The Carr Report: How to avoid debt while Christmas shopping this year

by Damon Carr, For New Pittsburgh Courier

Can you believe it’s almost the month of December already? It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Retailers are open extended hours seeking to claim the money in your wallet. Every charitable organization known to man is soliciting you for money. Friends and family are dropping hints about certain gifts that they would enjoy this year. People in the office are asking you to chip in on a gift for the boss.  Your church is passing around an extra offering plate for a present for the pastor.

You believe in your heart that “it’s better to give than to receive,” but in the back of your mind you’re thinking, “give me a break.” “No can do,” says the mortgage, car note, student loan, credit cards, lights, gas, cable, house phone, cell phone, internet, insurance, and Uncle Sam.  “We understand that you’re in a giving mood but don’t forget you have bills to pay!”

As a financial adviser I sit as the proverbial fly on the wall and listen to the conversations you’ve been having with yourself and your significant other. I heard you cry out in a moment of stress—“the paycheck doesn’t stretch far enough to feed, shelter, and clothe the family, provide basic utility and transportation for the family while at the same time give to charitable causes and save for future needs, wants, and goals.”  I know that you’re doing the best you can to make ends meet. You’d like to avoid using credit cards. You don’t want to rob Peter and Paul to play Santa. You’d like to set up a Christmas fund to save a small portion each month starting in January every year so that when Christmas is here you have the money to shop for gifts.  The reality is you’re having a tough enough time trying to meet the financial demands of today. You don’t have the space in your mind or the funds in your wallet to worry about Christmas in January. Here we go again. Christmas has snuck up on us!

Christmas is upon us. You frantically wonder how you’re going to come up with the money to do your Christmas shopping.  You’ve thought long and hard. You’ve concluded that you’ll get the money you need for Christmas one of two ways: 1.You’ll skip various bills this month and pay them when you get your tax refund.  2. You’ll reluctantly use a credit card with the intention to pay it off within the next 6 months.  Caught up in the emotion of the holidays, it may not have dawned on you that this is exactly what you did last year, the year before and the year before.  That plan isn’t working.

Below are some ideas that will help you enjoy Christmas and avoid debt this holiday season:

  • Set a spending limit and track your spending—If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Before you do any shopping, decide how much you’re going to spend for Christmas. Keep track of how much you’re spending so that you don’t go over your limit. Only use cash or debit cards when shopping.
  • Make a list and check it twice—If it’s good enough for Santa Claus, it’s good enough for you. Make a list of all the people you plan on buying gifts for this season. You now know how much you plan on spending and who you’re purchasing gifts for. Check your list not twice but three times. As you review your list the third time, write a dollar amount on how much you’re going to spend on each person on the list.
  • Keep your guard up—Don’t be tempted by your existing creditors attempting to defer payments on your loans and the merchants attempting to offer you discounts should you open and use a store credit card. They have one of two things in mind—get you to spend money you don’t have or force you to pay interest you can’t afford.
  • Look for great deals—Make it a goal to get discounts on every gift you purchase. This will help the money you’re spending on Christmas go further.
  • Limit discretionary spending—Temporarily reduce or eliminate spending on entertainment, dining out, and other activities you do for pure joy and amusement. It’s better to give than receive, right? Sacrifice something you enjoy doing and use the money you normally spend to purchase gifts.
  • Give the gift of time—Quality time with loved ones is perhaps the best gift you can give. It’s FREE and INVALUABLE. In this fast-paced society we live in, we rarely get to spend quality time with loved ones where there’s no distraction. Make an earnest effort to spend time with someone you care about. The memories you’ll gain from the experience will be more valuable than any gift you can purchase.
  • Give a helping hand—Offer to babysit, shovel snow, mow the lawn, or prepare a meal as a Christmas gift to someone you know who can use a break.
  • Get a part-time job—If you’re still short on money, consider a part-time job or side hustle to fully or partially pay for your Christmas purchases this year. There are plenty of part-time jobs available during the holiday season. It’s better to work a couple extra hours now and pay cash for your Christmas gifts than to neglect bills or accumulate debt and work extra hard the entire year trying to catch up on bills and pay off debt you’ve created during the holidays.
  • Remove adults from the list—You did all the above and you’re still contemplating whipping out the credit card. Time to trim the list. It’s been said that Christmas is for the kids. Your adult family and friends will understand when you say that you spent your entire Christmas budget on the kids this year.

(Damon Carr, Money Coach can be reached @ 412-216-1013 or visit his website @

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