Q. I like to wait until the week of Christmas or even Christmas Eve to do my shopping. Some years I get a bonus that I use for Christmas gifts. This year I didn’t get a bonus. I don’t know how I’ll pay for my Christmas shopping. Should I borrow the money?

A. Counting on extra money like bonuses to fund Christmas shopping or other projects is always a risk. As you discovered, sometimes you don’t receive that money. Now your cash flow isn’t what you were hoping for, but taking a loan will make things worse. How much money would you borrow and how would you repay the loan?

I am not a proponent of borrowing money to pay for Christmas. However, if you make the decision to borrow money, consider a small, lower-interest loan from your bank or credit union. But if possible, you are better off not borrowing money.

Some banks and credit unions offer “skip a payment” on your vehicle loans as a “Merry Christmas” to you. Since you would not be making a vehicle payment for December, you could use that money for Christmas gifts. You may want to check with your bank or credit union to see if they offer this service.

To minimize your costs, could you reduce the amount that you normally would spend for Christmas gifts this year? Are there other ways you could come up with money to buy gifts?

Think creatively and find low-cost ways to give gifts to those you love. Here are some ideas you could adapt to fit the people on your gift list.

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  • Plan activities instead of giving gifts. Consider hosting a movie night or game night, or start a new tradition. I know a family who gathers every Christmas Day and goes out into the hills to play dodge ball. They bring along popcorn and hot chocolate. This has become a memorable holiday ritual with the adults and children alike, but it costs very little.
  • Give gifts of service. Create your own gift certificates and offer services such as babysitting, pet care, house cleaning, home or car repairs, or car washes. Or give a gift certificate for a special activity with a loved one. For example, plan lunch and a movie with your niece, sister or close friend. Be sure to follow through after Christmas and do the activities.
  • Give gifts of food. The person who has everything might love some homemade bread.
  • In a blank card write down your favorite memory of the person the card goes to. We often forget how something we may have done or said has helped someone. To share this memory can provide more benefit than you could know.
  • Photos are inexpensive and people who care about you and your family often love to receive photos.

Finding creative, low-cost alternatives for gift giving allows you to avoid the stress and high cost of borrowing money for Christmas shopping — and your friends and family might enjoy your imaginative gifts more than they’d like whatever you bought. Think about how much debt you want to carry into 2018 before taking out a loan.

Have a very Merry Christmas!

Bonnie Spain is the executive director of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Black Hills, a United Way member agency. To contact her, email credit@cccsbh.com

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