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An illustration of a dollar-sign face wearing a Santa hat.
An illustration of a dollar-sign face wearing a Santa hat.
An illustration of a dollar-sign face wearing a Santa hat.

Published on November 13, 2018.

Ready to reject debt this holiday season?

As the year-end holidays approach, we begin our rush from shop to shop, website to website, in search of gifts for loved ones.

In doing so, Americans spend a lot. Consumers say they plan to spend an average of $1,007 during the holidays, according to the National Retail Federation. That includes $638 on gifts and $215 on items such as food, decorations, and greeting cards.

That generosity can take a toll. If you charge $1,000 and take six months to pay it off, you'll pay about $50 in interest (assuming a rate of 18 percent).

How do you avoid going into the red this holiday season? Try these tips for festivities on the cheap.

Keep Christmas in check. Be OK with not giving presents. Instead, focus on spending time with friends and family, said Katie Patterson Larson, director of Art Salvage, a nonprofit creative reuse center in Spokane.

And for those you do buy for, think about whether it's something they actually want, need, or appreciate, Patterson Larson said. "Or are you just gifting to give?"

“Are you just gifting to give?” Larson says. Think about whether it's something they actually want, need, or appreciate.

Recycle, reuse. If you have children, look for cast-aside or outgrown toys and books to sell online or at shops specializing in used kids gear. Use your earnings to buy "new-to-them" gifts, checking local thrift stores, too.

Regift. Trade used toys, books, or clothes with friends to spruce up for others. One person's never-read novel is another person's treasure.

It's a wrap. Paper, bows, and gift bags cost money. But that's an easy place to save. Reusing gift bags is an obvious choice, Patterson Larson said, and brown bags can be decorated. Or create a box or bag meant to be reused, like a fabric gift bag.

Use what you have for tags, bows, and other decorations. Paper scraps make great tags. Decorate with leaves, buttons, pinecones, ribbon, yarn, and paper.

Resist cheap decorations. "They get worn out and tattered," Patterson Larson said, so you'll have to buy new ones. "It feels inexpensive at the time, but overall it's not."

To brighten holiday displays on a budget, consider spray-painting a collection of used ornaments, figurines, or frames one color. That makes a chic display, she said.

One decoration it's OK to cheap out on: the tree. For $5, you can get a permit to cut one down in a nearby national forest. Plus, it's a family adventure.

Focus on traditions. Sometimes people buy to get in the holiday spirit, Patterson Larson said. Instead, make the season feel special because you're looking forward to something, like building a gingerbread house or gathering with friends. It doesn't have to be extravagant, she said: "Just stick with the simple things that your family cares about."

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