Christmas can be stressful trying to figure out what to buy and for whom. Add budget concerns to that mix and it’s easy to lose our focus on why we celebrate Christmas in the first place. Mary Hunt is doing her part to help us stay in budget and in focus with her book Debt-Proof Your Christmas. The book is filled with Christmas stories and ideas from her readers, tricks for developing a plan and staying organized, shopping tips, homemade gifts, recipes, and much more. Here are a few of our favorite ideas to keep cash in your pocket and your focus on Christ this Christmas.

  • My Christmas Club
    There was a time when banks everywhere offered Christmas Club savings accounts for customers. The way it worked: A customer would fill out an authorization instructing the bank (or in some cases, his or her employer) to automatically transfer a set amount from the paycheck to a savings account to be held specifically for Christmas shopping. Then, at Thanksgiving, a tidy sum of money would come in the mail—cash for Christmas. As little as $10 a week would result in a check for $500. Just because most banks have long since discontinued their Christmas Club programs doesn’t mean you can’t create your own.
     
  • Gift Cards
    I purchase $25 gift cards from Wal-Mart and Toys R Us on the 15th of each month of the year. I put the cards in a safe place. I use them to do my Christmas shopping. You can do this at just about any store these days. Gift cards are a great way to save for Christmas shopping because I am not prone to borrow back that money or to spend those gift cards for other things.
     
  • A Balanced Christmas
    A tradition in our home is to limit our gift-giving to four specific categories. Each child receives a gift of Love, which is something homemade; a gift of Warmth which is something like socks or a lap blanket; a gift of Knowledge such as a science kit, books, or educational DVD; and a gift of Joy—that one thing they really want. This has helped to keep our Christmas balanced, our budget small, and our gifts meaningful.
     
  • Pantry Game
    We pretend we’re stranded on a desert island and the only nourishment we have is what is in the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. There’s no way we will be rescued for a week. It becomes a challenge to create meals from our precious resources. Our motivation? The grocery money that week goes into the holiday stash.
     
  • Rotating Name Game
    Our family is hardly ever together for Christmas, and often not at all during the year, either. We came up with an alternative to actually drawing names. We established a permanent rotation of sibling names so we actually know who we’ll be buying gifts for a year in advance.
     
  • Questionnaire
    Since several of our family members live out of state, I developed a questionnaire I send out to each person every year. This updates sizes, colors, wants, and desires. I carry the information in my purse at all times.
     
  • Gifts For Kids Only
    Our extended family now numbers 32. By unanimous consent, we have agreed that gifts will be limited to the kids age 12 and under. We send the money the adults would have spent on gifts for one another to an inner-city school for abandoned and abused kids that is struggling to keep its doors open.
     
  • Nextag.com
    This bargain finder will help you comparison shop for everything from shoes to electronics. It does an excellent job and captures a whole range of prices and sites with customer ratings too. Don’t waste your precious time going from site to site. Let this bargain finding site do that for you.
     
  • Outlet Store Sales and Coupons
    While outlets regularly shout “Sale!” they follow the same calendar as regular stores. You can count on the best deals—super sales—around President’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving weekend, and Christmas. January is an especially good time to find bargains at the outlets, as they have to clear space for spring inventory—something that may be of interest if you are really planning ahead on your holiday shopping.

    The major outlet developers (Premium Outlets, Simon Premium Outlets, and Tanger Outlets) have loads of downloadable coupons on their websites for bonus discounts on top of any low prices you will find at the outlet stores. Some offer to send you an email alert for specific sales and offers. You can even sign up to receive discounts on specific name brands. You will need to register at these sites, but the coupons are free.

    Pare Down
    If your children already have lots of toys, here is a way you can help them become givers and at the same time make room for what will come on Christmas. Help them go through all their toys and designate those that are still in good shape, but no longer played with. Clean them up and make sure they are in good working order. Donate them to a shelter or orphanage that accepts gently used toys, games, and stuffed animals.

Take the kids with you when you make the delivery so they understand there is a world beyond them with children who are less fortunate.