Late Thanksgiving Day recently joined Black Friday and Cyber Monday as part of the early buying frenzy for the holidays. As November dawns, holiday advertising is already appearing online, on television, and in print.
Before getting caught up in the commercialism of the season, take time to remember the true meaning of the holidays. They represent a time for rest, reflection, and joy.
Personal Finance author, Mary Hunt offers, an excellent balance between meaning and merchandise in her book, "Debt-Proof Your Christmas," developed out of her own story of incurring holiday shopping debt more than 20 years ago.
Hunt acknowledges that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to celebrating the holidays, as she shows readers how to have an all-cash Christmas and avoid the bills that soon follow in January. Gift giving, holiday entertaining, and dressing the house are among the many topics she covers.
It's imperative that you prepare and plan for the holidays to avoid accumulating seasonal debt. The best separator to deter becoming emotionally overdrawn into the holidays is time. "While you are not involved emotionally is the time you can think the most rationally."
Hunt's noteworthy holiday-celebrating thoughts include:
Attitude. "How you celebrate and how you pay for Christmas holidays are completely in your control if you make that choice," Hunt says.
Courage. You may be single, a childless couple, or financially challenged, and part of a large family, expected to buy gifts for every relative. The solution is to develop courage to give as you want, not out of guilt or expectation. Spend what you can on what you desire, not what others say you must. Get creative with gift giving.
Cash in envelopes . Set an amount you'll spend on each gift recipient, and place that cash in an envelope. When the money's gone it's gone and so is gift buying for that person.
Use cash and you'll be a more disciplined shopper, compelled to find the best bargains.
Gift cards. The surge in gift card giving in recent years prompts Hunt to emphasize that they're not the same as cash, but instead, specific store credit subject to that store's rules and policies. Hunt's gift-card giving advice includes:
- Give a gift card when it tops the recipient's wish list, not out of your own convenience.
- Realize that many gift cards start losing value as soon as six months after activation.
- Avoid giving gift cards to children, because they're too abstract. Give cash instead.
Outlet stores. Outlets have morphed into their own kind of commercial experience, requiring savvy shopping. Hunt's outlet shopping tips include:
- Wait for the big sales. Outlets follow the same schedule as regular stores, with the best bargains around major holidays.
- Ask sales associates if the merchandise is first quality, name brand, or lower quality made specifically for the outlet.
- Inquire about out-of-season merchandise housed in the back of the store available for rock-bottom prices.
Family traditions. Traditions give families assurance that even in uncertain times, amidst a changing world, there are some things they can count on to stay the same.
One suggested tradition is to collect twenty-four books that align with your family's values and beliefs for the holidays. Wrap the books, and beginning December 1, let your children select and open one book before bedtime and then read it together.
Hunt polled readers for their favorite holiday books (Christmas and Hanukkah) and lists the most popular twenty-four titles.
Readers of Hunt's website share their inspiring stories of how they personalized their holiday celebrations.
One family started a memories box, encouraging members to contribute thoughts about the past year, and hopes for the future during the holidays. Each Christmas Eve relatives open the box and reflect upon their previous entries.
Debt-Proof Your Christmas features a treasure chest of holiday-enhancing websites, including an organization that distributes gifts to children in desperate situations around the world, and a no-frills site allowing you to bid on unclaimed items in the stolen property rooms of police stations.
Hunt advises on holiday tipping and charitable contributions. "The most reputable charities spend no more for administrative costs than twenty-five cents from each dollar donated."
If you're inspired by affirmations, Hunt offers nine to help you avoid holiday debt, including, "I will keep an eye on December 26, when I intend to wake up knowing Christmas is paid in full."
Debt-Proof Your Christmas will reign as your year-round reference to achieve a meaningful, debt-free holiday season. Discover Hunt's tips now to jumpstart your ability to experience an all-cash Christmas this year.
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