How to Do Christmas Without Debt

If you are or ever have been plagued by credit card debt, I can nearly guarantee expenses related to Christmas have contributed greatly to that miserable situation. You know I’m right and unless we do something to stop that pattern, things are about to get much worse for you. Christmas is right around the corner.

The problem is procrastination. Face it, when it comes to Christmas, the longer you wait, the more you’ll spend. The opposite is also true. The sooner you get started, the less you’ll spend.

There are simple things you can do to stop procrastinating.

Get started

There’s no use in trying to ignore the fact that 2023 has been a tough year for all of us. And it’s not over yet!

This inflation, the politics; crime on the streets, rising costs, devastating losses by fire and storms—need I go on?—could well stretch into 2024. I’m the first to admit the easiest thing in the world would be to throw three sheets to the wind, decide that we deserve a little happiness in all of the chaos, and just go for it by using up all the credit limits available and try to overcome all we’ve been through. You know, give the kids the best Christmas of their lives—somehow feeling justified in believing, “We’ll deal with the debt later.”

Please don’t do that. It might sound like a reasonable tradeoff today, but I promise that you will regret it soon enough.

Instead, do something positive today to get moving on Christmas, determined you will not spend money you don’t have. Once you are in motion, it will be easier to keep going.

Write it down

Reduce your plans to paper. Seeing things in black and white eliminates the unknown and provides a realistic playing field. Set reasonable limits both in time and in money.

Work with the time you have

Make a simple timeline, then break the project down into small, manageable parts. Even five minutes is enough time to get something done when you have a plan.

Small deadlines

As an example, give yourself a date one week from today to have your gift list written. Share your deadlines with someone who will keep you accountable.

Find the simpler way

To minimize the powerful emotions of the season, determine ways you can reasonably scale back and simplify. Make room in your holiday plans for relaxation and enjoyment.

Be realistic

A big part of the problem is that the December holidays aren’t just about gifts. There are decorations, holiday clothes, parties and trips, special concerts and plays, postage for cards and parcels, and, of course, all that food. The obvious solution is not to spend a lot of money on any of these things. Think about alternative ways to make the holidays happy.

Any time of the year is the best time of the year to start thinking about the most wonderful time of the year. This far out, the pressure is off so you can think clearly. A stress-free debt-free Christmas is likely the very best gift you can give yourself and your family.

Woman giving a thumbs up on no christmas credit card debt white background

Let’s do this together

It’s been 31 years since I launched the Cheapskate Monthly newsletter. Lots has changed since then—and that’s quite an understatement! What hasn’t changed is that credit card debt is like cancer—or runaway virus. It begins small and seems to be quite manageable. Then it starts to grow, and grow. It multiplies and very soon gets out of hand, taking over and changing our lives.

A better idea is that we nip this in the bud to stop even the thought of going into debt right now. Find better ways to accomplish the same goal. And let’s do this together! How? I have a few ideas:

  1. Don’t miss a single EC daily newsletter. Open the email, click through to the post, and read it! Not all will be Christmas related, but all devoted to saving time and money every day! This is the way to stay motivated.
  2. Leave a comment, share your tips and ideas. Renew your commitment, share your challenges.
  3. Share the daily posts. Click on the buttons, tell your friends and family about EC, and encourage them to subscribe! This will help all of us to keep EC alive and well.
  4. Participate in our coming GIVEAWAYS (gonna’ be so great!). Spread the word.
  5. Stick close! I’m going to make sure you have all you need to reach your goals, with ideas and how-tos to make awesome gifts, finding alternatives to pricey options, and doing things differently. Need more ideas? I’m working feverishly on our 2023 Holiday Gift Idea Guides—not to encourage and nudge you into debt, but to give you ideas for gifts that will fit into your Holiday budget.


And now, it’s time to gather into one enormous huddle to renew our collective commitment to no new debt this holiday season. Are you with me?

Ready … Set … Let’s GO!


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  1. Patti Roy says:

    Hi Mary,
    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your column, and share it often. For many years I have been teased about my “Christmas shopping”, but I would not change a thing! I shop all year ’round. If I see something now, that my sister would like for NEXT year, becasue this year is already covered!, I’ll buy it. I almost always have my shopping done by Labor Day, and usually wrap by Thanksgiving, at the latest. I save a fortune in a couple ways.
    First, as I see things in the store, or in a catalog, that makes me say, “OMG – Sue would love that! Or “I could see Mike using that!”, and it’s in my price range, I buy it, right then. I always check around to make sure it’s the best price, of course! But then their name get crossed off my list, as done.
    Second, I have family we do not usually see at Christmas time. If I see the people to whom I usually have to mail gifts, I give them the gifts to take home with them to open on Christmas. For instance, in September, my sister and her husband were here in Michigan, visiting from Denver. They drove. So I sent home 3 boxes of wrapped gifts with them, to Denver, because the shopping for her and her husband, and their 2 daughters and their familes was already done. They hauled them back, and I was saved the cost of shipping the presents for 10 people. Imagine the shipping costs on those packages, had I had to ship them all out to Colorado!
    PS: In soiteof the teasing, I have had family members caught off-guard, needing a baby gift, shower gift, unexpected birthday invitation, and they will call me….do you have something I could buy from your gift closet? They will actually come over to “shop!” And I have to say, I have a set, or 2, of ready-to-go gifts, say a baby girl set, just add a baby, and a baby boy set, all ready to go. As I see things, too inexpensive not to have on hand, I purchase it, and save it. I have a gift storage closet, and it has saved my own butt a few times as well. Why not buy a darling baby set when it is 90% off?

  2. Deena Costley says:

    Help with gift ideas for those that don’t NEED anything? I’m part of a family the buys what they need when they need it. The sooner, the better Love your emails and the range of help topics you provide

  3. Cathy down on the farm... says:

    Thank you, Mary, for your wonderful columns. I try and do Christmas shopping all year around. When I am out and about, which is rare, I pick up little things year around that I think my loved ones would love. I also listen to what people say that they want and need and it helps a lot. I’ve got my list running and have about 1/3 of it done. I have told my small family that I wish to be done shopping by December 1, so please get me your small wish list from Amazon and then wait to be surprised with what I do or don’t buy. If I do use my credit card I make sure it is paid off immediately. My goal is to not go into the New Year with Christmas debt and it has worked well so far. I usually buy only practical things, as well.

  4. Elizabeth Ayers says:

    Thank you so much!! I have enjoyed your newsletter for years. This year I set up a holiday spending account through my State Employee Credit Union that auto drafts whatever amount I decide each month and then I can’t get to it. It is protected from me until my October paycheck when it gets deposited in my account. This is the first year ever that our Christmas will purchased completely with cash!!!! Thanks again for all you do!

  5. Katrina says:

    We’ve had a rough year and want to draw names for Christmas and only buy 1 gift for the name we draw. The issue is my mother in law, she is demanding that Christmas be like it always is. Us kids and in laws need to be firm with her. We will tell her she and Dad can do what they want, but we are drawing names. Period. End of discussion. We don’t have the extra cash to buy gifts for everyone. This time she is not going to win!

  6. Cheryl says:

    A friend of mine said they discussed it with their daughters re Thanksgiving and Christmas and decided since they couldn’t be together for either, they would take the money they would have spent on either and give to a worthy charity.

  7. Victoria Jacobs says:

    Years ago when I needed to do holiday gift shopping (Christmas and Hanukkah) for my husband and I, both moms, and the people we supervised at our jobs, I began with a spreadsheet/list. I set up columns for name, ideas, and columns to check off for purchased, wrapped, and delivered/mailed. I included everything, such as gift exchanges for clubs and work, local charities, mail carrier/gardener/housekeeper, etc. When I would think of something someone might like I put the idea in the “Idea” column. If it was August and I found a great sale on toys or backpacks, I’d buy a few and put that down as “purchased” in a column for local charities. There was also a section for Christmas stockings for immediate family, where I cold write down ideas for smaller items.

    It became very useful to keep about 3 years of listings about what I’d given as a gift so that I didn’t give a similar item. It also became a great reminder when I would find something in mid-summer, buy it, and hide it. Instead of on occasion forgetting it, the item was there on the spreadsheet.

  8. elaine says:

    I may sound like Scrooge, but the easiest and least expensive Christmas is to stop giving to relatives and just give to your church. We stopped the gift exchange years ago and took a lot of worry off our minds.

  9. Karla says:

    Mary, I would really like to see a column in advance of the holidays about creative ideas for celebrating with family safely. With Covid exploding, we know it is not safe for most of us to meet with our families in person. The only thing that would make it safe is for all of us to have a negative test and not have any contact with anyone else until we have our family gathering and even that isn’t completely safe because of asymptomatic carriers. I know some people say to heck with the virus I want to be with my family, but for me I would rather be around next year and for the years to come. The sacrifice of one year of being around the table together is small in comparison to life itself. I am really bummed out, as I’m sure are many others of your readers. We know that there is technology, but in most cases that is a poor substitute. For those of us who live geographically closer to our families, can we get some ideas about how to celebrate in a place that has very cold winter weather and yet spend some time together in person? Thanks for your ideas.

    • Katie French says:

      Karla, Check out “Unreported Truths about COVID-19 and Lockdowns: 2020-2021 Update and Examination of Lockdowns as a Strategy. Everything You Need to Know About COVID-19” Free on Amazon Kindle Unlimited, and see what you think. I hope this helps you to be able to enjoy your family this holiday.

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