7 Tips to a Debt Free Holiday Season

by Deidra Ramirez

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Best Christmas Ever

Check Your List Twice

Each year, I dread what I have affectionately dubbed the "Christmas Shopping Fiasco." You know, the one where all of the January credit card bills arrive with the blaring reality of what you actually spent on gifts the month before. It seems as though each holiday season, I go through this major metamorphosis from reasonable bargain huntress to out-of-control impulse shopper. Rooted in my constant search to find that "perfect gift" for each and every family member, I often purchase with little concern about how each item will tighten my financial straps. However, this year I had a mental revelation, realizing that I needn't go into debt to get great gifts for family and friends. For the first time, I made a plan, and with months to go before the holidays arrive, I am already finished shopping and not a single item went on a charge card! All was accomplished by simply adhering to these seven tips.

Make a list... and check it twice. Creating a list will help to avoid last minute purchases for forgotten family members. When you make the list, try to jot down some favorites as well as sizes. This will save quite a bit of time when picking out items to purchase.

Set a budget and stick to it. Be reasonable, allocating different amounts based on the amount you want to spend on each person. For example, you may want to spend more on your spouse and kids than Cousin Joe. Try to also leave a cushion for last minute purchases for holiday parties at work, or for co-workers who give you unexpected gifts.

Save. After setting your budget, save the money to cover the cost of presents. Saving ahead of time will leave you with money readily available for purchases, keeping you from the hassle of incurring debt on charge cards.

Credit is a no-no. Take only cash with you when you go shopping to avoid impulse purchases. If you feel uncomfortable carrying large amounts of cash and feel you can use your charge card and remain within your established spending budget for gifts, another option would be to put all of your purchases on one card and pay the bill in one lump sum with the money you have saved.

Shop around. During the holiday season, it is extremely important to check sales ads. Comparison shopping is the only way to ensure you are getting the best price for your purchase. Visit a number of stores, and if you feel comfortable making purchases online, you may want to check there too. Just keep in mind the shipping fees that may be added to your total price for online shopping.

Start early. Buying gifts in increments, or spanning the purchases over a couple of months can help alleviate the strain on your pocket book.

Be creative. Think of gifts that come from the heart. Homemade gifts and gift certificates for services that require nothing more than your time are both inexpensive and unique. Give your spouse a gift certificate for a massage by you or breakfast in bed. When you really think about it, you can come up with a variety of ways to put a smile on your family's faces.

Deidra Ramirez is a wife and working mother of two boys who enjoys finding new and exciting ways to save her family money.

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