It's never too early to plan for Christmas. A popular verse reminds us of the importance of saving money now, to stay out of debt when Santa comes to town:

Tis' the month after Christmas and all through the town

The décor of the season is all coming down

We've eaten and played and enjoyed our Christmas fare

And now we sit and wonder if we've any funds to spare.

The bills are at the door, the forecast looks poor

How can we possibly pay for heat and food and more?

Do you ever find yourself in the day after Christmas debt predicament, or is it just me? Well it's time to cast off the chains of holly jolly credit card debt and do something about it. How about celebrating Christmas this year without breaking the bank.

Contrary to popular opinion, this does not mean that you have to go sparingly; it simply means you need to plan ahead. I know there are many of you out there that rely on the day before Christmas shopping spree to get your gift giving accomplished and just as many that naturally plan ahead.

Planning ahead allows you to have the money already set aside so whether we shop early or late, the funds are available and the credit cards and their impending interest are kept safely away from the cash registers. Here is the step-by-step process that has worked out best for me.

1. Make a list of who to include

It's up to you whether you base it on who's been naughty or nice. Figure out who you want to include in your gift giving this year - even if it's as simple as a Christmas card. Include children, family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. Write down their names so you don't forget who you've planned on.

2. Decide how much to spend on each person

This does not have to be specific, though if you have something in mind as a bigger purchase it will certainly help. Figure out who gets a card, or a plate of Christmas goodies, versus who will be getting the bigger and more expensive gifts. Remember to include postage for gifts being mailed out of town. Also be sure to add on a little extra to replace that set of Christmas lights that will inevitably come out of storage not working.

3. Next, add it all up

Take those rough estimates and do the math. Remember to keep breathing so you can get over the sticker shock.

4. Re-evaluate

This is the step that comes next for me. I know how much I would like to spend, but sometimes my bank account has a different opinion. So I re-evaluate my need to give something to the whole of the world surrounding me and try for something simpler. Rather than buying something could I make something? Could I take those old jeans and make a quilt out of them? Thrift stores are a wonderful place to find things that can be repurposed with a coat of paint and a few embellishments here and there. Get creative and keep going.

5. Make a plan to come up with the cash

Now is the time to figure out how to get the money saved. Figure out how many months until Christmas and divide the total bill by the months left. That gives you an amount to put into a savings account each month or squirrel away under the mattress if electronic funds are too easy to delve into. The earlier the better. I start putting money into a savings account starting in January. That way, when the perfect gift or sale comes up, I've got the funds and it doesn't hurt my normal monthly budget.

If your budget doesn't allow any extra money to be set aside, then consider an alternate source of income. It's not too late to get a summer side job mowing lawns, pick up a paper route, deliver pizzas or whatever else it takes to find that extra money. You could also consider a barter system. Is there someone you know that can make the perfect gift for someone? See if they are willing to do a trade. Get creative and you'll be surprised what you can accomplish.

6. Do not overspend

Once you've set your limit, stick to it. The temptation is always strong to spend more, especially when you are bombarded from all sides by "essential" things you never knew you needed. Just because it comes with a red ribbon and looks oh-so-cute and would go perfect with that one thing that you already bought for that one person, refrain. Think instead of a January free from the after Christmas price tag.

The most important thing about all of this is to remember why Christmas is celebrated. It's the joy of the season - the magic that comes from celebrating peace on earth and good will toward men. It's an opportunity to show our love and gratitude for others. Gifts do not have to come with the perfect paper or a huge price tag as long as they come from the heart.

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