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It’s the week before Christmas and I still have a lot of shopping to do. I look forward to giving gifts. I also have a big family and a healthy circle of friends. As a result, I can easily pile up credit card debt or go negative in my bank account if I am not careful. Like many shoppers, Christmas snuck up on me this year so I did not put aside money for the holidays. But there is hope!

I can keep from going insane and feeling the pressure to get the perfect gift by using three key strategies. These help with last minute shopping and stem that awful feeling of buyer’s remorse if I go into debt.

My Spending Number

I know how much I can spend before I go shopping. To find this number, first, I take a look at my bank account. Knowing that additional money is not going to magically appear before the holidays, I then ask myself what amount I can spend on gifts without going negative. Next, I look at the balance on my credit card because I like online shopping with credit instead of my debit card — the points are worth it. Finally, I remind myself that I want to have enough money in the bank to cover the credit card balance due a month later.

This year, my spending number is $500. According to the American Research Group survey, adults have spent anywhere from $400-$900 on holiday shopping over the past five years. Regardless of the statistics, however, I choose a level that is comfortable for my wallet.

Think in Trade-Offs

I have gotten into the habit of thinking about my spending choices in terms of trade-offs. In order to get my gifts, I might have to trade in one of my routine personal luxuries for the sake of a gift. For example, I am willing to forgo a pedicure this month and next in order to have enough money to pay for two of the many gifts I must purchase. Using this trade-off technique helps me to stick to the $500 budget, and to have enough money to pay for the gifts without racking up a credit card balance that I cannot pay off. By thinking this way, I’m sure to hit my spending number target.

Lower the Average Amount

I try to spend less per gift so that I can buy more gifts. I save higher priced gifts for birthdays and special occasions. Gifts that cost less will often require more investment in time and thought. For example, I enjoy taking photos and my friends love receiving photos. Thus, I give a ton of framed pictures as gifts. According to the behavioral economists, gifts that strengthen a social bond are appreciated. It’s not the cost. Here’s a secret – if you don’t tell what you paid for a gift, no one will ever know. I have to restrain myself from blurting out “Your gift only cost me $10!” Human nature makes us feel that if we did not spend $100 on a gift for someone important, like our mothers, than we are not valuing them as much as we should. This simply is not true. When I am able to get something that my mom really wants and it does not cost me much money, then that’s a bargain — the gift is no less valuable to her because I spent less money on it.

In the end, I give great gifts without going into debt in the process. I hope you can, too. Happy shopping!

Image: apparena, via Flickr

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