8 Ways to Stay Out of Debt During the Holidays

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While the holidays can be filled with joy, warm drinks, and snuggles by the fire, they’re also full of pressure to spend money—which can bring lots of stress both during the season and for months afterward.

More than half of Americans are willing to go into debt to make their kids happy during the holidays, according to a 2013 survey by credit repair company Lexington Law. Traditions can be difficult to break, and we all want to make the holidays special, but spending more money than your budget can handle might not be the wisest way to your family’s heart. Read on for ways to curb your spending—without curbing your joy.

  1. Budget. Set a budget and stick to it. Start by creating a list of people you’re giving gifts to. But your budget should include more than just presents. If you’re traveling for the holidays, include expenses such as plane tickets or rental cars. Grocery bills tend to creep up at this time of year, too. Keep a close eye on what you’re buying at the supermarket to stay focused and on top of your spending. While making the actual budget can be fun—open a nice clean spreadsheet and plug in all your numbers (or use a free money management app like Mint or Personal Capital)—the harder part is sticking to it. But you can motivate yourself by referring back to your budget often and tracking your spending as you go.
  2. Shop local. While this may not directly help your wallet, it can encourage you to become more conscious about your purchases and to buy less. While shopping online can save you money if you find the right deal, shopping locally can help you find unique gifts for your friends and family while keeping your money in your community.
  3. Cut back. Reduce spending on yourself. In the midst of holiday shopping, it’s tempting to pick up a few things for yourself. Put your own spending on hold; maybe give up a few weeks of lattes or pedicures. If you keep to a budget during the rest of the year, cast a critical eye on your spending in the run-up to the holidays. Tightening your belt before the holiday season hits means you’ll have a little extra money to spend when December rolls around.
  4. Be open. Have an open discussion with your family. If you’ve decided to spend less this year and you’re worried about letting your kids or family down, have that conversation. Set new expectations and start new traditions. Secret Santa–style gift exchanges are popular in big families, and they can lead to fun exchanges and less spending. If you concentrate on a positive message, kids will adjust and appreciate that the holidays can be about more than gifts. Even the Grinch realized there was more to it all than just stuff: “Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.”
  5. Pay outright. Deals aren’t deals if you go into debt for them. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are marketing occasions for retail businesses. While there are a lot of sales and deals throughout the season, if you use a high-interest credit card to pay for an item but can’t pay it off by the end of the purchasing month, the accruing interest can cause your deal to cost more than full retail price by the time you do.
  6. Plan ahead. Use bank plans or savings apps like Qapital to set aside money for the holiday season. If you haven’t already started saving, start now! By saving $50 per week, you can set aside gift money and feel less stressed come December 25.
  7. Cheap and cheerful. It’s fun to decorate for the holidays—it makes life warmer and more joyful. But it doesn’t need to bring financial stress. Visit thrift stores for lightly used decorations. Easy and cheap holiday decor include candles, lights, and your favorite holiday playlist. Keep it simple, and you’ll be curling up in a cozy blanket stress- and debt-free.
  8. Get help. If you’re truly struggling with financial stress, think about confiding in professionals. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling has tools and counseling lines to call for help.

The holidays are all about getting caught up in the wonderful moments, but don’t get caught up in overspending. Your 2018 self will thank you.

Dana Lester has a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics. During her time at Oregon State University, she worked on creating the Green Office Certification Program, which helps campus offices assess themselves for environmental sustainability. She is passionate about holistic wellness, eating fruit, and writing.


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