How To Survive Christmas Without Going Into Debt

As we approach yet another Christmas season when every corner we turn screams at us to spend, spend, spend, I find that I have to consciously think about lessons I’ve learned in previous years, pull them out with the decorations, and make sure they’re all front and center every time I walk out the front door.

Here are a few of the strategies I’ve used to help trim the seasonal budget back a bit:

We tell our kids that we pay Santa for the gifts he brings. This helps them to understand why some kids get more than others and why Santa’s generosity is not unlimited.

I have my kids clean out closets, drawers, shelves, and corners throughout December, explaining that nothing new is coming into the house if there’s no room for it.

We take some time to go through clothes and toys that we’ve outgrown, used up, broken, or just never really go into. We save, pitch, and donate appropriately. But at Christmas time, we take the good stuff that is perfect for donating, clean it up, and leave it under the tree Christmas Eve so that Santa can take it and give it to other children whose families can’t afford to pay Santa for their gifts.

I’ve set a ridiculously low budget this year – less than half of what I usually spend. I decided how much of that will be spent on gifts and then divided by the number of gifts I have to buy. For our kids, and our nieces and nephews, I put a simple $20 limit on each of them. This restriction actually made shopping a little more enjoyable as I had to put a little more thought into their gifts. And I am that much more excited about giving them as I was so careful to chose the one thing that I know they’ll each love.

I stopped buying all of the little dollar store and toiletry items that five kids can go through about three weeks ago. They’re currently sharing toothpaste and shampoo, pencils are sharpened to death, and they’re getting by with last year’s mitts and scarves. Things that I would normally have to buy for them anyway will all show up in their stockings.

I bought my turkey at Thanksgiving and it’s been waiting quietly in the freezer for weeks now. While I prefer the luxury of the taste of a fresh bird, I find that I prefer the low price of a turkey on sale the day after Thanksgiving! I also bought a huge 30 pound bird to make sure that we have plenty of leftover dinners for the freezer.

I’ve been stocking up on holiday treats and hors d’oeuvres for weeks now. With the regular grocery shopping, I’ve grabbed $10-$20 worth of frozen eggrolls and potstickers, nuts, cookies, and chips on my travels. Sure, keeping the kids out of the treasure trove of treats has been a bit of a challenge. But looking at my budget for the big Christmas shop next week, I think I’m going to easily beat my bottom line.

In the end, I’m finding that trimming my budget not only saves a lot of money, but it drastically reduces the stress of the season. I’m looking forward to a house full of company and loud kids and family. I’ll be able to watch them enjoy Christmas. Instead of watching them eat through my wallet!

Merry Christmas to you and yours, and my the holiday season bring you the joys of peace and love.

See you in January!

I Paid My Bills And There Is NO Better Feeling!

It’s been a long year of change and challenge for my family.

Not the least of which has been taking the next step in our financial health. Our history with debt has, to this day, left us unprepared for retirement. And while that may still be more than a quarter century away, it worries me greatly.

And so, we have taken on the challenge of investing in our future, weighing risk against gain and working with our professional financial advisors to secure our retirement years.

Our first step was not to have our debt (once again!) paid off. But to have it all in good standing. We have – and likely always will – carry debt. However, when what we owe is manageable, within our means, and under control, it is not the stressor that it once was. The difference now is that we are learning to include ‘good’ debt – debt that will get us ahead/pay for itself in the end.

We are now in a new realm of financial health where our investments must be managed along with our budget and spending. There are new columns in my ledger that I must master. It’s been a very intense lesson these past six months as our plan was put into action and took a big leap of faith.

My point is, that adjusting to these significant changes in our situation has, in the end, taken about a year. My budgets and plans of the last twelve months evolved into what we now see as a ‘new normal.’ But I understand now that this is all a ‘process,’ not an ‘event.’

I am excited today, because, as of this week, after throwing our entire financial picture into a shredder and trying to piece the whole thing back together, I not only balanced our budget, but paid the bills, have caught up on payments so that the money is securely in the bank before the bill arrives, and reduced my monthly financial ‘to-do’ list down to one page.

This is nothing short of phenomenal and I am feeling the pride!!

The stresses of past bad debt remain with me; I think they always will. I still panic when faced with a phone call from a creditor. But what a difference when one calls to tell you you are now seriously in arrears on a monthly payment, and you KNOW that you’re covered. When the conversation starts with, “I paid that. What went wrong?” you are blanketed in a feeling of confidence and relief that debtors seldom experience.

How utterly wonderful to hear, “You’re right Mrs. Brown. It looks like the payment was credited to your other account. I’ll just transfer that over and everything’s straightened out.”

(Long, luxurious sigh.)

I love being in control of my finances.

I’m not rich.

I’m still in debt.

But I am in control. And there is no better feeling.

 

If you would like to benefit from Stacey Brown’s personal debt experience to assist your own recovery and to avoid some major pitfalls along the way, you can purchase her book online by clicking here.

Or click here to learn more.

So What If I Can’t Pay My Bills

This is the equivalent to “So what if I’m fifty pounds overweight?,” “So what if I smoke a pack a day?,” and “So what if I like to tie one on every weekend?”

With the added detachment of not know exactly whom you owe the money to, it’s too easy to fall into this stage of denial. Certainly, if you owe Uncle Bill $5,000, you are going to pay attention to that debt, not because financially, it’s the best one to pay off first, but because your mother knows you owe her brother and mentions it every time you see her. And you like Uncle Bill.

But, really, who the hell is VISA? There’s no name. No face. No dinner on Sunday.

You’re not going to hurt VISA’s feelings.

And if you ruin your relationship with VISA, there’s always MasterCard.

Right?

Wrong.

Having a lot of personal debt can easily, and very suddenly, lead to a type of denial you didn’t think possible. You begin to detach yourself from the responsibility of the debt, and paying it off begins to take on a lower priority than it should.

Someone who had never bounced a cheque before in his life, can unfortunately find himself thinking, “They can take it out of the insurance when I die.”

And this kind of defeatist attitude will do more damage to your emotional and financial health than simply carrying the debt in the first place.

It means you’ve accepted your debt as part of your life. And given the stress and hardship that comes with a heavy debt load, that’s like saying, “Oh well, I have cancer. I was going to die anyway.”

If you’re feeling this way, you need to seek help. You need to speak to a financial professional who can help you understand your situation more fully, and to make a plan for your recovery. Find a credit counsellor. Today. And make an appointment.

And make sure your next phone call is to your doctor. Tell you doctor about your situation. Explain how you’re feeling and how you think your future looks.

Debt is a major environmental cause of depression. And giving up is the first major symptom.

If this sounds like you, talk to someone. Get some help. You need to find the spark that lights the fire under your butt. And if your debt has extinguished that spark, this could be the beginning of a long road downward that doesn’t have to happen.

Asking for help is not admitting you’re weak. It’s proving your strength. It takes more control and power to ask for help than it does to simply allow your problems to take that control and power away from you.