The Secret for Debt-Free Holiday Season

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 just a few weeks ago when my pastor referred to it—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 by asking one question: 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 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 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, “Pokemon cards!” I know that, not because I know anything about Pokemon but because I know him.

My late mother-in-law would say “hot pads!” or “table cloths!” I can hear her now. If you gave me hot pads for Christmas I’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 right here in our Friday posts. 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 two passions, both of which I am intimately aware.

Gifts for Coffee Lovers

1. CHEMEX. 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 8-Cup Classic Series Glass Coffeemaker comes in several sizes. At this writing the 8-cup model is the best value, and lucky for you, the most popular. About $40. 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, About $11.

2. BEANS. 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

3. TRAVEL MUG. 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. About $28.

4. MUG WARMER. 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. About $10.

5. CARAFE. This Zojirushi Premium Thermal 1-Liter Carafe is equally awesome, holding one full liter of brew. Lovely. About $32.

6KALITA WAVE. 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 (works well with Chemex) 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. About $20.

7. BURR GRINDER. 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 Baratz Encore coffee grinder is a great piece of machinery. Not only does it look spectacular, it works really well and rated highly by coffee lovers of all levels of snobbery. About $130.

8. AEROPRESS. 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 About $29.

9. BUNN 13300 12-CUP. This is the coffeemaker I own and use almost continuously. BUNN 13300 12-cup Pourover 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., and this machine works flawlessly. I have owned so 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. About $250.

10. STARBUX. 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 they 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.

Gifts for Knitters

1. KNITTING NEEDLES. I am the biggest fan ever of Knitter’s Pride interchangeable circular knitting needles. They come in sets and give your favorite knitter the convenience and pure joy of having a range of sizes, each size in different radiant colors. These tools are lovely and a true pleasure to knit with and can be used for any pattern—circular or straight.

Knitter’s Pride Dreamz Deluxe Special Interchangeable Needles Set are shorter needles, ideal for knitting hats and other items made in the round. This set comes in a pretty fabric storage case.

Knitter’s Pride Royale 2015 Limited Edition Interchangeable Set contains the 9 most-used needle pairs in a longer length. The interchangeable needles that attach to color-coded circular cords in varying lengths are made of laminated birch wood in size US 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 10.5, 11. Simply gorgeous.

2. STITCH MARKERS. Recently I discovered triangle-shape stitch markers, which are awesome. I’m not going back to any other shape. They don’t fly off the needles and move seamlessly from one needle to the other. Clover Triangle Stitch Markers come in either 16 or 12 to a package in sizes Extra-Small, Small, Medium and Large.

3. YARN. I would not recommend buying yarn willy nilly as a gift. Instead, know your knitter well enough to buy a specific pattern that matches his or her style and skill level (Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, etc.). The exact yarn by brand, weight and color and number of skeins (balls) required will be called at the beginning of the pattern.

If you’re going to do this, do it right by getting the right yarn for the project, which will also be listed in the pattern itself. There will be no end to the praise you’ll receive for giving the most perfect gift of all time. Any local yarn shop will be able to help you put together this amazing gift. Or you can do it online. is the biggest and best yarn site out there. You can search for downloadable patterns and secure the correct yarn as well. This may sound like a big project, but you will not regret the effort.

Another site, has the best prices on yarn. In that it is the website for the biggest and best yarn shop on earth (Webs in Northampton, Mass.) you will most likely be able to find any yarn you need at this site. Great customer service, too.

4. KNITTING BAG. There is a bag manufactured by Tom Bihn that is made in America and designed by knitters for knitters. I have this bag. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s pricey and yet priceless. It is very versatile in that there are several accessories available to go with it that make it even better. What a delight, the Tom Bihn Swift Bag. It comes in a plethora of color combinations. With such sturdy construction and high-quality materials, this bag will last for a lifetime plus generations to come. Seriously amazing.

5. KNITTING EARRINGS. Not at all cheesy, these Yarn with Needle French Wire Earrings are fun to wear, offering whimsical elegance for your favorite knitter.

6. BOOK FOR BEGINNERS. Knitting is hot, with 4 million newcomers in the last few years joining a core group of 38,000,000 knitters nationwide. And these are primarily young, creative, connected chicks with sticks who are coming together in living rooms, knitting cafes, and chic yarn stores, and making everything from funky hats to bikinis. Stitch ‘n Bitch: The Knitter’s Handbook by Debbie Stoller is a fabulous book that will take anyone from total novice to knitting fun projects. It’s a beginner’s how-to with excellent text, photos, and illustrations. About $9.

7. YARN CUTTER. It’s not simple nor advisable to cut yarn with one’s teeth or by trying to break it with your hands. But it’s not always practical to carry scissors around, either. The Clover Yarn Cutter Pendant solves the problem. It looks like a beautiful pendant and it is, but also a very useful yarn cutter. Excellent for when you decide you want to knit on an airplane. This pendant and knitting needles will not get you in trouble at security—both fully allowed by TSA. About $6.

8. BALL WINDER. It’s odd that yarn comes in a configuration that is not conducive to knitting! We have to wind that skein or hank into a “center-pull” ball. That takes time and patience. A much better option is a Stanwood Needlecraft YBW-A Hand-Operated Yarn Ball Winder. Takes only a couple of minutes to turn a loose skein into a perfectly wound, center-pull ball. About $38.

9. YARN BOWL.  Yarn Bowl by Yarn Valet will contain your yarn while on an airplane or sitting in the carpool lane. The bowl will deliver perfect tension while keeping your yarn clean and from falling on the floor while you knit (or crochet!). About $13.

10. COFFEE MUG. “I Knit—What’s your superpower?” Fun gift for knitters. Mug is available in both 11 oz and 15 oz. Why drink out of an ordinary mug when a custom printed mug is so much cooler? This ceramic mug is lead-free, microwave safe and FDA approved. The image is printed on both sides. Hand washing is recommended. About $13.




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6 replies
  1. E Bryce
    E Bryce says:

    Thank you, Mary, once again, for your unfailing encouragement to enter the Christmas season with joy, and the confidence to give meaningful gifts without breaking the bank. This one word idea makes it so much easier! I do have one question, just out of curiosity: in what context did your pastor use the word “predetermine”?

  2. Pat
    Pat says:

    I also do surveys and get amazon cash so I use that for gift shopping among other things. Even got car parts to fix the vehicles a few times. I have to keep reminding myself that it is real money though and not play cash or I go crazy. LOL

  3. Pat
    Pat says:

    What works for me is buying gifts all year long. When I see a deal I will think about it and if it is a great price (not a good price but even better) I will get it if it screams the person’s name. I follow Hip2Save and she puts out the deals all year long.

  4. Teresa Watson
    Teresa Watson says:

    Every year I have $$$ taken from my pay check for health care reimbursement. I pay the health costs through out the year, then submit a claim for the money in early November. That is my Christmas fund, keeping the holidays debt free!

  5. Betty Thomas
    Betty Thomas says:

    My husband has bought endless travel mugs in an attempt to enjoy a steaming hot cup of coffee on the road or during his work day. All were huge flops. Zojirushi is everything Mary says it is and we are both so happy for the recommendation. I bought the pretty dusty pink one for my tea and I too, love it!! Best mug ever!!

    • Pat
      Pat says:

      Our messenger guy got me one of those Yeti containers and it seems to work. It isn’t my favorite as I am not a fan of stainless steel and it is big and clunky.


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