How to Stay Out of Debt this Christmas

by | Nov 20, 2015 | Finance, Holidays | 2 comments

Christmas02Figuring out how to stay out of debt this Christmas (and for the rest of the year) begins with six questions.

The Questions in Question

To recap, these were the questions I asked you to think about:

  • Are you in debt right now?
  • Did you start 2015 in debt and then manage to get out of it a few months in?
  • Did you overspend last Christmas?
  • How many of the gifts you bought for your friends and family members are still being used?
  • How about the gifts they bought for you?
  • What about the kids? What’s happened to all that stuff they so desperately had to have last Christmas?

Are you in debt?

If not, then skip ahead to the next question. If yes then listen up. It’s imperative you don’t dig the hole any deeper. Don’t try to justify charging stuff to your credit card by saying something lame like, “Oh well, I’m already in so much debt, what’s another [insert amount in currency of your choice here]?”

If you’re in debt you can’t be spending money on anything besides necessities and paying back your loans. But it’s the Hoooollliiidaaaays! Yes, I know it is, so let’s think outside the box here. You can make stuff e.g. cookies, jams, art, poetry etc. Heck you can do interpretive dance if you want. It’s up to you; just don’t buy anything (other than ingredients for the cookies, that is).

If you’ve got kids and using your credit card won’t land you in jail then set a reasonable limit to buy them each a couple of small (SMALL!) gifts. See, I told you I’m not the Grinch. But you do need to have a family pow-wow and explain why things are tight.

Help them understand why they’re not getting shares in Toys R Us by making them feel included. Look, I don’t have kids so I can’t say for sure, but I think it’ll work. The little tykes are way smarter and more empathetic than we give them credit for. You just have to watch something like this to know what I’m saying has a modicum of truth to it.

While you’re at it, now is probably a good time to send everyone an email explaining why they won’t be getting any gifts from you. At least not any store-bought ones.

Did you start 2015 in debt and then get out of it?

If not, return to the previous question or skip ahead, whichever applies. If yes, then I’d like you think back on how it felt to be in debt. More importantly, think about why it happened. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume you got into the red because had a bad case of Holiday Fever. (Don’t feel bad, it’s happened to all of us.)

Don’t just cast your mind back in a Oh ja, I remember whipping out my credit card a couple too many times.” kinda way. What made you do that? What were you thinking? Were you thinking? Or did you just love the feeling of being everyone’s favourite person, spoiling them with all manner of treats? Journal about it, talk to your honey about it, really dig deep. Knowing the hows and whys will help you avoid the same pitfalls this year.

Did you overspend last Christmas?

Maybe you’re in the fortunate position that you can overspend without getting into to debt, maybe your overspending left you with an unhealthy bank balance, it doesn’t matter. Overspending is overspending.

The point is (and believe me when I say this, I’m no bible punching churchgoer), there must be a reason why gluttony is a sin. For me overspending is tantamount to wasting and there’s really no excuse for that. Not when nearly half of the world’s population — more than 3 billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. Okay rant over. Soapbox back under bed.

Try to think back to where exactly you overspent and then figure out why. It could be something as simple as laziness. You didn’t bother to check exactly what you needed before going shopping, so you overcompensated by buying way too much. Solution? Make a list before you leave home.

It might be that you used to be poor and now you’re not so you’re making for lost time. Quick FYI here, you can’t make up for lost time. Poor you is in the past, well to do you is here now. How can she use her money to effect positive change? How about throwing a massive party for an orphanage or homeless shelter? What about backing a bunch of Kiva projects? You could give a community the gift of water this Christmas.

You don’t need to buy an entire grocery store’s worth of food for one family meal. And you definitely don’t need to get each family a pile of presents the size of Kilimanjaro. Especially not when most of them will be broken or forgotten before the week is out. Which bring me to the next question.

How many of the gifts you bought (and received) are still being used?

I’m willing to bet almost none of them. You see humans, it turns out, are exceptional hunters. When we’re at the mall. The minute we walk through the doors our predatory senses kick into high alert. Almost immediately we’re casting about, looking for stuff to buy. As soon as our gaze falls on prospective prey (cell phone, blender, watch, sweater vest etc.) we go into stalk mode, making a beeline for the object in question.

At this point the thrill of the chase either intensifies or recedes depending on how well the ‘prey’ bears up under our scrutiny. It’s important to note here though, that our scrutinising capabilities diminish rapidly the longer we spend in the mall, which is why we end up buying so much crap.

When you arrive you’re still fresh (read: discerning), but as time goes by you begin to lose your Christmas shopping mojo and before you know it you’ve gone from fresh to fu…um…not so fresh. By this point you’re anything but discerning (read: you no longer give a toss what you buy, just so long as you buy something).

This in turn is why we end up giving and receiving gifts that have no real function outside of being a literal stocking-filler. Gifts that, more importantly, add no value to anyone. Come January, these are the very things you’ll find lurking miserably on the discounted to hell and gone table at your favourite store. This is done not so anyone will buy this stuff (though there are those), but rather to rub your nose in the fact that you were well and truly suckered.

Now I know it might not sound like it, but I really do have your best interests at heart here. Unfortunately tough love is a necessary requirement to jolt you out of predator mode and plonk you back in reality, where can chat pleasantly about Christmas chocolate brownies, adopting a turkey and the value of spending your money on experiences.*

*Sporty and I still laugh about the naked man we saw on honeymoon!

Also, this is where I ask you to do an inventory of your house to see what’s been gathering dust in the back of the cupboard, the kitchen drawers, the garage, basement, you get the drift. See if you can remember two things about the clutter you’ve just unearthed. When last did you use it and did it start life in your house under the Christmas tree?

This pretty much covers the last two questions as well, so I’ll end off here. If you have questions, suggestions, feedback, debt recovery stories, or even if you just have a vegan Christmas cake recipe you’d like to share, feel free to leave it in the comments. Sporty and I are waiting with breath baited.

Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more. —H. Jackson Brown, Jr.



  1. Laura Beth

    Hi Angela (hey Sporty:)

    Some thought provoking tips here. I’m gonna have to mull these ideas around in my head and find that state of perfect honesty with myself before I can figure out my Christmas survival strategy.

    Having already thought it thru somewhat, my initial plan was to do a full-blown shopping ban after Christmas. I know, it doesn’t really justify going overboard for Christmas (and yes I’m still in debt).

    Thanks for your post!
    Laura Beth

    • Ang

      Hi Laura. Being in debt is tough, because in the back of your mind you know you can’t really justify buying stuff when you’re in red. However if you’re a Christmas fan maybe you can find a compromise that allows you to focus on paying your debt and still celebrating the Holidays. That’s where I find making stuff is really fun (provided you don’t go overboard buying the “ingredients”). Good luck! Let us know what you do. 🙂 PS Sporty says hey back.


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