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Dreaming of a Debt-Free Christmas

christmas budgetThe bad news: this won’t be the year we get to do our debt-free scream (you Dave Ramsey fans know what I’m talking about). The good news is, we will continue our tradition of coming out of the holiday season debt free! By saving over several months and using some creative workarounds, there will be no financial hangover for us come January 1. Here’s how we’re doing it:

  • Consider a gift exchange with immediate family. Once you and your siblings are all grown up and married with kids, the Christmas shopping list explodes exponentially. It’s hard to know where to draw the line: do we buy just for the kids? Do we still buy presents for our parents? Before your wallet explodes (and any hurt feelings happen), start a conversation with your family, even as early as September, and propose a gift exchange that works for you. You could decide to draw names for the adults and still buy for the kids, do a gift exchange among all family members, or still buy for everyone but set a price limit. Chances are good that there are others in your circle who want to simplify their giving and/or streamline their budgets, but are afraid to rock the boat when it comes to tradition. No matter what you decide, don’t forget that Nana is always entitled to spoil her grandkids with whatever she darn well wants to, no questions asked.
  • Get creative with where you shop for kids’ gifts. Who knew? I picked up some great brand-new Melissa and Doug items for cheap at the Just Between Friends sale last month. They also had tons of books, videos and CDs that would have made great gifts under the tree. Looking for new toys and gear for your preschoolers and up? Try the Reno-Sparks Baby Swap group on Facebook. The kiddos outgrow stuff so fast, you can find really great deals on nearly new activity centers, easels, outdoor play items and lots more. I’m also continuing an approach I first tried last year for taming spending for my daughter: sticking to buying something she wants, something she needs, something to wear and something to read.
  • Make a list and check it twice – and then one more time. A major budget buster for us in the past has been all the extra, forgotten and last-minute gifts we’ve purchased. Oh crap – teacher gifts for preschool. Dang! Just got a bottle of wine from the neighbors and don’t have anything on hand for them. And who can forget holiday tips for the hairstylist, dog groomer, house cleaning service – apparently, I can.  Even extra spending for holiday potlucks, Christmas parties and cookie exchanges can add up. While we now plan ahead and pencil those in to our Christmas budget, I have also found it helpful to go back and look at my online banking and Google calendar, not only to get a clue into what I spent last year, but also to double check for anything I may have overlooked for this year.
  • Make a plan with your partner and stick to it. Many times over the last few years, my husband and I have each agreed not to purchase anything for each other for Christmas (a heartfelt card is always expected, however). Sometimes it’s because we’ve already gotten some toys on Black Friday; other times, it’s because we had a big trip or other special occasion during the year. And it has yet to happen that both of us actually stick to the agreement. One of us will find something and just can’t resist buying it for the other…or, when we’ve actually agreed to exchange presents, we screw it up when one of us goes way over the set budget. This has made for some awkward Christmas mornings, not to mention the impact on our bank account. So on this one, do as I say, not as I’ve done – talk openly with your partner about your expectations and budget, and then stick to the plan!

Here’s to happier giving and receiving this holiday season!


About Annie McFarland

Annie McFarland
Happily married to her former neighbor, Annie is mom to three kids age four and under. She (mostly) balances life at home with working full-time in brand and media licensing. Off the clock, you can find Annie on the couch with her nose in a book (or pressed up against the Kindle), thinking about maybe doing some scrapbooking, or listening to NPR podcasts (she's what you call "indoorsy"). If it's football season, she will faithfully support her Southern husband by cheering on the Auburn Tigers and Atlanta Falcons.


  1. Jessica Locke

    Love this Annie! And I too look forward to doing the debt free Dave Ramsey scream someday soon! I would add to the list to 1. do homemade gifts and 2. buy inexpensive gifts as you see them throughout the year and save them. Almost all of our neighbor/teacher/friend/co worker gifts are homemade, usually something like homemade chai tea mix, or this year…homemade peppermint extract using peppermint we grew in our yard. When I see stores marking out items throughout the year, I grab them and add them to my gifts closet, which can be used for Christmas or birthday parties that we go to. Saves a lot of money! And I agree with all your other points, especially the one about keeping in mind a budget for items for parties and such that you usually attend!

    • Annie

      Thanks, Jessica! And thanks also for the reminders on your homemade recipes. I will totally be searching your blog for those in just a couple weeks.

  2. Jenn

    My heart skipped a beat when I read your post. Christmas! I’ve given it a little thought but not much. As my kids get older, figuring out what to buy seems to get more difficult….and expensive (read: electronics). I wish I was further along with shopping but I haven’t even begun. Like you, I keep it simple, especially with gifts for extended family or friends, but I still like to start early. Thanks for the tips and reminder!

    • Annie

      RIGHT?! I heard someone say the other day, just 10 Fridays till Christmas, and I almost croaked. I cut it way too close last year, too, with Amazon shipping. The upside for you, Jenn, is you might be able to find more deals than ever for your boys on Black Friday, since they are more into tech-y toys and devices.

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