Help for Holiday Madness

Watch Your Wallet

The Season of Giving -- and Then, Getting the Bill

Holiday Madness

Another fantasy you're better off reining in: that of being a very generous Santa. The first time I went shopping in a toy store that was blaring "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas," my inner 7-year-old was unleashed. I hadn't been in a toy store for 20 years, but everything was eerily the same. Except for one thing: I now had a credit card and nobody to stop me. I racked up $400 in 15 minutes. Christmas morning was fun, I'll admit, but I wish I had taken $350 of that $400 and put it away for Jimmy's schooling (because even if a toy is made of wood, that doesn't make it educational, no matter what I told myself).

For a baby's first Christmas, and probably his second, you don't need to buy much. Your love is all he wants, and he'll be enthralled by wrapping paper. Even a preschooler is overwhelmed by three or four gifts, and chances are your extended family will provide at least that.

So to quell a shopping spree, scope out catalogs and online stores to make a list while at home. Take a minute to calm down, away from temptation. When you feel the urge to start buying stuff, think about what you want to teach your children: Are the holidays about an accumulation of things or about giving thanks and sharing joy? When you finally go to a store, take cash, not credit cards. You can't spend what you don't have, no matter what Burl Ives sings.

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