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How to Keep the Holidays From Derailing Your Debt Payoff Plans

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This might be the most difficult time of year to save money, with all the gift-buying, socializing, traveling and entertaining that fills the final weeks of the year. For many people, December brings the urge to spend, even if they don’t have the financial wiggle room to do so. If you’re trying to get out of debt, there’s little worse than a persistent, culturally endorsed temptation to buy things.

Enjoying the holidays doesn’t mean you have to undermine your get-out-of-debt plans. Here’s how to have a delightful December while maintaining your commitment to pay off debt.

Be Honest With Yourself

There are a lot of people and things that influence our decisions, but the most important person in the equation is you. You’re aware of what you can and cannot afford, so don’t let temptation trick you into bargaining with your goals. (i.e. “It’s not a big deal if I spend an extra $20 on this gift. I’ll make it up somewhere.”) Sure, flexibility is important to success, but it has to stay under control.

If you only have $100 to spend on holiday gifts, then that’s what you have to work with. That may be disappointing if you spent $1,000 last year, but it might also be a reason you’re in debt now.

When Ja’Net Adams and her husband realized they had $50,000 to pay off, they decided they couldn’t afford any gifts. A year earlier, Adams (who now speaks and writes about getting out of debt) had spent $300 on Black Friday alone. She knew buying gifts wouldn’t allow her to pay off the debt within three years (her plan), so that was the end of it: Adams and her husband would buy no gifts.

Be Open About Your Goals

It’s a lot easier to accomplish something if those close to you know what you’re aiming for. Adams and her husband told their families about the new no-gift policy and shared their commitment to paying off debt, and everyone was OK with it, Adams said.

“A lot of families have gift exchanges, and you don’t want to look like the only person who’s not giving a gift, but a $20 gift is $20 that could go to Sallie Mae for the student loan,” Adams said. “Just let people know, ‘This is what our goals are.'”

Going giftless might be too extreme for some people, but if you’re in debt, you’re going to need to make drastic changes if you ever want to get rid of it. Do what you feel you need to do, as long as you’re still making progress on paying down debt.

Get Comfortable With Saying ‘No’

You simply won’t be able to do everything you want to and stay under your debt-payoff budget.

“I always tell people, if you learn to say no and not care about what others think, your bank account is going to rise instantly,” Adams said. Have an honest conversation about why you’re saying no, but in the end, you have to focus on your progress toward your goals, not what other people think about how you’re doing it.

Remind Yourself What You’re Trying to Achieve

Think about what you want out of the holidays. If the idea is to enjoy time with friends and family, you can do that without sacrificing the money you want to go toward your debt. Even if you’re not in debt, the same concept applies to meeting savings goals.

Instead of buying gifts, spend time baking cookies with your family to share with everyone when you gather for the holidays. Throw a potluck instead of hosting a formal dinner or going out to eat. Every time you replace something with a less expensive alternative, take a minute to think about what you’re moving toward, and enjoy the unique advantages of doing things a little differently. And when you’ve paid off the debt, not only will you have more financial freedom, but your credit scores may also reflect your efforts (you can see how your debt is affecting your credit scores by checking them for free on Credit.com).

Adams has one last strategy worth trying, if you’re hoping to keep costs down this holiday season: Sell something. When she was trying to pay off debt, she went into “sale mode” during the holidays, selling things online that others would buy as gifts. If you’ve been meaning to get rid of some extra stuff around the house, now may be the time to do it, while everyone is in the swing of shopping.

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Image: Todd Arena

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