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Navigating The Holiday Season When You Have Debt

holiday season

Having debt is not great any time of year, but November and December are the worst! Spending time with family and friends, plus all the holiday traditions makes it hard to keep an eye on your finances. You can take control this holiday season. There are things you can do to make sure you don’t go further into debt.

Often, when you get into the holiday spirit, it can be easy to throw your hands in the air and spend too much. Whether it’s holiday shopping or a new wardrobe to attend holiday events, money seems to fly out the window this time of year.

So, how can you navigate the holiday season with your debt? Do you need to hide for November and December and come back out after New Year’s Eve celebrations? Maybe Santa Claus won’t notice, but chances are your friends and family will.

Strategies To Keep On Track During The Holiday Season

Did you spend too much over the past few years? With no lockdowns this year, it may be even harder to resist blowing the budget for December 25. But, there are gifts, decorations, special foods and wine, holiday clothes, and travel to plan for and enjoy. Here are some ways to celebrate and keep your finances on track.

Be Upfront With Your Loved Ones About Your Situation

This is the time to bring your circle in on your situation if you haven’t already. Don’t wait until the Christmas tree is up to start a discussion about how to manage the holiday season. Open the conversation as early as possible, so you have enough time to work extra Christmas season expenses into your budget. Everyone in your circle of friends and family may not have the same restrictions, but getting everyone on the same page will ensure nobody ends up with hurt feelings. You can suggest:

  • Focus on the kids.
  • Set up a secret Santa Claus exchange or another way to only buy for one person.
  • Agree on price limits and stick to them.
    Remember that time is more valuable than money. Schedule small gatherings. A potluck and BYOB can be great options.

Set A Spending Plan And Stick To It

Black Friday deals or the perfect (too expensive) gift for mom will tempt you to go over budget. You might be familiar with the feeling when you give in to the pressure and throw out the budget. Watch for that feeling and do whatever you need to do to ensure you stick to your spending plan.

  • Remind yourself what a holiday season debt hangover feels like.
    Unsave all your credit card numbers from online sites that might tempt you to go over budget.
  • Post a reminder in conspicuous places to keep you on track.

Get Help

Who in your family is the one you can rely on to have your back? If you need help from grandma or Uncle Jerry, ask for it. Ask them if they can help you deal with anyone who might not be okay with the spending limits you need.

Explain your financial situation, then ask them if they can help get everyone together to change some holiday traditions. Just don’t wait until Christmas Eve. If your family and friends gather for an event early in the season, that might be a good time since everyone will already be together.

Common Situations And How To Navigate Them

The best way to stay on track this holiday season is to make a plan to get yourself through the specific situations you’re likely to encounter.


Standard tipping of 15 to 20% for personal services all year included cab drivers, hair stylists and servers. An extra tip during the holiday season is a nice touch to say Merry Christmas if you are a regular anywhere. If you use a service regularly but don’t generally tip, like with your dog walker, add a small bonus of the amount of one service. When you attend a holiday party, check if they add a tip automatically. If so, you can add more, but don’t feel obliged.


The winter solstice seems to bring out requests for donations, not necessarily connected to Christmas, New Year, or other holiday celebrations. Carefully select your favourite charities and set limits on your spending. Many families make donations instead of giving gifts. What do you say to politely decline? A quick “Sorry, I’ve given my limit this year” is enough. If you think the cause might be something you’d like to include next year, ask for more information.

Group gift

A group gift may allow you to contribute to a larger gift that is ideal for someone. Often adult children chip in for a gift for parents or grandparents. Be firm about how much you can contribute, even if it is not an equal share. Offer to provide other services like gift wrapping to add value.


Re-gifting can be super tacky, but sometimes it’s right for everyone involved. Here are some re-gifting tips:

  • Make sure the person who gave you the gift won’t care or won’t know.
  • Stick to returnable things (or return them yourself and buy something else.)
  • A bottle of wine is always acceptable. Other foods are not so acceptable.
  • Never re-gift a personalized or homemade item.
  • Trade your stuff on a Buy Nothing Project group instead of re-gifting directly.
  • Gift cards are always okay to re-gift.

Keeping Gift-giving To A Manageable Number

It’s a mindset thing. You’d like to be Santa Claus and give the perfect gift to everyone you know. While you have debt, you need to find a way to feel good about what you can reasonably do. Buying presents only for the kids is a classic example of sticking to a manageable number. Bringing a plate of cookies can demonstrate more thoughtfulness than many (more expensive) gifts.


The holiday season is tough when you have debt. As your nephew lights candles in his school play, it may feel like you must harden your heart against blowing the budget. With these tips, you can enjoy the holidays and stick to your budget.

Contact us today if you’d like more freedom for gift-giving next holiday season.

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