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I'm dreaming of a debt-free Christmas

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The Christmas scene is set: tree adorned with beloved ornaments, fire crackling in the fireplace (stockings hung with care), Christmas carols on the radio, a soft snow blanketing the neighborhood, pie baking aromatically in the oven, a plethora of credit card receipts overflowing in the trash can...

Wait, stop the presses! That last part doesn't fit into the quintessential Christmas scene! Yet, sadly and far too often, it does.

Granted, with all the gift ideas and advertisements enticing you from all sides, not to mention that cool cashier-side treat you just have to buy, it's a challenge to stay disciplined and stick to a holiday budget. Fear not; here are some ideas that will keep you on track financially:

Make a list

Lists may not be exciting, but they really do work. On your computer or a spiral notebook, write down your Christmas gift recipients with a few ideas you have in mind and the amount you would like to spend. You still have time to research price variations (doing this online is ridiculously easy). You can save quite a bit just by taking the time to make a list and researching the store with the lowest cost.

Avoid impulse purchases

This is difficult, especially when you have children. Naturally there will be times now when you see an item and just have to buy it, but do that more than a few times and it may be a habit rather than an exception. Try to stick to your list as a rule.

Nix the credit card and use cash

A credit card gives you a false sense of how much money you actually have. Remember, credit is the bank's money; cash (except cash advances from a credit card) is your money. Always buy gifts with your money--you do not want to go into debt buying gifts! Plus, you'll end up paying interest on that gift which inflates the price.

One of the most effective budgeting methods is to determine a preset amount for the gift recipient and put the amount in an envelope. Make a pact not to go over that predetermined amount. You will be surprised how creative you can be to stay within that limit.

Be creative!

Creativity is not only the spice of life, it's the secret to living within your means, especially during the holidays. Instead of spending a lot of money on items your recipient may or may not use, consider baking cookies or pies, making gifts such as handmade soaps, hand-designed cards or baskets, offering babysitting nights to exhausted new parents, donating to charity in the recipient's name, etc.

Each year, our family bakes close to 1,500 cookies to give as gifts to everyone we know, including family members, neighbors, colleagues, teachers, the boys' friends and their families, and even those in the community who faithfully provide services year after year such as our postal carrier and car mechanic. The total cost for ingredients is around $180! Most importantly, cookie week has become a grand tradition in our home that has given us as much delight for us and our visitors to experience as it (hopefully) lends to the recipients of our trays.

Remember, a gift is a gesture of the heart, not your wallet. People will appreciate the thought of a creative, well-thought out gift much more than the amount you spent on it.

Merry Christmas!

~ ~ ~

Sharon L. Cece © 2013

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