First Person: A Debt Free Christmas – the Gift that Keeps on Giving

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According to a recent American Research Group, Inc. poll, Americans plan to increase their holiday spending this year with many planning to spend an average of $854 on gifts. Many will put this and other holiday expenditures on interest bearing credit cards, which will lead to increased costs. Over the years I've found that the best gift that I can give myself and my family is a debt free Christmas.

As a parent with four children, and many nieces, nephews and other important persons in my life, I've used a variety of strategies to hold down costs at Christmas. While in the past I may have splurged a little to put a much desired toy or gadget on credit that is simply not a possibility this year with the loss of my job, medical bills, and other health issues. How then am I to celebrate the season without being a Grinch?

Start Saving Early

Normally we begin saving our lose change in January to save for Christmas gifts. Our bank offers a savings program that automatically "rounds up" one's debit card transactions to whole dollars, depositing the difference into a savings account, and by the time November or December rolled around, we would have a sizeable amount to fund our Christmas purchases. This really is a great way to save in a relatively pain free way to pay for Christmas Gifts and it is my preferred way to save. This year our finances have been so strained that these funds have been used to pay day to day bills. Still, I am determined that we be able to exchange gifts in our immediate family and follow through with our annual commitment to fill a shoebox with gifts for a needy child.

Investigate True Interests

My children are older, in college, and in no real need of new gadgets or toys. In finding gifts for my children and my husband, I have been paying more attention to what things truly interest them. Most of us are avid readers, and while books can be a great gift, they are also expensive. After discovering some of their favorite authors, I've been looking for gently used copies of their books. Even many popular authors have earlier works that fans may have not read, and it can be a treat for a fan to say they have read all of the books by a certain author. Smaller, private booksellers as well as online sources such as Half and Amazon are great sources to find deals on pre-owned books.

Earn and Redeem Points and Use Coupons, Discounts and Sales

Others in my family enjoy gourmet coffees and teas, specialty bath products, or chocolate goodies. I've been redeeming points that I have earned from regular purchases for gift cards at some of their favorite retailers and combining them with the sale prices these retailers are offering this holiday. Many bank cards offer points for purchases, and there are other companies that offer points for reading emails or participating in limited free trials of services. My favorites are the rewards points program at Kmart and Sears as well as the MyPoints program, but there are many other points programs available that you can find by doing a simple online search for "earning points."

Homemade Shows Love and Can be Frugal

I've also been using common items and ingredients I have around the house to make some simple homemade beauty and bath products. You can find detailed instructions on how to make many different types of facial scrubs, beauty bars, bath melts, bath salts, lotions and more by doing a simple search online. You can find decorative containers at a local discount store or save some from your favorite products through the year. I make several of each type and put them in a simple basket from a discount store and garnish with a bow. I also make treat bags and fill them with homemade cookies and breads and cakes for my older relatives that I bake ahead and freeze earlier in the month.

Using these strategies, my Christmas shopping is done for my immediate family, nieces, nephews, in-laws, aunts and uncles. I have spent around $50 in cash; the rest has been gift cards and time. As little as we get to see each other through the year, I hope that the focus this Christmas will be on time rather than money.

*Note: This was written by a Yahoo! contributor. Do you have a personal finance story that you'd like to share? Sign up with the Yahoo! Contributor Network to start publishing your own finance articles.

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