It's the season of giving, but you're just about ready to give up. Time and money demands from your family (you forgot to buy Aunt Edna's gift, schmuck), work (late nights finishing that year-end report, "Paper Clips: A Company-Wide Assessment"), significant woman ("Can't you carol with me at the nursing home, you selfish bastard?"), and the social scene (another eggnog hangover) can reduce even a triathlete to an over-weight, debt-ridden wreck. Here, then, is MF's present to you: a survival guide — 12 ways to prevail over the harrowing holidays.
1.) It's OK to be Scrooge
It's Christmas Eve and you're racing the clock to score your final shopping items before the buzzer. Because you've waited until the last minute, you'll take anything — and thus you've tossed your budget to the north wind, piling even more debt onto your already wheezing credit cards. What's this? MF got in touch with the Ghost of Stressmas Past — who will give you clearance to press the redo button on your holiday shopping. "I got one thing to say," says the Ghost. "Talk to the people with whom you'll exchange presents and establish gift-giving parameters. You won't look like a frickin' cheapskate for buying your mom a dish towel if you set a price limit for the whole family. There's nothing wrong with putting coal in people's stockings if you all agree to it beforehand."
Game Plan: Play Secret Santa with your group — this way, each person has to buy only one gift instead of six or more. You can also initiate a spending limit — say, $25 per person. "Don't spend more than one week of your net salary on holiday gifts," says David Bach, author of The Automatic Millionaire. "Problem is, most people spend three or four weeks'." One clan that Bach counseled spent $6,000 on presents for a single Christmas — and they already owed a combined $30,000 on credit cards. Counsels Bach: "Don't go lobster shopping on a tuna-fish budget."
Bonus: Start your gift hunting at least a month before the holiday rush to prevent a last-minute spending frenzy.