reality of debt and stress. I realized I didn’t ever want another Christmas to look like that one. Over the next few years, I learned six ways to celebrate a debt-free Christmas.
Make a Plan
Set up a gift-giving and holiday meal/party budget with a detailed list. Be sure to include family members, co-workers, teachers, babysitters and friends—anyone you feel is special in your life. Say your average gift price ranges from $15–25. When you plan ahead and shop throughout the year, you should be able to find special gifts when they’re on sale. That way you’re only spending one-third to one-half of the price. Plus, if you enter December with the bulk of your shopping list taken care of, a few late-minute additions or overlooked friends won't send your budget into a tailspin!
Shop Black Friday
The deals are really out there, not just on Black Friday, but all weekend through Cyber Monday. This is the weekend you can definitely get the most for your money and save big, whether you choose to brave the stores or shop online. Personally, I have found better deals from the comfort of my laptop, and I’m still able to enjoy time with my family.
Make Homemade Gifts
Shopping isn’t everything. In fact, the real value isn’t in the gift but in the heart behind it. If you’re struggling financially, great deals don’t help if you can’t afford them. Homemade gifts are a great way to give generously without busting your budget! You can make homemade drink mixes, baked goods and even lotions and soaps for a fraction of the retail price.
Coupons, Coupons, Coupons!
When it comes to cooking for Christmas, I coordinate our holiday meal—meats, sides and desserts—with what’s on sale at the grocery store. Since I do this far in advance, it not only saves money—it saves time. I buy ingredients for favorites like sausage balls, homemade cinnamon rolls and sweet potato pie when the prices can’t be beat, then I make and freeze them ahead of time. This means thatmost of my cooking is already done before guests ever arrive for the holiday meal, leaving me time to enjoy my visitors.
Hit the Clearance Racks
Shop the clearance sections at major retailers before you ever spend time looking at anything else. Whether it’s toys, books or clothes, you can find markdowns on items that will be perfect for the people on your list. Paying full price for anything is a bad habit. I especially like the clearance racks right after Christmas!
Shop Year Round
Timing is everything. I’ve learned to take a full-year approach to shopping, and you can too. For instance, knowing that my children’s grandparents love pictures, I keep an eye out for photo deals throughout the year. Plus, I have a gift bin, so as I see deals for gift items I can mark off my list, I’ll grab them. Then I’m ready for last-minute presents for coaches, teachers and neighbors.
Reflecting back on that first Christmas, I can see my heart wasn’t in the right place. Today my perspective has totally changed. I’ve always looked forward to Christmas, but now I look forward without the guilt and overindulgence. I’m able to focus my heart on what the season truly offers: a chance to count my blessings, the opportunity for fellowship, and a time to be still.