For the Love of Holidays, Please Do it Debt-Free!

A Letter from our Financial Literacy Team

person writing checks with used christmas wrappings nearby

Holidays Debt-Free

Isn’t it interesting that just 4-5 days of actual holidays turns into 4 months of ‘holidays’?  It is a season full of high expectations.  Yet, going into debt for the season doesn’t help you attain freedom from your debt or pursue your Family Vision; nor does putting the financial plan on hold to ‘do Christmas’ make sense either.  Paying for Christmas, or any other holiday/event, in March (or later) defeats the purpose of the holiday – and by the way, the meaning of those times isn’t to make your credit card company more money!


Using part (or all) of your emergency fund is not a wise use for that money, either.  Saving for your holiday celebrations right now, in early fall, or choosing a different approach, would serve you better.  Remember too many gifts these days end up broken, donated, stored, or forgotten in three weeks.  To those frugal, homemade-gift-making, conscientious, creative readers who are bound and determined not to allow Christmas to morph into a materialistic money-draining machine, I applaud you. 


However, be careful how you talk about how you are beating the culture by doing it ‘old school’ so as not to offend, but perhaps to kindly show a more meaningful and financially sustainable approach.

If you find yourself reading this and thinking:

 “I’m not crafty or a good baker.”

“My kids deserve a good Christmas.” 

 “I want my kids to have the Christmas I never had.” 

“How else will I fund Christmas?”  

“There isn’t enough room in the budget to save for Christmas.” 

“Wait … Christmas is almost here; how did that happen?!” 

It’s time to consider some new ideas.

presents and holiday decorations

What alternative options are out there to do the holidays debt-free?

Consider the following options

  • Set a limit on how much you’ll spend on the holiday season (including food, decorations, gifts to your immediate family, gifts to your great uncle twice removed, etc.)

  • Split up the costs between September through December (not December through June)

  • Draw names for gift giving (especially for large families, events, etc.)

  • Just say no to that 15th Christmas party where you’ll all be exchanging $20 gifts

  • Use a four-gift framework: one thing you want, one thing you need, one thing to wear, and one thing to read

  • Leave town

  • Cancel Netflix (yes, I wrote that.)

  • Don’t take the bank/credit card up on the offer to skip a payment to pay for Christmas.

  • Instead of gifts, make a family memory; take a small trip, rent a beach house with the rest of the family and bring food with you (hint, hint). Often one big expense, when shared, ends up being less than the sum of the endless small expenses that keep cropping up.

  • Tell everyone why you can’t buy them gifts – granted, this is a hard one “We’re changing the way we show generosity,” “That’s not what our family is choosing to spend money on these days,” “I have $41,800 in debt,” “This year is lean for us,” “My Amazon account is broken.”.  

  • Volunteer to bring potato salad to the big dinner.

  • Make something meaningful; create a card, write a special letter, sew, knit, etc.

  • Give a time gift: reading together, babysitting coupons, helping with a project, etc.

  • Just say NO

  • Sell stuff (that you got for Christmas last year, that someone else is still paying for)

  • Redefine what the Christmas culture looks like for your family

  • Think about this: It’s not about giving what I never got, but teaching what I was never taught.

  • Fill in the blank: ___________________________

red, white and gold wrapped packages stacked like a Christmas tree

The big idea here is to look at the family culture around the holidays and audit your approach to determine: Is this what we want to be about as a family?  Is what we are doing truly reflecting our family values?  Is our decision-making going to serve our family and others by the way we spend our money — or not spend it?  Why do we celebrate?  How do we want to celebrate?  

On a serious note, if you are truly struggling and the idea of Christmas and this time of year brings tears to your eyes, then I encourage you to shift your focus. Instead of concentrating on how to buy gifts for your children, consider how you can show your children how much you love and care for them (without giving them stuff), and how you can encourage them to become more deeply grateful people.

Remember, generosity can (and should) come in many forms.  Please don’t make this Christmas about a new payment in your budget, or a new stress point in your home. Use this time to demonstrate and celebrate your thankfulness for the life you’ve been entrusted with.

Rooting for you,

Dino, Tina, Beka, Melissa and Andy

The BCS Financial Literacy Team

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