A Very Merry Debt-Free Christmas

    Back when I was young and stupid, the hardest thing about my holiday shopping was keeping track of which credit cards had available balances and which stores accepted which cards. Repeating the colossal credit binge year after year impacted my life severely. So how did I make that giant leap from credit-based to all-cash holidays? I had a plan.
     First, I made a list of the people to whom we would give gifts. It was long, so I went back and determined who would be happy with a card and family picture. Then I wrote down the amount of cash we had to spend. It wasn't much (about $600), but it was specific; we had boundaries. I wrote the name of each person listed on a different envelope. I made one for "family party" and another for "decorations." Then I divided the cash between the envelopes according to what we planned to spend on each person. When the money ran short, it was easy to eliminate the need for new decorations and to scale back the cost of the family party.
    I stuck all of the envelopes in my handbag, where I had carried credit cards. Shopping was a new experience. I paid attention to what things cost. As the envelopes emptied, I knew it was time to stop spending. I had no fear of overspending or facing mystery bills come January.
    Let's face it; it takes courage to stand up against the consumer credit industry. They want you to spend yourself silly and pay interest for years. It takes courage to say: "No, I'm not doing that anymore. From now on, it's cash only for Christmas." It takes courage to turn down deferred billing, no interest until who knows when. It takes courage to stop thinking of your credit card as a tiny ATM in your pocket. It takes courage to stand up and declare that this Christmas is going to be debt-free for your household.
    How can you summon that kind of courage? It's about your attitude. You choose your thoughts; you decide where you focus your attention. If you truly want to stop the cycle of holiday debt, you have to make a bold statement, such as this: This year, I will celebrate the season in ways that bring my family and me joy and that do not create debt.
    You're going to need a plan and perhaps even a family meeting to get everyone on board. Make your commitment in writing, and post it in a place you will see many times each day. You also will need a few clever ideas for how to make the money stretch. You'll find lots of those in my book "Debt-Proof The Holidays."
    Here's my challenge for you: This Christmas, lock up the credit cards. No matter how much or how little cash you have to spend, staying away from credit card debt is going to change your holiday experience in ways you never dreamed possible. Get ready now for a very merry, debt-free Christmas!
    Mary Hunt is the founder of DebtProofLiving.com and author of 17 books, including "Debt-Proof Living." You can e-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or write to Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2135, Paramount, CA 90723

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