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I’ll be honest with you, I have a lot of trouble with Christmas presents. Picture the scene; the family of four teenage kids sit around the Christmas tree Christmas morning when dad hands out the presents; a pile of presents under the tree.

I can never get over the pile of presents that manage to accumulate under the tree in the days leading up to Christmas. I worry about how much our children have spent on presents. Will they be pleased with our selection? Will they have wanted more? Will they be disappointed but not want to show it? Will they have spent more than they can afford?

In case you haven’t noticed, I have to admit it, as a writer I am very sensitive.

I’m from a family of 10 children born within 14 years, and when we were all very young, no matter how tight the budget was, there was always an extraordinary assortment of presents under the tree. I thought of them in terms of feet. The pile seemed to be about two feet deep and surrounded the tree for about four feet in every direction.

I don’t know how mum and dad managed it, but no one went without.

Usually presents were things we needed like a summer dress, pencils, hair elastics, bathers, new sandals, a book,

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or maybe a record.

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But these things have become so commonplace that to give them as gifts, I think our kids would be disappointed.

The dress I chose would not be an inappropriate style or colour – wrong size. I would never even try to buy my them bathers. Hair elastics for Christmas? And pencils. Really?

One year I did try to buy sandals for the girls. There was a new brand out that they wanted, not sandals, but thongs, not any thongs, of course, ‘Havianas’ or something.

When I finally found them in the shop- they looked like thongs to me.

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-Until I saw the price. I suddenly felt under pressure.  Size was one thing, but which colour did they want? Would they be happy with the selection, and of course the pricey thongs ate into the budget I had for presents for them. Wouldn’t other thongs at a third of the cost do? And then I’d have enough to buy something else nice as well.

A summer dress, perhaps?

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Maybe that lot looks a little pricey, but what would they like? I didn’t want them to look tarty.

It was all so tricky.

So you can see how I have had problems with presents going back a while now.

Of late, in my extended family, I have tried to suggest, instead of spending $50 per adult on the Kris Kringle, what about $5 and be challenged but what you can come up with? Needless to say, it’s never got off the ground.

This year we’ve opted out. We’re having a holiday to the beach with the kids for Christmas.

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We see it as an opportunity to recuperate from the year that was, regroup as a family and of course, hopefully there will be some relaxation going on.

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Having made this decision, it has brought to mind something that has been on my mind for a few years now.

When I see all those big boxes under the tree, and they are opened to reveal expensive presents from your kids, who, like you live on a tight budget, I worry about their credit cards that I suspect have been working overtime. As I enjoy the present as the year goes on, and I suspect they are still paying them off on their credit card, my pleasure gained from the gift wains. It made me think how much more I would have enjoyed the gift if it did not involve hardship on the part of the giver.

It made me think how much I would enjoy Christmas if I knew none of my loved ones got into debt in order to give a gift. For the past few years I have thought every year about how nice it would be if I could get the word out there to encourage other people not to use credit to buy presents at Christmas.

Not getting into debt as a result of Christmas, or put more simply, putting away the credit cards and having a debt-free Christmas.

My thinking is that it would be wonderful if people looked at the CASH they had to spend at Christmas on presents, after rent, mortgage, petrol, food, alcohol, entertainment and of course groceries, and then making up a list of the people they wish to buy presents for, then working out their present budget.

Do they have five people they want to buy for and $100 to spend? Or 20 people they want to buy for and $100 to spend. The spending would be different, but both would be achievable.

Instead of CDs, store vouchers, books, perfume or bundled toiletries packages, they would be something a little more inventive; maybe, a jar of homemade preserves and homemade soaps for everyone. Handmade hand towels sewn by the giver, a collection of preferred books from a second hand store, hard covered books converted into secret places for a special friend. Everyone has a need for a special place for the spare set of car keys or to hide the house key.

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A hiding spot could be created in a favourite.

Most people have a need for these basic things.

The challenge for someone on a budget is to spend some time thinking about what people really need, or would really like, and making it.

Homemade tomato relish never goes astray.

Homemade tomato relish never goes astray.

There is still two weeks until Christmas. That is enough time to sit down and plan it.

You can visit my new Facebook page Credit-free Christmas for some ideas if you like: http://www.facebook.com/CreditFreeChristmas

Good luck, spread the word and let me know how you go.

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