Nailing it Down — Plan giving, budget now to avoid debt this Christmas season

Even though we’re not to Halloween yet, a quick look at the catalogs piling up in your mailbox and the aisles of local stores being stocked for their big season, it’s clear that Christmas will be here soon!

It’s great to have a giving heart and to express generosity during the holidays. However, if you give to the detriment of your financial stability, in the end that’s no gift to anyone!

We see it time and again in our office that overspending at Christmas leads to unpaid mortgages, rents, heating bills, credit card bills and car loans come January. This can have devastating consequences for an otherwise brighter future that is coming with new jobs on the horizon.

That’s why we want to encourage everyone to be wise with their money and to shop locally whenever possible.


As we said, we can picture family after family over the years that has gone into debt for the holidays and not found their way out for years or ever. Is that extra toy or gadget worth putting you or your family in financial peril?

If you didn’t plan and budget for the events and expenses that will occur in your holiday season, come January and February, when the bills roll in, the festive glow could end abruptly and negative housing issues could take their place.

If things are getting financially tight or the family-wage job is uncertain — no “deal” in November or December will be worth the stress of not being able to pay your mortgage on time or creating a credit card debt that “keeps on taking.”

It is generally accepted by bankers and financial counselors that households should keep their overall debt at less than 40 percent of their gross income. Our housing counselor recommends a maximum of 40 percent of “take home” pay as safer and more comfortable for most of us.

And, when overspending leads to not being able to pay bills, rent, mortgages, etc. on time, it creates a false economy. In other words, it doesn’t help the economy if you go bankrupt!


There can be light in this tunnel, however, by starting immediately to establish and fund your holiday budget, including food, gifts and travel. Establish your family’s limits, keep those limits realistic, stick with your plan and stay under the 40 percent of income ratio as a guideline that will ensure a successful, stress-less post holiday season!

One hint to keeping within your budget is to make a pre-shopping plan for your purchases, call around for what you are looking for first, and then shop locally on your planned shopping route. This will prevent wandering around in a holiday fog getting nothing done, wasting money budgeted for gifts on expensive gas and lunch!


Hey, maybe this is the year to draw names for holiday gifting instead of buying for all 40 cousins.

Or, maybe the extended family could decide, together, not to buy for each other, but to “adopt” a family through one of the many local not-for-profit organizations, such as the Salvation Army, one of the Missions, United Way, or your church or service club.

(It’s not too late for this year — You can bring up either option — or another one — to your relatives at Thanksgiving this year. That may give plenty of time to switch giving gears!)

Yet another way to save money, but stay in the giving spirit, includes changing your focus as a family from things to time. Spending time together making gifts, visiting a nursing home, volunteering to serve dinner at a mission, or finding a needy neighbor who would love having a few chores done, makes for lasting memories for all involved.

Then there are “giving coupons” for babysitting or house cleaning, car washing or cookie baking.

Many aunts, uncles and grandparents would forego another expensive gadget or sweater for a plate of your best prepared cookies or a poinsettia combined with a cheerful hug, thoughtful visit and helpful follow-up doing some household chores.

Or, how about giving your kids or grandkids an experience? It doesn’t have to be expensive and can start with getting out some of those old board games in the closet or renting their favorite movie and popping some popcorn — or an evening of bowling or lunch on the beach. (Keeping them for an evening or overnight, gives their parents a gift of free babysitting too!)

Starting a new tradition with the children’s input will become part of their cherished memories long after the toys are broken and discarded.

Holiday feasts are most everyone’s favorite tradition. Creating a no-stress, festive and fun event, within everyone’s reach makes it all the more special. A warmly decorated home, holiday music, lively conversations and fun games all contribute to a festive holiday mood and most of which cost nearly nothing.

Is someone in the family thinking of buying their first home? Give them the gift of homebuyer education through eHome A good education will keep their room at your house open for guests!

Hope this helps to spark a new idea that keeps on giving throughout the year.

Dave Murnen and Pat Beaty are construction specialists at NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor County, where Murnen is the executive director. This is a non-profit organization committed to creating safe and affordable housing for all residents of Grays Harbor County.

Do you have questions about home repair, renting, remodeling or becoming a homeowner? Call us at 533-7828, write us or visit us at 710 E. Market St. in Aberdeen