We Wish You a Debt-Free Christmas – and a Prosperous New Year

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Here's a test: Three months from now, will you even remember what holiday presents you received? Will you remember how much you spent?

How many people do you know who go into debt to satisfy someone else’s idea of the perfect holiday?

Yeah, me too. And yeah, that “someone else” is usually the retail industry.

This year’s hottest toy(s) must be obtained at all costs, even if that means an eBay bidding frenzy. Big-ticket items such as electronics or jewelry must be included – or, heaven forbid, a car with a big ribbon on it.

The same number of gifts must be given to each child, so that you’re not accused of favoritism. Certain brands or stores may be preferred. Never mind whether you can afford any of this or not. You have to show your loved ones how much you care.

That’s a sad way to define love – and it becomes an unwinnable game because the ante gets upped each year. Your 2-year-old may have as much fun with the box as the toy that came in it. He’ll likely become a little more demanding by age 6, or age 16.

Gaming the system

Most of my holiday shopping costs relatively little out of pocket. Here are some of the frugal hacks I use…

  • A couple of toys and books from last year’s clearance tables
  • Black Friday clothing specials
  • Gift cards I got from rewards credit cards or other rewards programs such as Swagbucks
  • Re-gifting
  • Jam  I made with free wild blackberries (31 cents per jar)
  • Items bought with Amazon.com certificates that I got from Swagbucks and by taking online surveys
  • Free-after-rebate items (these are usually stocking stuffers)
  • Free-with-double-coupon items (ditto)
  • Free samples (ditto ditto)
  • Yard sales (nothing worn-out-looking, I promise)
  • The dollar store (hardback books for a buck!)
  • Free calendars from various charities (these were elements of multi-gift boxes for two different close relatives)

Note: People go insane for the jam. And when I see what “homestyle” fruit preserves go for in the specialty stores and catalogs, I think I’m in the wrong business.

Look, I’m just as vulnerable to marketing pressure as anyone else. In fact, I wear earplugs when I shop during the holiday season, even if I’m just picking up toothpaste at Walgreens. The sound of Christmas carols melts me into a big puddle of sentiment. I love, love, love giving presents.

But I won’t take on debt unless it’s for life-saving medical treatment or a home of my own. I have to be realistic: The only person paying my rent and funding my retirement is me.

But even if I were rich, I wouldn’t overspend just to satisfy some imagined gift quota.

What’d you get?

On Christmas morning, try this experiment…

  • Time how long it takes for everyone to open their presents.
  • Take note of all reactions, whether they be “This is wonderful! Thank you so much!” or “I wanted the other game system – I never get anything good!”
  • Observe how long it takes for children (and adults) to lose interest in their new goodies.
  • Figure out how many hours you had to work to pay for these items (or will have to work, if you charged them).

The next step: In March, make a list of everything you got for Christmas. Unless you purposely limited the number of gifts you received, or unless everyone knew exactly what you wanted/needed, I’m betting you won’t be able to name even half the items on your list.

I know I can’t.

Stacy Johnson

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

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