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Family Money

Santa-creditSix Ways to Enjoy Christmas without the Debt

When my husband and I were DINKs – dual income, no kids – we were carefree with our money and didn't really think much about the amount we were spending at Christmas. That all changed after the arrival of our son and my stay-at-home mom status.

Please, don't read me wrong. Even when we had the security of dual income and no kids, we still lived within our means and paid off our credit cards. We just had different priorities.

With Christmas right around the corner my 3 and-a-half year-old son is wanting, asking and begging for every train he doesn't have in his collection. I must make wise, frugal and conscious decisions regarding how I am going to intelligently explain Santa Claus, buy the gifts I choose to purchase and stay within my budget.

By making a few simple changes in our shopping habits, I will avoid going into 2013 in debt. Even before I start shopping, I will do my homework. I will have my list of who I am buying for, how much I can spend and, most importantly, where I can find those gifts on the cheap.

While some like to start shopping on Black Friday, I prefer to be done shopping before Thanksgiving. I pick up gifts as I see them throughout the year and needless-to-say I am a lot less stressed and my holiday bills are paid by the first of the year. Some of this is by necessity. We spend Thanksgiving with my husband's family and since they are not local we've created a new tradition of doing our gift exchange on Black Friday before returning home.

Here are a few quick tips you can use to keep your holiday bill simple and manageable:

Cash is King. Pay cash, but if you must use credit cards, use them to your advantage. Many credit card companies offer cash rewards for using their card. I use one credit card and that card gives me points that I can exchange for gift cards. I "buy" gift cards as presents throughout the year for birthdays and Christmas. My family gets to buy what they want and I don't have to go into the store.

Add Gifts to Your Budget. Do a little shopping after each paycheck or designate a percentage of each paycheck for Christmas presents. If you have discipline, put cash in an envelope or create a separate checking account that the money is automatically withdrawn from. This little trick automatically puts you on a budget.

Be Thrifty Online. If you have patience -- and a keen eye for bargains -- then you'd probably do well on virtual yard sale sites. There are a handful of sites specific to the Fredericksburg-area where you can find anything from mason jars to foosball tables. If online bargain hunting isn't your bag, shop at goodwill stores, consignment sales and church bazaars. What is used and unwanted by one person is new and exciting to you. Your children will be none the wiser and you won't have spent the time assembling and hiding boxes!

Swap Books. Want to build your children's library or have a booklover to buy for? Swap your previously loved books for new-to-you books at paperbackswap.com, titletrader.com, and bookmooch.com.

Prepare a Year in Advance. Don't pay full price for Christmas ornaments, trim, cards, wrapping paper, bags and bows – my mother and I have a tradition of getting up early on December 26 and scooping up post-Christmas sales. I like to put away my deals with the Christmas decorations and "unwrap" my finds next year when I am ready to wrap instead of having to run out and buy new over-priced stuff.

Celebrate Now, Exchange Later. Why not schedule gift exchanges after the hustle and bustle of the holidays? Retailers are looking to unload their excess inventory at deep discounts. Use these price breaks to your advantage and get great deals and steals at a fraction of the cost. Your family and friends will be none the wiser since you still gave them that perfect-for-them gift.

Grab your coupons, download your favorite store's app, take advantage of free shipping, and put your shopping "game" face on. With a little preparation and budgeting, you should be able to have a merry little Christmas and go into the New Year debt-free.

Nikki Ducas is a budget-savvy mom in Fredericksburg who tries to give a lot on a shoe-string budget.

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Pouches' Community Corner

This month Pouches learned about a very important resource for families who have lost loved ones to sudden tragedy, an organization called LLOST.

keepsake box

The foundation has helped 44 hospitals in 22 states through their Treasured Memories program. The program sends nurses to bereavement training, and provides or supplements the $55 memory boxes that include clothes, booties, handknot blankets, pictures, foot prints, hand prints, clipped hair and other mementos.

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