The Secret for a Debt-Free Holiday Season in One Word

It’s not exactly a new word to me. But I’m pretty sure I’d never actually used the word predetermine in a sentence until my pastor referred to it recently—and in a way that turned on a bright light in my noggin.

To predetermine is to make a decision in advance. That describes perfectly what it means to budget. You get your paycheck and before you do anything with it, you predetermine where every dollar will go. You give each dollar a job to do—in advance. You predetermine!

Here we are on the cusp of one more glorious, fabulous, exciting and joyful Holiday Season. How can we do this without going into debt? Predetermine. That’s it! Decide or establish in advance what we will do, how much we will spend; where you will go, what you will do. Yes, I know that sounds very much like a Spending Plan and it is. The way to get to a Spending Plan is to—you guessed it!—predetermine.

Take the gift-giving part of the season. How can we predetermine in that area? Two things:

COST: Look at your gift list and predetermine how much money you will spend for each. Decide this fact. Plant it in your brain. Write it on your heart. Write it down or whatever else it takes to establish this in advance.

GIFT: Here is a foolproof way to select the perfect gift for each of your giftees: Ask yourself what does he or she really care about? By that I mean what would this person say they could never have enough of?

For my husband, a hobby woodworker, the answer would come without hesitation: He could never have enough clamps. Every year I make sure there are clamps under the tree for my favorite woodworker and every year he says that same thing: “Oh good, I can never have too many clamps!”For myself (not that you asked), my answer to that question would be legion. I could never have too much coffee, fabric, skeins of yarn, knitting needles, coffee stuff, kitchen shears or mixing bowls. When I find any of these things under the tree on Christmas morning, my reaction is the same. I’m over the moon because of course I could never have too much or too many of that special thing.

I find it a lot of fun to figure out the answer to the question for those on my gift list. The challenge of course is when the giftee’s passion lies in an area where I am unfamiliar. I have to think about it, putting myself in that person’s shoes. What do they really enjoy so much they could never have too much or too many?

My grandson would say, “Jurassic Park!” I know that, not because I know anything about Jurassic Park merchandise but because I know him.

My late mother-in-law would say “hot pads!” or “table cloths!” I can hear her now. If I gave you hot pads for Christmas you’d be like … seriously? But not Gwen. She would be visibly thrilled and delighted.

In the weeks between now and Christmas, my inner personal shopper is going to come out here in the Friday posts, starting today which we all know is not Friday, but an excellent day to get started. Consider this the grand kickoff.

With the help of my team, we’re going to put together gift guides to help you identify the perfect gifts based on your giftees’ passions—as low as $10 and from toddlers to seniors. We’re going to include gifts you can make yourself with how-tos. And we’ll be tucking in ideas for gifts you can give that don’t cost a dime.

Today we’ll kick this off with the best inexpensive gift ideas for one of my passions.

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This pour-over coffee maker is considered very cool among coffee aficionados (aka “snobs” which is a good way to describe us) because … it is! Chemex 10-Cup Classic Series Glass Coffeemaker comes in several sizes.

At this writing the 10-cup model is the best value, and lucky for you, the most popular. Caution: You will find knock-off models of Chemex, but steer clear of them. They’re fakes, they are inferior and your coffee-loving giftee will notice this immediately. Chemex coffeemakers require paper filters and your recipient will appreciate Chemex Bonded Unbleached Pre-folded Square Coffee Filters,


Coffee snobs grind whole bean coffee at the time they brew. Tip: Never give a dyed-in-the-wool coffee lover ground coffee. While roasted coffee beans might not be the most flashy gift out there, your favorite snob will perk up at the sight of beans from a high-quality roaster like Toby’s Estate, Cafe Don Pablo Kicking Horse and Koffee Kult. High quality roasted beans run .


Allowing a batch of perfectly brewed, fresh, hot coffee to go cold is simply heartbreaking. This Zojirushi Stainless Steel travel mug will bring a tear to a true coffee snob’s eye. It’s gorgeous but also keeps coffee really hot for a long time. Seriously long. It comes in several colors and both 12- and 16-oz. size. 


This Zojirushi Premium Thermal 1-Liter Carafe is equally awesome, holding one full liter of brew. Lovely.


There are few things more annoying than to reach for your mug of hot coffee only discover that while you were reading, studying or otherwise working away, it’s gone cold. The Mr. Coffee Mug Warmer for office and home use puts an end to that.

This handy gadget has an On light indicator,  On/Off switch and extra long cord. Easy clean, too.


The snobbiest among us is likely a devoted “pour over” fan, a method of manually brewing coffee. If that defines your snob, this is the gift of choice. Without doubt. The Kalita Wave is now considered to be the best pour-over method available.

The gizmo just sits on top of the brewing vessel and holds the paper coffee filter. Watch this short video to learn more (this process is truly a thing of beauty) then suggest that your recipient does, too, just in case you’ve happened onto something new and exciting for your coffee snob.


We snobs insist on crushing our whole coffee beans, not cutting them with a steel blade. A burr grinder (crusher) is a must because it gives consistent particle size for even extraction. Just accept it that a grinder with a blade should be saved for grinding spices.

The JavaPresse Manual Coffee Grinder coffee grinder is a great piece of machinery. Not only does it look spectacular, it works really well, is rated highly by coffee lovers of all levels of snobbery and super affordable. 


The best way to make a single cup of coffee is to do it manually with the Aeropress Coffee and Espresso Maker. Working on the “French press” method of coffee making (but with a paper filter) the Aeropress can make up to 4 cups at a time.

While you have to do all the work with the  Aeropress, you can’t beat the result: smooth, rich coffee that has no bitterness. It takes about 5 minutes start to finish. Comes with filters.

BUNN 13300 12-CUP

This is the coffeemaker I own and use almost continuously. BUNN 13300 12-CupPourover Coffee Brewer keeps water heated to 191 F. and ready to go at all times. That means when I pour the fresh pot of water into the machine to brew a pot of coffee, I’d better have the coffee grounds in the basket and ready to go because hot coffee begins pouring into the pot instantaneously.

This machine makes up to 12 cups of coffee into a glass carafe and the warmer keeps it hot. We live at a semi-high elevation of 5,280 ft., (if that sound like exactly one mile, Bingo!) and this machine works flawlessly.

I have owned many coffeemakers in my life—loved some, hated others—all of which finally failed. I do not plan on replacing this beautiful Bunn machine in the foreseeable future. It is trouble free, highly dependable and makes fabulous coffee. It cannot be beat. And it looks cool, too.


We need to face facts: There are some who despite encouragement to brew coffee at home because it’s so much better and cheaper than you-know-where, they will not be converted to this superior way of indulging in coffee anytime soon. For sure not before Christmas.

What these folks really want is a Starbucks Gift Card. That being the case, I suggest you abandon all the heroics at this time and give them what they really want. Now’s the time to stock up. Hint: Makes a great teacher gift.



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1 reply
  1. Sue in MN
    Sue in MN says:

    Hi Mary –

    When it comes to keeping to a budget for Christmas, I strongly recommend CASH. This is harder to do in this day of on-line shopping, so here is how I do it: I set my budget & write the dollar amount on an index card. Then I make my lists on additional index cards and put all in an envelop. This sits with my computer, then goes with me in my purse for “bricks and mortar” shopping. Every time I make a Christmas purchase, I subtract the amount from my budget, whether I pay cash or order on-line. I put every receipt in a separate envelop, so I have them all in one place for possible returns later. I also check the items off my lists and add a note of the cost so I can stick to my per-person budget.

    Here comes the important part: When the holidays get close, and I am headed out to buy holiday food, last-minute gifts and stocking stuffers, I put whatever remains of my budget into the envelop IN CASH. Then I shop for the most critical items first, and STOP when the envelop is empty. If I choose to go over budget, it must come out of my personal money, not the family budget.
    Also, for those who like to spend a substantial amount for the holidays, I strongly encourage setting up a separate account for it and feeding it monthly, just like an account for car repair/replacement or insurance…


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