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Video: Say ‘no!’ to debt: Give holiday gifts that matter

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    a 600 horsepower sports coupe that likes to hug curves. your curves. smooth, rich, never bitter, gevalia.

    >>> we are back with more of "today" on this cyber monday. tis the season to shop till you drop .

    >> you probably hit the stores over the weekend or plan on sitting at your computer taking advantage of cyber sales.

    >> before you dig yourself in debt, mary hunt is author of "debt proof your christmas ," jean is today's financial editor. welcome, ladies.

    >> thank you.

    >> this came from a good place. you wanted to make sure your boys had a good christmas . you decided you were going to pull your credit card out and go crazy. tell us what happened?

    >> it was the worst christmas ever. a week until christmas , hadn't done enough shopping for my kids and christmas , hiding the bills, it was never enough.

    >> how long ago was this?

    >> 20 years ago.

    >> it's easy with that credit card . you talk about in your book how we ignore christmas 11 months out of the year, then panic we're not prepared. right, jean, that's what happens?

    >> that's what happens. think about cramming for any sort of a test. the closer you get to it, the more on edge and the worse the decisions are you make.

    >> you weren't out of your debt like that, it took you 17 years to dig yourself out?

    >> 12 years to create it, 13 years to get out. had i known then when i know now, it would have made it easier.

    >> you've gone on to teach so many people how to get out of debt. it's remarkable.

    >> the book is written in such a friendly way, it's not a financial book you need a degree to understand it. give everybody a few tips. everybody's facing that right now.

    >> you have to realize stuff quickly fades, debt goes on forever. if you don't have the cash to pay, you need to find ways you can give gifts. that's what the book is about, it's not about not spending money. if you have a lot of cash, go for it. simple ways, family traditions , kids love to spend time with their family. it's not all about christmas morning . spread christmas out over the whole month, if you can. so many ideas to bring so much joy to your life without going into debt.

    >> a lot of people watching this probably are in debt and the idea of digging out seems like an endless process.

    >> it's one step at a time. there's no quick fix, but the really good news is we've got academic research out of places like stanford and yale that show us it is the thought that counts. if you are receiving a gift, you do not care as much as the person who's giving it thinks that you do about what it costs and what you really want is something that's useful. so you don't have to go and spend crazy money on something lavish if a recipe is useful, a picture means something to you. i know it sounds cliche.

    >> i think it's more than that. we want people to love us. i'll be honest, i wanted my children to love me and have the best memories and to be the parent of the year and for my friends to think i was wealthy. all of these crazy things. it was about me, wasn't so much about them.

    >> that's my point.

    >> i think the best gifts are the ones that are homemade. you don't tie a perceived value in dollars and cents. but if it's a treat from your kitchen you've put in a package or presentation.

    >> time is a precious commodity.

    >> it is. i think a gift is more like a messenger. it carries the good will i have for you. if i can tell you through that, hoda, i love you, you have made such a big change in my -- you really have, actually.

    >> they've met many years ago. hoda was sweet to you, right?

    >> total stranger on the streets of new york , ran into you, you were so kind to me. i'll never forget that, hoe dachlt.

    >> that means a lot to me. i don't remember gifts i get, but i'll remember what you said to me. that's how it works.

    >> that's what the book is about, it's not too late. we've got weeks until christmas .

    >> five weeks until christmas , which is an awful lot of shopping time.

    >> the best thing you can do to teach your children something, adopt a family or a home you read about in the newspaper or something like that. maybe have been through the storm this year, make a christmas for someone else. take your children with you to bring it to them. they will never forget that. thank you, ladies.

TODAY books
updated 11/26/2012 1:10:21 PM ET 2012-11-26T18:10:21

Mary Hunt shares tips to approach gift-giving with an eye for financial responsibility in "Debt-Proof Your Christmas." Here's an excerpt.

The simple act of gift-giving has become extremely complicated. I blame that on the consumer-credit industry. Think about it. You can be completely broke but still spend thousands of dollars on Christmas gifts—and believe it is not only your right to do so but also your obligation to do so. We believe the message that we have to spend a lot for Christmas gifts to be socially acceptable.

Gift-giving is a custom that has pretty much run amok. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can choose to make wise and reason- able decisions about the gifts we give.

How many of you cannot recall the gifts you gave last Christmas? How about the gifts you received? Come on, let’s see those hands. Okay, that’s just about everybody.

It’s not because we’re total ingrates that we have trouble remembering the gifts we received. It’s because when it’s all over, the gifts pale in comparison to the joy they deliver—the love and best wishes for the season. That’s what we carry with us from one year to the next.

Okay, so here’s another question. How many of you still have a sense of the joy and good feelings associated with gift-giving that took place in your home and your life last Christmas, even if you cannot recall the specific gifts? Look at that. Hands are going up all over the room! At least some of those gifts did their job. They delivered joy and love and then quietly slipped out of the spotlight.

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Those of you who couldn’t raise your hands may be remembering the stress of finding the perfect gift, the hassle because you waited until the last minute. You may be recalling your guilt over spending money you didn’t have on things you don’t remember and haven’t yet paid for.

If you don’t know what to give someone, ask this simple question: What matters to him or her? You have to know this person pretty well to know the answer to that question without inquiring. You almost have to be a detective. You have to pay attention, listen, and observe.

Let’s say your grandmother really loves animals. In fact, she volunteers at the shelter two days a week. She is passionate about animal rights. Donating twenty dollars in her name to the animal shelter would probably make her break down and cry. She would be touched that you cared enough to figure out what really matters to her.

Not every occasion requires a gift. Sometimes a card that you buy or make yourself in which you write a thoughtful sentiment is an excellent way to go. Caring enough to pick out the right card and then taking the time and effort to write in it can say “I care!” even better than a gift could.

If you’re looking for a unique gift—one that will have a great deal of meaning for both you and your recipient—I have an idea. It’s called “Journal in a Jar.”

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The idea is to assemble in a glass canning jar (or a box or other creative container) everything your recipient needs to write the story of his or her life: journal and pens, or fancy computer paper and a notebook. Possibly the most fun element of this gift is the year’s worth of specific questions that will act as daily idea starters for your recipient’s journal writing.

Questions like: Why was your name chosen for you? What was happening in the world when you were born? What is your personal secret to happiness? You can include as many questions or prompts as you like, however 365 insures a very complete journal that touches on all areas of a person’s life.

Once you’ve completed packaging the gift, you will want to add a tag or card that explains what this is and how the recipient will use it. Recipe for Your Life History. The purpose of this gift is to help you preserve a written account of your life. Instructions: Combine a generous slice of your life history, a dash of nostalgia, several cups of facts and feelings and [the number you come up with] deliciously interesting questions. Draw one slip of paper each day until all are gone. Paste or write the question at the top of a blank page. Fill in your answer. Enjoy the memories that celebrate something very important ... You!

Not just a great gift idea for parents and grandparents, this is an idea for kids, too. Kids will love: Draw a picture of your favorite pet or animal. Draw a picture of your favorite thing to do in the summertime. Draw a picture of your favorite place to go. Draw a picture of your favorite thing to do with Grandma or Grandpa.

For an older child or teen: Tell about your favorite pet—what kind of animal is it? When did you get him/her? Tell about your hardest day at school. What is your favorite band?

Adapt your questions and prompts so the result will be more detailed and the answers more complete and specific. Make it fun by including questions you know will make the person laugh because the answers are so hilarious. Add a nice blank journal with plenty of pages. Attach one or more nice pens.

To help you get going I have posted hundreds of questions and prompts for all age groups—as young as 5 and as old as 105 at my website, www.debtproofliving.com. Copy and paste these and add your own unique questions, too. Print, cut apart and drop them into the jar or other container.

Journal in a Jar is not a gift you can make on Christmas Eve. You need to get started now. And while you’re at it, make one for yourself. Your finished journal will be your life history and a legacy for your children.

Mary Hunt is an award-winning and bestselling author of Debt-Proof Your Christmas, 7 Money Rules for Life and Cheaper, Faster, Better (Jan. 2013). She is a sought-after motivational speaker who created a global platform that is making strides to help men and women battle the epidemic impact of consumer debt. She is founder and publisher of the interactive website Debt-Proof Living, which features financial tools, resources, and information for her online members.

From DEBT-PROOF YOUR CHRISTMAS by Mary Hunt. Reprinted courtesy of Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Copyright © 2012 by Mary Hunt.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive


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