A Properly Budgeted Christmas

When you don't budget for Christmas, how do you know how much you can spend?

QUESTION: Dan in Ohio says they are still paying off debt, and did not budget for Christmas. He asks how much they should spend on family members. What does Dave recommend?

Dave's ANSWER: Not budgeting for Christmas is probably not realistic if you want to stay married. You have to balance this out. The trick is that you're going to do a different kind of Christmas because you are trying to get out of debt. If you have children, we certainly need to budget for them. We won't get them $10,000 worth of stuff, but they can get something under the tree from Santa Claus.

You also need to budget a little something for each other. But you can have fun with that. You can give a coupon that says you'll cook tacos three times next year; that's part of your Christmas gift. Say that you'll do an act of kindness or service for them. Back rubs or something; you can do fun stuff like that and get a little gift too.

But this idea that happiness comes in a box from the mall? Let me tell you, I've been in the mall, and it's not there. Happiness doesn't have a little franchise store there between the Gap and the Limited. Some of you think it's in there because you're looking for it, but it's not there.

When my girls were teenagers and they were mall rats, I'd drop them off at the mall and tell them to pick me up a box of happiness. They seemed to always be in there looking for it.

You can have a quality Christmas and not spend a lot of money, but you need to do some. You have to make it commensurate with your budget. If you are making $200,000 and trying to get out of debt, that's one thing. But if you are making $20,000 a year and trying to get out of debt, that's another thing.