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Gift shopping on $100 budget

Marketplace Staff Dec 5, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Here’s a not-so-merry fact to keep in mind while you’re out holiday shopping. A consumer survey not too long ago revealed almost half of us are still paying off credit card bills we racked up last December. Deep in debt’s no place to be whatever the season. But what do you do when the bills are piling up even before the shopping frenzy starts?

Here’s a look at the holidays through the eyes of a woman facing Christmas $50,000 in the hole.

VIRGINIA: I felt like my feet were glued to the track. I could see my life coming at me. You know? And there was, like, an American Express card and there was, you know, several Visa cards, Master Cards. And they were just coming at me and coming at me and coming at me. And because I knew that I couldn’t keep making up the minimum payments on them, that train was going to hit me. It was going to hit me hard and it was going to destroy me.

My pattern with gift giving was that I always had to have the perfect present. That’s what made me feel like I’d hit a home run. I always had to have something that just knocked your socks off. And the only way I knew how to do that was by spending a lot of money.

I had a very humble spending plan. I decided that I really couldn’t afford to buy presents for everybody. I was going to spend a total of $100 for Christmas. And how in the hell can you buy presents for all your friends and for your family for a 100 bucks. So there was a way to handle that I hadn’t thought of before. And I decided that I would make a lot of presents. For all of my friends, I would just get little tiny things and I would wrap them in the most exquisite paper. And I would decorate them with, like, little bells and little tiny pinecones and . . . I just turned them into these treasures.

I spent the bulk of the money that I had set aside for my nieces and my nephew. I really liked the connection with them through giving them things that I knew that they would enjoy. I think my favorite thing was what I bought for my nephew. He was about 5 years old and he was really into army things and wearing army clothes. And it was a little guy thing, I think. You know, I wanted to go out and buy him a tank. You know, a motorized tank. And there was no way I could do that. And I couldn’t compete with his grandparents, who have much more money than I did and they wanted to give him everything. So I went to the Army/Navy Store and I bought an ammo belt. I put a compass in it. I put a little mini-flashlight in another compartment. I think the whole thing probably cost me about 12 bucks.

Well, I talked to my brother on Christmas Day and he told me that my nephew just flipped for the ammo belt that I’d got him. And he was running around the house in his underwear, wearing the belt with a cape on. And he didn’t even want to take it off to go to bed.

And, you know, I knew there was the home run and I didn’t have to spend a lot of money. And there was also a tremendous amount of relief knowing that when January comes that I didn’t owe a Mastercard bill or a Visa bill or that I had not taken money out of a line of credit that I shouldn’t have to buy gifts.

RYSSDAL: Trey Kay produced that story for us.

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