Review of Debt-Proof the Holidays: How to Have an All-Cash Christmas

By Linsey Knerl. Last updated 10 November 2007. 11 comments

Those of you looking forward to this year’s holiday shopping season with a little apprehension, anxiety, or dread can take heart in a new way of thinking. The always financially-savvy (but personable and warm) Mary Hunt of DebtProofLiving has followed through on her promise to simplify your seasonal spending and put meaning back into Christmas. Debt-Proof the Holidays: How to Have an All-Cash Christmas will instruct as well as inspire.


Starting off with a background of Christmas tradition, as it relates to consumer debt, Mary shocks us with the statistics. The average household spends $1,000 during the holiday season. November 2006 alone saw $8 billion in credit card debt! No wonder there is a need for a new attitude for consumers. “No matter what, I am not going to spend money I do not have to pay for Christmas.” With that new attitude, it is possible to tame the credit beast and return to a simpler, more joyous holiday season.


Mary shows us that by developing a plan and sticking to it (I love the idea of the cash envelope system), consumers can start early in the year to start budgeting for their holiday festivities. Those of us getting a late start can use one of several unique ideas for finding that last-minute cash (and it’s all perfectly legal.) Since it may not be possible for everyone to dig up the funds for the Christmas of their dreams, Mary gives several doable yet classy ideas for more frugal gifts. Bargain hunting, homemade treasures, family traditions, and charitable contributions are all covered in simple language and fresh perspective. (Readers of the DebtProofLiving newsletters also contribute a large portion of this book, which is the one of the reasons it seems to work for all types of consumers.)


Gift-wrapping, entertaining, and family time are all addressed with common sense and candor. While there may be nothing in this book completely new under the sun, it is inspirational nonetheless. If you don’t find the recipes for Dreamsicle cookies to be useful, maybe you’ll appreciate the witty commentary on holiday tipping. Mary’s book does more than give tips and tricks for avoiding holiday burn-out and financial destruction – it grants us all permission to shun the consumerism that has laid claim to our hearts and take back holiday joy for ourselves and our families.

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

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Myscha Theriault's picture

Good one, Linsey! And at such a timely moment of the season. I've been plugging away on a homemade gifts post . . . this will definitely give me some more inspiration to keep going with it.

Guest's picture

This year the adults in my family will all get gift certificates so they can experience loaning money to a needy business in the developing world. And since the money is repaid it's a gift that they can either cash out or keep re-lending.

Myscha Theriault's picture

. . . I LUUUUVVVVV I can't wait to try it. We talked a great deal on our trip about how we might get into micro lending. When we found out about kiva, we couldn't wait to explore it further. It's on my list of things to finish researching, but we hope to get involved with them very soon. Cool way to emphasize the debt free Christmas thing, too.

Julie Rains's picture

Linsey, does Debt-Proof have any ideas that your family is going to use this year?

Linsey Knerl's picture

For asking this question..

Before I had even read the book, my husband and I decided to simplify our Christmas by eliminating much of the gifting to our own children that we had done in year's past. My job brings many children's toys and products into the household during the year, so getting consumer products at Christmas time wouldn't impress them much anyway.  (Plus they are very young, so they are more content to have our quality time.)

I will be using several of the recipes from the book for entertaining and gift-giving.  (While I won't be replacing any gifts to family or friends with homemade ones this year, I will be using homemade gifts to expand gift-giving to a new circle of friends and church family that I wouldn't have been able to share with otherwise.)

I will also be trying some of the planning ideas mentioned in the book to use for NEXT year, including buying the clearanced Valentines decor (red only) and St. Patty's day fixings (green only) to get a nice stash of Christmas items at 90% off!

I will also be avoiding gift card giving this year only because it was pointed out how they often go unused or get lost.  Maybe I'll stick to classic cash? 


Myscha Theriault's picture

You know, I've been thinking of doing an article on alternative / or homemade gift options, but particularly the homemade gift options of foodstuffs. I agree, it's a nice way to share with a group of people you wouldn't otherwise be able to do so with. And that tip about red and green items . . . I'd heard it (or something similar) before, but I hadn't realized that doing it in reverse could save even more money. Good one.

Guest's picture

We give our children a combination of gently used and new toys. We spend approximately $500 on all our gifting- including extended family, pictures for Xmas cards, etc. This is less than half the crazies in the Best Buy line on Black Friday will be spending on one or two things.

For four kids, we really plan ahead. I've been stocking my secret hiding place since springtime with things I know they want. Some might think I should only give new toys- they don't really care once the toy is out from the wrapping. Besides, some mew toys are so packaged in, they can't to them in under a half hour anyways!

My son will be getting Harry Potter figures I have been accumulating from ebay purchases since summer. The figures for the newest movie are not really action figures- my son is 5 and wants to play!- I have spent about $25 getting his favorites and a few extras for playing. The new ones are much pricier and not what he'd want anyhow.

I have a few things obtained from Freecycle. A Lego table- free-- plus a large quantity of legos- free. My kids can add to what they already have and love-- and be able to create with more.

And I rely on my sewing skills and scraps to fill in the gaps-- doll clothes, drawstring storage bags, etc.

Guest's picture

We are both so burned out on Christmas already. There has been holiday schwag in the stores since July and the holiday musac started the day after Halloween. Instead of miserably dragging ourselves and our kids through all the self imposed mandatory holiday rituals were dropping out of all of it except the few things we actually enjoy.

We cut decorating the entire outside of the house down to just the front doorway and the tree inside.

Were going to do our own thing instead of running a gauntlet of chaotic and stressful extended family things and mostly send out cards.

Just agreeing to forgo some of the more stressful portions has made stress levels go down.

Guest's picture

Hi Linsey,

Since you are going to be exchanging some handmade gifts this year - I thought I would share my favorite inexpensive gift to make and give - moist rice bags. Everybody always loves them and they are nice to have for aches and pains or warming cold beds.

Take a new, washed hand towel folded lengthwise. Sew the edges leaving enough room at the top to turn it inside out. Turn inside out and fill with 4 cups white rice (purchased in bulk at Costco). Sew the edges together.

Then I make a nice card instructing the recipient to warm the rice bag in the microwave for about 2 minutes and enjoy! The bag can be used over and over again.

Happy Holidays!

Linsey Knerl's picture

I  have heard of the bags being made with cherry pits (which are hard to find), but never rice!  This is a great tip!!!  Thanks!

Guest's picture

We did an all cash Christmas - $100 out of pocket and the rest was from credit card rewards and selling clutter in our home to pay for the rest of Christmas. Our home is cleaner and my gifts are all bought!