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What is your favorite childhood memory? I recently asked a group of people that same question, and I heard many wonderful stories about the time a truck got stuck in the snow, cooking with a family member, looking at Christmas lights, and the excitement of waking up on Christmas morning. What I didn’t hear, was a single mention of the actual gift that someone received or gave. It appears, that the magic of the holidays lies with the memories you create and the time spent with loved ones. This year, the choice is yours – do you want to focus on RETAIL or making memories you can RETELL?

Broaden the meaning of the holiday for you and your family by looking for ways to share the joy of giving. Consider getting your children and entire family involved in spreading joy. Make it a goal to give the gift of time or acts of service at least once per week during the entire month of December.

The exchanging of gifts will always be an enjoyable holiday tradition, and many people enjoy buying new decorations or holiday clothing. Many families find their grocery bills increase during the holidays due to all the parties and get-togethers. Taking the time to create and use a specified budget can help you stretch your dollars and minimize overspending.

To create a budget, brainstorm a list of all of the holiday expenses you may have including often forgotten things like gas while you’re shopping, wrapping paper and tape, etc. To determine a gift budget, decide on a specific (reasonable) amount that you would like to spend for all family members and friends. This will help you be intentional in your shopping. Asking kids to make a wish list is a fun activity for them, but also gives you a chance to talk together about the unique qualities of the items they select. Some wish list pieces will wear out more quickly than others, and some may not perform as well as it looks like on TV. Consider asking other family members to go in together to get bigger ticket items.

After you determine your budget, it’s important to stick with it. Consider keeping a log of every item purchased, even for the “little” things you pick up between major purchases. Consider giving older children a budget for the people on their give-to list, and walking them through the steps of developing and implementing a budget. It’s a perfect time to teach them these life skills!

To help you stay within budget, consider a CASH-ONLY budget. Withdraw exactly the amount you have budgeted from the bank, and draw from that pile ONLY for all of your purchases. Many stores and credit card companies offer extra sales or discounts for opening credit cards, but consumers often spend more than three times what they actually saved by the time they pay the item off including the interest. If you do open a new card, tell the cashier you want to make a payment on your newly opened card, and pay the balance in full right then. Credit cards are helpful tools if managed correctly. If used incorrectly, they can add up to a story of RETAIL that you don’t want to have to RETELL.

Remember, ALWAYS pay your monthly bills before you buy Christmas gifts. It’s not much fun trying to play a new video game with no electricity!

In order to focus on having a holiday to re-tell, consider creating a family journal and encouraging all members to write down experiences, memories, quotes, and feelings that bring them happiness as they occur through the season. The contents of this journal will certainly be worth re-telling.

And if, just if, you happen to be one of the many Americans that overspend during the holiday season, and extend your credit past what you’d like, remember there is help available! Learn more about paying off credit debt by visiting the Power Pay website. If you need help understanding your results, or would like to know more about family budgeting, please contact Rhonda Peters at North Carolina Cooperative Extension of Montgomery County by emailing or calling (910) 576-6011.