Monday, November 26, 2012

Stay Debt Free Over The Holidays

It's already Cyber Monday, and I've heard nothing on the radio today but about how much money people are going to be spending today - an estimate of over $1.5 billion - and more to come.  With the most possible shopping days before Christmas, retailers are exhorting people to make the most of them.  And making the most of them is going to put a lot of people into unnecessary debt.

My gift to you this year?  My suggestions and tips on how to avoid sliding into debt over the holidays.

Avoid holiday debt

1. Holidays are about people - or should be.  Have conversations with your family about what really matters to you and what you want most.  Explain to your son that this year you won't be buying a new video game console, but you'll offer $25 or $50 towards buying it.  Discuss with your spouse whether you really want to exchange gifts or maybe set strict spending limits - and stick to them.  Explain to your kids that they will receive fewer gifts this year because the focus is shifting.  The wee ones know that Jesus got three gifts, and they get three gifts.  And they're fine with that.

2.  With extended family members or groups of friends where you regularly exchange gifts, have a similar conversation.  Do you want to exchange gifts?  Can you maybe simply purchase gifts for the kids and not the adults?  What about drawing names and buying one gift for someone in the group instead of each buying a gift for every person?  Have you ever though of doing a white elephant exchange with a $5 or $10 limit?  They are so much fun.

3.  Don't add anyone else to your gift giving list.  I know you love you new best friend or there's someone who you could start the gift exchange with, but ... don't.  In all likelihood they need a gift from you just as much as you need one from them, so save the cash on both sides.  Go out for a drink or dinner instead.  Bake cookies and share them.  But don't start giving more gifts if you can help it.

4.  Don't just spend money, raise it.  If I look around my house, I see so many things that I no longer need or want - from gifts that people gave me to books the wee ones no longer read to clothes they've outgrown to kitchen gadgets I don't use.  The season for garage sales is over in Chicago, but Craigslist is your friend.  So is eBay.  And I told you about the awesome Buy/Sell/Trade groups on Facebook.  If you're going to spend money, make sure you have it.

5.  Speaking of those gifts people gave you that you've never actually opened or used... regift.  I have no issues receiving an item that someone else received as a gift that didn't fit for them so long as it is a good fit for me.  If you don't cook and received an immersion blender and need to get me something, pass that sucker along.  No one will know - or care (or if they do, shame on them) - and this is a great way to upcycle items that are otherwise just taking up space.

6.  Put away the credit cards.  This one is an obvious one, I suppose.  It's really easy to forget how much you're spending when you don't have to open your wallet and remove the green.  In fact, figure out how much you can afford to spend, put it in an envelope marked "Christmas money" and use that to buy everything.  If you run out, you're done.  And if you have some left over, deposit in the bank.  It is not a windfall.  It's your hard earned money that you can use for something else you really need later.

7.  Create your own gifts.  Giving the gift of time or talent is wonderful.  So many of us have more than we need.  Instead of another... thing, give people you.  Create a gift certificate for an hour of organizing or a home cooked dinner or babysitting or three hours of window cleaning or anything that you can do that your recipient would appreciate.  Maybe it's a date to the movies.  Maybe it's reading to your niece before bedtime.  Those are the gifts that people remember fifteen years from now.  Those are the ones I want to receive.

8.  Buy the large gift baskets and split them up.  I do this all the time, especially for gifts I need to purchase for teachers and therapists where all of a sudden, I have to purchase 11 more gifts for the people who do so much for my children.  If I buy a large gift basket, I suddenly have a bunch of gifts that are much cheaper than they were individually.  And they are often pre-wrapped very prettily, which saves me time.

9.  Search for coupons for every item you want to buy.  It's amazing what's out there.  I was looking for a Black & Decker smart battery charger (or something similar) for my car the other day.  I first found one for $157.  After searching and coupons, I managed to bring the price down for the same model to $84.53.  Search.  Whether you're buying offline or on, search for a coupon both for the item and for retailers where you might purchase it.

10. Save your receipts.  You may have thought you got the best deal ever when you went shopping on Black Friday.  But maybe you didn't.  Or maybe that perfect gift wasn't perfect and now you've found the perfect gift - and it's cheaper.  Save your receipts so that you can return any unwanted items that you bought in the heat of the moment and you can bring back the items that are now cheaper at another retailer.  Plus, many retailers will credit you with the newly discounted price within a certain time period (usually two weeks) if they now sell it for a lower price.  You simply have to bring in your receipt, and they'll credit you for that amount.

I'm staying out of debt this holiday season - and beyond.  What are your tips beyond the ten I've shared here?


Anne November 26, 2012 at 11:49 PM  

These are great tips! I love the idea of spending time with someone instead of giving gifts. Isn't that what the holidays are really about?

Michelle November 27, 2012 at 9:25 AM  

Anne - Thanks. And yes, I think the holidays are about spending time with the people you care about, but so muhc of that gets lost in the gimme gimme or gotta get/gotta give. That's why I love cookie exchanges ;)

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