Enjoy A DEBT FREE Holiday Season!
"It's the most wonderful time of the year" proclaims the popular holiday song. But wouldn't it be even more wonderful if this holiday could be debt-free as well? Imagine a holiday season that is more carefree and relaxed because you're not incurring any new credit card debt. Sounds good, but think it's impossible? Here's some good news: it IS possible, if you're willing to make a few changes first.
Change #1 - Cutting down your Holiday list- This change will be the hardest, no doubt about it. You'll have to make some hard decisions about who will stay and who will go, and that is never easy. But keep this in mind: the friends and acquaintances who have received gifts from you in the past may have enjoyed receiving them, but they also didn't have to pay the debt card (I no longer refer to them as credit cards) bill you got in January. If you are already on a tight budget as it is with regular monthly bills, why would you want to make it harder on yourself by adding on new debt card expenses? I certainly wouldn't.
If you've been spending on a large group of people besides immediate and extended family members, simply explain to them that due to financial concerns, you're cutting way back on holiday spending this year and that they'll have to settle for a nice card instead. Some of them may grumble but, as one of my favorite sayings goes, let ‘em squawk. Their griping isn't your concern, not if you want to reach your goal of a debt-free holiday. Your real friends won't have any problems with your decision, since they might have had to make some tough spending cuts themselves.
Change #2 - Determine what to spend on each gift, even if the amount is smaller- Despite the constant commercials from upscale retail chains that bombard us with "bargains" of $99 – or $199 – jewelry or other gift items, there is no hard and fast rule that we must spend these amounts. The rule set by the store doesn't count. Confused about how to begin? Cheer up, it's not as hard as you think.
First, you make sure all the monthly obligations are paid and out of the way. I'm talking about the essential ones: rent or mortgage, utilities, phone, cell phone if you have one, and transportation. Make sure you don't neglect your monthly grocery allowance, either. If you know what your average grocery cost is per week, multiply the approximate cost by four, since there are four full weeks in each month, and make sure you have that amount set aside. You do not want to be doing without food because you've spent too much on gifts. After you've paid or budgeted what you need for monthly expenses, you are ready to begin.
Change #3 - Decide where you're going to do the majority of holiday shopping- If you want to keep your costs low, you need to avoid the high-priced department stores. By all means go there if you just want to check out their holiday decorating, or to get new gift ideas. But spend your money at locations where you'll get more bang for your bucks. Good places to look for lower-cost items are chains like Target, Kmart, and most dollar stores. Some store chains are only available in certain geographical areas, but here in Virginia, we have a chain called "Tuesday Morning." They have some excellent prices on holiday decorations, gift items, you name it. It is definitely a must-see if you have one in your town.
Change #4 - Limit the gifts for the kids - This is another hard decision to make, especially if you haven't been too strict on setting gift limits on your children before. But even though the kids may groan a bit, you can remind them they are still getting presents, just not as many, and probably not as expensive. If you haven't started doing this already, start teaching your children the value of money by
having them look at the prices of the items they like. If they are in school and learning the mechanics of adding and subtracting, a great early gift for each child is a hand-held calculator. This isn't to be used as a substitute for the old-fashioned method of adding numbers on paper, but it's a great tool for quick adding at the store, when noisy and crowded stores don't allow much time to hunt for pencil and paper. Encouraging your children to stick to a budgeted amount and to use calculators when deciding on purchases helps them in the long run, especially when it finally becomes time for them to leave the family home and begin setting up their own. And this is true not only at holiday time, but all through the year.
Change #5 - Set your own rules- Every year, it seems that we read of more stories of people who don't really enjoy the holiday season very much due to the stress of buying gifts, organizing large and expensive parties or dealing with some kind of holiday activity they'd rather not participate in. I have to wonder, who made these "rules" in the first place? Is there a rule written down somewhere that says we must spend more than we can afford on gifts to impress family and friends? None that I am aware of. Must we attend every holiday party given, when we'd rather spend a quiet evening at home? I haven't heard of that one either. So where are these rules coming from? The way I see it, most of them are coming from retailers, who are far more concerned with their bottom line than with your financial and emotional well-being. Many of us tend to fall for these con-jobs every year, drive ourselves and our families crazy, and only end up being stressed and unhappy when our special holiday finally arrives. What's the point of that?
The good news is it's not too late. You can get rid of the rules that are stressing you out at holiday time and make up new ones instead. Sit down with your family, explain that you're going to cut-back on some unnecessary expenses, and come up with new holiday traditions that everyone can be happy with. Spending more time at home instead of at the mall, for instance, cuts down on unnecessary spending and makes for less frantic evenings, especially if you have young children. Since setting my own rules for the holidays a few years ago, I enjoy this time of year more than ever before. I don't have to worry about the bill next month, since I know there won't be one.
So how about reversing the once-popular ad campaign from MasterCard to one we like: "Gifts for family and friends: paid in cash. Holiday party expenses: paid by check. A debt-free holiday season: PRICELESS." That certainly works for me.