A Holiday Survival Checklist: 5 Tips to Keep You Sane & Debt-Free this Holiday Season

Holiday Survival Checklist: 5 Tips to Keep You Sane and Debt-Free

The holidays have become so stressful that people long for December 26 when the festivities are over or plan to skip them all together. This saddens me. When did the holidays turn everyone into a Grinch? The frantic nature and expense of the holidays probably has something to do with people’s bah-humbug demeanor, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve put together five tips to help put the cheer back into the holidays.

1. Make a List and Check It Twice!

This seems obvious, but I bet everyone has raced to the store to find a last-minute gift for someone. The key to keeping your sanity during the holidays is to take a few minutes to figure out who and what you plan to give to each individual on your list, helping you avoid last minute headaches later. Plus, it gives you an opportunity to look for deals ahead-of-time, so you can shop smart and take advantage of sales, rather than running from store-to-store without a plan.

2. Gift-Giving is a Choice, Not an Obligation

We spend hours agonizing over finding the perfect gift for everyone on our list. Children count how many gifts they have under the tree and compare the number with their friends. Gifts have become a holiday burden. The truth is gift-giving shouldn’t feel like an obligation or be a nuisance.

Many families–whether by choice or necessity–are trimming back the number of presents they purchase and rightly focusing on the true meaning of Christmas, which has nothing to do with the number of presents you give or receive. I challenge you to take a look at your list and reduce the number of gifts you purchase, especially for adults. Most adults have the things they need, and the things they want are probably too expensive to purchase as gifts. So rather than buy them something they really don’t want, look for a low-cost or no-cost gift they would really love.

A few examples:

  1. A day for themselves. You take their children for the day (and overnight, if possible), allowing them to get home projects done or enjoy a day relaxing. I can’t think of any parent who wouldn’t appreciate this gift.
  2. In lieu of gifts, arrange for a New Year’s brunch, lunch or coffee with your closet friends.
  3. Get in the kitchen with your children and start baking. Give trays of yummy treats that can be shared during holiday festivities.

3. Debt is Not a Holiday Gift: Set a Budget

Too many of us use credit cards to create the perfect holiday and wind-up with the gift of Christmas debt. Well, as your Financial Santa Claus, I’d have to put you on the naughty list!

You may believe budgets are too constraining; I believe they are freeing. Once you set your holiday budget, you know how much money you have to play with—no matter how big or small that amount may be—and can figure out how to best use your money. I’ve watched too many people try to outspend each other and dig themselves into a deep hole doing this. You might be able to temporarily outrun your debt, but it always catches up with you.

Review your Christmas list and decide how much you’re going to spend on each individual and where you can either eliminate a gift or find a no-cost option instead. And most importantly—you must stick to your budget. Don’t allow yourself to spend an extra dollar or ten or twenty on gifts. It’s a slippery slope once you start and soon your budget is just a distant memory.

4. Fill Your Children’s Stockings with What They Truly Want

Children are bombarded with images of toys 24/7 during the holiday season. It’s no wonder they want everything! As a parent, nothing makes me happier than watching my daughters’ eyes light up when they open their presents. And nothing turns that smile upside down when I find out that I didn’t buy what they “truly wanted” and the new toys quickly get tossed aside.

The trick to avoiding this is slowing down and helping your kids figure out what would make their hearts the happiest. I ask my girls to pick out 10 things they want for Christmas and give them plenty of time to look through catalogs or ads to find those toys. Once they identify them, we go through each toy and compare it to another toy on the list. I ask them, “If you could have this toy, but not the other toy, which one would make your heart happier?” Once we go through the list we know which toys they really want and share their list with family members.

*Success Tip: Don’t do this at the store. They’ll be too over stimulated by all their options. Do this at home and give them plenty of time to consider all their options before narrowing their lists.

5. Tis the Season to Share

Sharing has always been a big part of our day-to-day lives, but it takes on a special meaning at Christmas. For the past few years, we have “adopted” a family during Christmas. I always try to pick a family that has girls close to the same age as my own. Lauren and Taylor will go through their clothes and toys to give beyond what the family needs.

Last year Lauren delivered the gifts with me. She was so excited to show them all the clothes and coats that she and Taylor had selected for them. The little girls’ mom and I never spoke, but we stood there watching the magic of our children together with tears in our eyes. This is Christmas to me.

It is easy to get lost navigating the hustle and bustle of the Holiday Season and lose sight of what truly matters. But if you slow down, create a plan and follow your budget, the Holidays can truly be the most wonderful time of the year.


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December 13, 2012  •  6 Comments  •  Tips

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  1. Becki
    Sunday, December 16th, 2012
    Great tips! Thanks for the reminder of what this holiday is truly about.
    • Monday, December 17th, 2012
      Thanks Becki! Happy Holidays to you!
  2. Tuesday, December 18th, 2012
    Some great tips - especially that giving is NOT an obligation :)
    • Tuesday, December 18th, 2012
      So true. It might be human nature to automatically give a gift back, but it's not necessary. I certainly wouldn't want anyone to go into debt buying me a gift!
  3. Thursday, December 20th, 2012
    Setting a budget is key ! And I never give gifts unless I want to. Just not worth it to try to get something for everyone you know!
    • Thursday, December 20th, 2012
      Agreed! Without a budget it's too easy to overspend and not realize it until the bills start arriving.
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