How to Have the Holidays Paid Off by Christmas Eve

A woman's hands wrapping gifts with brown paper and pine tree trimmings.

Image source: Getty Images

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Part of enjoying the holiday season is finding time to relax, and that’s easier when you're not carrying debt around like a weight.

With the holidays a little more than a month away, you may be wondering how you're going to pay for gifts, particularly if your bank account is not flush with cash. Here, we'll outline some of the ways you can buy presents without taking debt into the new year.

Before you begin

No matter how you decide to pay for holiday purchases, the most important step is to decide ahead of time how much you plan to spend. Take a look at your budget and figure out how much you can afford to pay toward gifts each week. Let's say you have an extra $50 available, and there are six weeks left before the holidays. That means your total spending limit is $300 (6 x $50 = $300).

Now, make a list of each person on your holiday gift list. Next to each name, write a dollar amount. If you stick to that number, you’ll be able to pay each purchase off before the holiday lights have been lit. Here's how.

Pay as you go

Split your gift list up by the number of paydays you have left before the holiday. Each payday, spend money you have set aside to purchase those gifts. If you're paid biweekly, it will look something like this:

  1. You have three paychecks coming before Christmas
  2. You check your budget and realize that you can dedicate $100 from each paycheck to gifts
  3. You divide your gift list by three and purchase one-third of the presents each payday
  4. All your gifts are paid for before the holidays, leaving you enough time to get everything wrapped.

Take on a short-term, part-time job

Are you great with a paintbrush or amazing with animals? Do you speak a foreign language or create unique Christmas decorations? Advertise today on your local neighborhood social networking service (like Nextdoor). Dog owners can always use a dependable dog walker or sitter, and homeowners may want a few rooms painted ahead of the holidays. In short, your skills may be precisely what someone else is looking for to make their life easier.

If you enjoy logging time in the car, sign up to deliver meals for a company like Grubhub, DoorDash, or Uber Eats. It's easy to work around your regular schedule, and you’ll see money in your pocket almost right away. Each time you take a job, use the money to pay for holiday gifts. The amount you earn is the amount you can spend, meaning you'll have no new debt to lug around next year. If you love the gig, keep it up in 2021. If not, let it go after the holidays.


If you've never had the pleasure of putting items in layaway, here's how it works in the majority of stores:

  1. You choose the items you would like to purchase.
  2. You pay a down payment of up to 20%. For example, if you put $300 worth of items in layaway, you would make a down payment of up to $60 ($300 x 0.20 = $60). Some stores do not require a down payment at all.
  3. If the retailer adds a service fee (some do not), it will likely be around $5.
  4. You agree to pay the items off in a specific amount of time -- in this case, in time for Christmas. Depending on the particular store, you either make payments every week or every two weeks.
  5. After you've made your final payment, the items on layaway are released to you.

Some stores offer layaway year-round, while others only offer it for the holidays, and only in specific stores. Almost all retailers allow layaway for in-store purchases only. Here's a partial list of chains offering layaway in 2020:

  1. Burlington Coat Factory
  2. GameStop
  3. Sears and Kmart (can only be used on layaway-eligible purchases)
  4. Marshalls and T.J. Maxx (must be paid in full and picked up within 30 days)
  5. Walmart (in select stores)

Because the rules surrounding layaway vary by store, be sure to ask how your retailer of choice operates.

A final note

If you don't have much money to spend on gifts this year, don't worry. Most people have no interest in how much was spent. They're simply happy someone remembered them. Wrapping paper and attractive gift bags can be purchased for almost nothing at dollar stores. Even if the gifts you bought aren't as expensive as you might have hoped, take your time to wrap them nicely. Add a kind note, and know that you've made someone's holiday just a little more special.

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