A person sitting at a table

How to Avoid Christmas Debt When You’re Short on Cash

And just like that, we’re headlong into the most wonderful time of the year, when I challenge you to make it a debt-free Christmas. Because there are few things that feel as good as facing the New Year knowing that everything is paid in full—no Christmas debt to hit you in the face come mid-January.

A person sitting at a table

But when you’re short on cash it doesn’t feel that wonderful. The temptation is great to put just one more Christmas on credit. Before you give in to that terrible idea, consider that you have options. You can choose to arm yourself with a very important tool. You won’t have to run out and buy this tool because I am absolutely sure you have it already. And you won’t have to go on a whole-house search to find it either.

This all-important tool is as close to a magic wand as you will ever get and as powerful as you choose for it to be. It is your attitude.

You can choose a joyful, expectant, can-do attitude with bold determination—an attitude that says, “No matter what, I am not going to spend money I do not have, to pay for Christmas. Period.” With that kind of attitude, even the powerful consumer credit and retail industries will be no match for you. You will prevail.

Here are nine ideas to get your attitude revved up and your determination switched into high gear.

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Pantry Survival

More than likely you have enough food in your pantry, cupboards, and freezer to feed your family for at least a week or two. Skip grocery shopping for a couple of weeks between now and Christmas. Eat up what you have already, and stash that grocery money you won’t spend into your Christmas stash instead.


Time is short, consider the extreme approach: No more fast food or restaurants between now and Christmas. Put the money you would have spent on fast food and eating out into your holiday stash.

Rethink a Habit

We could all cut back or eliminate a few spending habits with little lasting impact on our lives. You don’t have to eliminate the daily coffees, vending machine snacks, manicures, and pedicures altogether—just for the next six weeks. Consciously put that money instead into your holiday stash.

Do you really need to eat lunch out every day? Cut it back to two days, brown bag the other three, and stash that money you don’t spend.

Get Free Shipping

When shopping online, avoid paying for shipping. You shouldn’t have to reach a certain spending limit in order to do that. Amazon Prime Shipping is a great example and here’s how you can become a short-term Prime shopper for free (Amazon Prime long-term is not free.)

Here’s how to do that: Start your free 30-day trial HERE. You will need to set up an account, but provided you use Prime Shipping for only 30-days (plus you will have access to all of the benefits of Amazon Prime, which you will read about) and then cancel your free trial, it will not cost a cent. Mark the calendar so you don’t forget to cancel. What a great way to get Free Prime Shipping for the holidays. It’s legal, ethical, legit, appropriate and Amazon encourages you to use its Free Trial option.

Note: Amazon has announced free shipping for everyone. However, that does not include all the benefits of Amazon Prime (there are hundreds), most notably 2-day Prime shipping, music, movies, etc., etc. It could take days and days (and more days?) with the basic free shipping to get your purchases. You’ll love Amazon Prime with 2-day shipping for the 30-days free trial, then you can cancel and go for the lower quality free shipping.

RELATED: How to Shop with CASH at Amazon

Get Your Cash Back

Thousands of online stores, including Amazon and Walmart, participate in Rakuten cashback (formerly Ebates—only the name has changed; if you have an account already, it’s safe and secure with your same logins, etc.). The way it works is simple: Open an account. From now on before you shop online, log in to Rakuten, click on the name of the retailer like Old Navy, Target, etc., and there you are at its website. You can also use your Rakuten account in brick-and-mortar stores. Details when you sign up. It’s amazing how quickly the cash grows in your account because even the smallest amounts all add up.

But the best part is how you get your cashback in the form of a check in your U.S. mailbox—not store credit, not a gift card or certificate. Hard, cold, cash once you deposit or cash that check.  

I’ll admit I was skeptical. But no more. I’ve received 15 checks so far and I consider it money I didn’t have to spend. It goes straight into savings. You can create your Rakuten account here. It’s free and totally simple.

MORE: Rakuten: An Incredibly Easy Way to Save Money Shopping Online

Forgotten Gift Cards

Pool all family members’ forgotten/neglected Gift Cards that are languishing in the bottom of drawers, purses, and wallets. Add them to the holiday stash.

Make a Gift Rule

My readers over the years have shared their families’ gift rules that keep gift-giving in perspective. And their holiday budget’s out of the red.

The 3-Gift Rule: Each child in the family receives three gifts, in keeping with the three gifts brought to the Christ child by the Magi.

Another, quite popular in past years, is the 4-Gift Rule for the kiddos: Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.

Nothing New

This may, at first, sound extreme, but stay with me. I’ve received numerous messages from my readers that are brimming with joy and glowing holiday success. These folks have experienced a “nothing new” Christmas.

The rule is simple: Nothing new. Gifts they exchange must be previously owned, gently used—acquired from garage sales, thrift stores or even the attic. The possibilities are endless and bring a completely new dimension to the gentle art of gift-giving—and shopping!

Homemade Gifts

For me, homemade gifts are the best. I love to make gifts, so when I receive something that someone I love made just for me, I receive it knowing the time and effort that went into it. Start thinking now about inexpensive but awesome gifts you can make. Not crafty or even slightly creative? No worries. Watch right here because very soon I’ll be posting ideas I know you and your “giftees” will love.

There you go … nine ways to get your attitude toned, fit and ready to go. Let the season begin!


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3 replies
  1. Rachael says:

    A few years ago my husband lost his job in November. That Christmas came from the thrift store for our four children. We’ve never gone into debt for christmas but that year we were done for $25. It was just as lovely as any other year.

  2. Deb says:

    Hi Mary,
    Our family has done a version of many of these ideas for many years and avoided debt and overspending for all of us. We have done all homemade, or all books, or all thrift store when buying gifts for everybody. The last few years we have drawn names for the adults and bought as usual for the grandson. We have fun and mix it up occasionally, knowing that the best thing is being together. We also do an ugly sweater thing from the thrift store or that we make :).


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