The Secret for a Debt-Free Holiday Season in a Single Word

It’s not exactly a new word to me. But I’m pretty sure I’d never actually used the word “pre-determine” in a sentence until my pastor referred to it recently — and in a way that turned on a bright light in my noggin.

To pre-determine is to make a decision in advance. That describes perfectly what it means to budget. You get your paycheck, and before you do anything with it, you pre-determine where every dollar will go. You give each dollar a job to do — in advance. You pre-determine!

Here we are on the cusp of one more glorious, fabulous, exciting and joyful holiday season. How can we do this without going into debt? Pre-determine. That’s it! Decide or establish in advance what we will do, how much you will spend, where you will go, what you will do. Yes, I know that sounds very much like a spending plan, and it is. The way to get to a spending plan is to — you guessed it — pre-determine.

Take the gift-giving part of the season. How can we pre-determine in that area? Two things:

COST. Look at your gift list and pre-determine how much money you will spend for each. Decide this fact. Plant it in your brain. Write it on your heart. Write it down or whatever else it takes to establish it in advance.

GIFT. Here is a foolproof way to select the perfect gift for each of your giftees: Ask yourself, “What does he or she really care about?” By that I mean “What would this person say he or she could never have enough of?”

For my husband, a hobby woodworker, the answer would come without hesitation: He could never have enough clamps. Every year, I make sure there are clamps under the tree for my favorite woodworker, and every year he says that same thing: “Oh, good. I can never have too many clamps!” For me (not that you asked), it would be legion. I could never have too much coffee, fabric, skeins of yarn, knitting needles, coffee stuff, kitchen shears or mixing bowls. When I find any of these things under the tree on Christmas morning, my reaction is the same. I’m over the moon because of course, I could never have too much or too many of that special thing.

I find it a lot of fun to figure out the answer to the question for those on my gift list. The challenge, of course, is when the giftees’ passion lies in an area with which I am unfamiliar. I have to think about it, putting myself in their shoes. What do they really enjoy so much they could never have too much or too many of?

My grandson would say, “Jurassic Park!” I know that not because I know anything about “Jurassic Park” merchandise but because I know him.

My late mother-in-law would say, “Hot pads!” or “Tablecloths!” I can hear her now. If I were to give you hot pads for Christmas, you’d be like … seriously? But not Gwen. She would be visibly thrilled and delighted.

Gift giving takes on a new dimension of joy once you take the time to know what truly matters to your giftee.

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Mary Hunt

Mary invites you to visit her at, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at, "Ask Mary." Tips can be submitted at . This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

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