9 tips for easing the cost of Christmas

Christmas is coming soon. Many people will be haunted by the presents they give for several months afterwards in the form of credit card bills. It is amazing how much money we Americans spend on Christmas. Many whole industries thrive on the revenue from Christmas sales. There is no reason for you to go into debt to spread the Christmas cheer. Here are nine ideas you can use to make this year a debt free Christmas?

1: Have a spending plan
Many of us, myself included, often go shopping for Christmas presents without much thought about the cost. This can get very expensive. You buy one gift and it doesn’t seems like much. Then when you buy something else, maybe on another day, you have forgotten about how much you have already spent so you don’t have a good handle on the actual cost accruing. Soon you will be way over budget and this doesn’t even account for what your spouse might be spending. Sit down together, make a plan, and stick to it.

2: Decide who you will be giving gifts to
Everyone you know doesn’t needs a Christmas gift from you. You may have many groups within the family that get together and exchange gifts. See what you can do about cutting back on gift giving. For example, maybe one side of the family draws names and each person will only be bringing one gift to the party. Then you won’t feel obligated to give everyone a gift. Another way is for only the children 18 and under to get gifts, then you don’t feel the need to buy for the adults.

3: Don’t just buy stuff, make it count
I often find myself feeling like I need to give a gift to someone I don’t know well enough to know what they would like or what they could use. In that case, you run the risk of getting something they don’t even want. If you are giving a gift, make it count. Find out enough to know you will be giving something they want. You could also make something that would be meaningful. When I was a resident, and we didn’t have much to spend, my wife did a beautiful cross stich for my grandmothers. It listed all their grandchildren and their birthdates. It took some time to do, but required very little money. Those inexpensive gifts had a special meaning and hung on their walls until the day they died. You don’t have to spend much to touch someone’s heart. The picture with this article is of one of those cross stitch projects.

4: Plan ahead and shop sales
If you know who you are buying for and what your budget will be, you can try to catch things on sale. My grandmother did that. She would find something she thought would be good for all the grandkids and when they were on sale she would buy several at once. Thanksgiving weekend usually has lots of sales, but I try to avoid that weekend as I also don’t want to waste my time standing in lines. Please don’t shop on Thanksgiving Day, as you should be home enjoying your family, not out shopping. Doctors don’t get enough days to be home so cherish them and don’t waste them shopping.

5: Use credit card reward points
Many of us are accumulating reward points on various credit cards. I get info in the mail about all the things I can get by turning in the rewards. I usually don’t think it is a very good deal and don’t tend to get anything. Then the rewards expire and I got nothing. Maybe getting a not so good deal isn’t such a bad deal after all.

6: Start a new tradition
Do you have a tradition in your family already? If so, it might be a tradition from the generation above you. This could be the year for you to start something new for your family. Piling in the car and driving around to see the Christmas lights is fun and it’s free. I vividly remember the last year my grandmother was living in her condo and we drove her home from the family Christmas party and made a detour through town looking at the lights. We all had a great time. She talked about that drive every time we saw her for the next few months. Wonderful memories often don’t cost money.

7: Put a limit on the children’s gifts
Your kids don’t need all the latest things. It is very easy to go overboard as we shop for our kids. I’ve been there. We have the money so why not get this great thing for them. But giving them everything will not make them happier. Concentrate on a few nice things and spend time together enjoying them. Never try and compete with others in this department. Trying to keep up with the Dr. Joneses will make you just as broke as Dr. Jones is.

8: Put Christmas in the budget
Since Christmas presents are not a surprise, they should be in the budget. You would then be setting aside one twelfth of the cost each month. You should never have to put Christmas presents on your credit card. You always should have the money ready by Christmas. Stop letting routine things “catch you by surprise.”

9: Remember the reason for the season
Celebrating Christmas has been a tradition in America for a very long time. It was never about the presents, but about the birth of our Savior. Sometimes we forget the true meaning and presents become center stage. Your kids are more interested in your ‘presence’ than your ‘presents.’ Be sure they know you care about them more than you care about stuff.

I wish the best for all of you this Christmas season. May it leave no lingering regrets in January. Let’s celebrate the New Year full of joy, not full of bills.

Leave a comment about your Christmas traditions or how you control the potential for costs to get out of control at Christmas.

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