My husband and I have never been the type to think we need to spend hundreds of dollars on each other at Christmas. In fact, many years we’ve opted not to exchange gifts and instead bought something big jointly, like our trip to Belize or a Wii. If you and your spouse plan to exchange gifts, make sure you agree on a budget beforehand.

Spend a Lot or a Little?
Some couples view holiday gifts as a way to show each other how much they love and appreciate each other, which is sweet. But you should show it all year round. Of course, there are times when a big gift is a grand gesture on Christmas. My dad gave my mom her first pair of diamond earrings about five years ago, after thirty-five years of marriage. Opening those on Christmas morning meant so much more. However, that’s not every year. There have many years of practical gifts between them.

It doesn’t really matter what you spend, it depends on the thoughtfulness of the gift. If it’s something your spouse really needs or wants, but would never buy themselves, then this is the time to get it. However, if the reason your spouse hasn’t bought it is because they think it’s too expensive, then make sure it doesn’t exceed your agreed upon budget.

How to Set a Budget
Do you already have a gift in mind or are you the type to go shopping on Christmas Eve in search of just the right thing? I’m a planner, so my plan would be to choose a budget, and then find a gift within that budget. In years we do give each other gifts, we usually spend about $50 on each other. No, that’s not a lot, but we tend to buy the big items throughout the year. Usually our Christmas gifts to each other are fun little things, like a book we saw on Jon Stewart or a new Wii game we’ll both enjoy.

To set a budget, start by thinking about your total holiday budget. Now figure out what you should spend on other people. Now consider the amount you’ve spent on each other in past years. Use all those as a guideline to set your spending on each other.

Keep that number firmly in mind while out shopping. You don’t have to spend it all, but you should also try not to go over it by much. If it’s something really special, save it for a birthday or anniversary. The exception, of course, is that once-in-a-lifetime gift. That shouldn’t be part of the budget, but you should be sure you can pay cash for it. The once-in-a-lifetime gift becomes less special if your spouse has to spend five years helping to pay it off!

What Are You Spending?
What are you planning to spend on your spouse this year? Are you in the $500 camp or the $50 camp or the $0 camp?

Although I prefer a homemade Thanksgiving, in some case it may be more frugal or more convenient to buy a Thanksgiving dinner at the grocery store. This is especially true if you don’t have good kitchen or much cookware!

Pros of a Storebought Thanksgiving Dinner
The first advantage is that someone else does most of the work for you. Note, I said most, not all. You’ll still need to do a little work. However, you won’t need to worry about basting the turkey or making the stuffing or any of the major items.

Only minimal cookware is required. Depending on the dinner you order, you may need to bake some par-baked rolls so they have that fresh taste. You might also want to make your own gravy or salad so there’s something fresh on the table. If you buy a whole turkey, you’ll probably need to partially cook it. It may or may not come with the tools to do that.

It’s becoming more affordable. With more stores getting into the act, price competition is steeper. Last year I probably spent about $40 for dinner for six. A grocery store dinner would have been around $50 at my local Ralph’s, and $100 at my local Whole Foods for an organic meal.

Cons of a Storebought Thanksgiving Dinner
Storebought just isn’t the same as homemade. Think about a grocery store roasted chicken vs. a home roasted chicken. Although I like storebought roasted chicken, I often find that it’s much saltier than a homemade chicken. It’s also not as large and usually not as juicy. The same is true of most deli items. I can make a better stuffing myself.

You may still have to do some cooking. Depending on the store you order from, they may not have the necessary equipment to cook a turkey all the way. In most cases, it will arrive partially cooked from a central warehouse. You will then have to finish cooking it (usually at least an hour) on Thanksgiving. You may need a pan for that, although you can pick up a cheap roasting pan at Target or Bed Bath and Beyond this time of year. If it’s a smaller turkey, you could even use a rectangular baking pan.

Everything will still need to be reheated. Sure, it won’t take as long, but you’ll still need to do it.

You won’t get as much food. Usually, home cooks provide more than necessary. With grocery store meals, they usually try to scale appropriately, so you may find that your meal designed for 8-10 just barely feeds 10 and there aren’t much leftovers.

It costs more. With careful shopping and coupons, you can get your grocery costs down for Thanksgiving. That’s how I spent $40 on the meal. Of course, I also had houseguests, so there was also wine, appetizers, breakfasts, lunches, and additional dinners. All told, I probably spent around $150 for those four days. Not bad, considering.

If you’re considering a storebought Thanksgiving, don’t let someone else tell you that you’re being lazy or untraditional. It’s all a matter of time vs. money vs. convenience. I enjoy cooking, so it was fun for me and I had most of the necessary equipment. My mom brought my grandmother’s roasting pan, but I know have my own $5 roasting pan. If I didn’t have the equipment and was still living in my old apartment with the miserably tiny kitchen, Thanksgiving would have been a different story! Buying Thanksgiving dinner at the store may not be the most frugal choice, but it’s cheaper than going out to a restaurant.

Every year, my Christmas list seems to get shorter and shorter. When I was young, my list was very detailed and long. Now I struggle to come up with a few items. I seem to have reached a point of max stuff and now am just looking to fill new needs that have arisen. Maybe it’s time to trim down your list, too.

Think About Your Needs
No, it’s not romantic or exciting, but if you really need a new blender, put it on the list! I usually do a mix of necessities with a couple of fun items thrown in. The fun items are usually cheap, like fancy soap for my guest baths or holiday decorations for my home. This year the practical items include a circular saw!

Think About Your Wants
Of course, this is also a time to fill a few wants. My want list includes a Flip Video camera. Right now all I have is a regular camera. Although it will capture video, it doesn’t capture a whole lot or great quality! That’s a big ticket item, though, so I certainly don’t expect to receive many other gifts if I receive that.

Be Prepared to Buy It Yourself
If you don’t receive something you really need, be prepared to hit up the post-holiday sales. That blender might be 50% off now! If it’s not something you would buy yourself, do you really need it? If I don’t get a circular saw, I plan to buy myself one because it’s something I need. The same for the video camera.

That should also give you some help in trimming the list. If you don’t receive it for Christmas, is it something you would buy yourself? If not, maybe you don’t really need or want it that badly. Of course, some are fantasy items, like a guitar and lessons, so put those on your life list if you don’t get them this holiday.

Make It about Sharing, Not Receiving
When I was younger, there was always a letdown after all the gifts had been opened because I didn’t get one or two things I really wanted. Now, I don’t feel that. I’m grateful for what I got, and don’t worry about what I didn’t get. Try to remember the spirit of the holiday rather than getting invested in the stuff that accompanies it. This is about family, not stuff.

I saw this post about a guy arguing  with a zombie debt collector on Consumerist, and I think it’s time to remind you what Zombie debt is.  It doesn’t mean the collector is a zombie (although you might feel that way!) It means that the debt is expired or charged off and has risen again from the dead. Unscrupulous debt collectors will try to get you to pay, even though you don’t owe.

When Does Debt Expire?
It varies by state, but most states expire debts after six years. Some debts can last for fifteen years. After that, you are no longer legally responsible for the debt. Some people would argue that you’re morally responsible, but legal and moral are two different things! Personally, I wouldn’t pay it because the money doesn’t go to the company you originally owed. It goes only to the collector, and helps them stay in business so they can harass other people.

What Happens After Debt Expires?
The statute of limitations means that collectors and creditors can no longer sue you to repay the debt once it has expired. They can threaten to, but they can’t actually do it. If they did, the court would see that the statute of limitations has been exceeded and rule in your favor.

Can They Report It to the Credit Bureaus?
Typically, no. Defaulted debt can only stay on your credit report for seven years from the date of default. By the time a zombie debt collector gets ahold of it, the debt is usually older than that. A crafty collector may “update” it in order to add it to your report. If that happens, dispute the debt with the credit bureau. They will ask the collector to validate the debt, which the collected typically can’t do, and it will be removed.

How Should You Respond to a Zombie Debt Collector?
As amusing as the call I’m linking to is, don’t engage the collector by phone. Send a letter demanding verification of the debt. Don’t acknowledge the debt in your letter. Tell them to cease contact with you, as well. Legally, they must comply. Typically, they won’t comply. If they continue to contact you, report them to the FTC and your state Attorney General for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. CC the collector on those letters. You can also sue them in small claims court for violation of the act.

What Is a Debt Validation
The woman on the linked call asserts that the validation is the fact that he paid on the debt for two years and then stopped. That’s not validation! Validation should be an account statement, at a minimum. It should also include something indicating that the creditor has assigned or sold the debt to the collector. It should also detail the original debt vs. additional fees and interest added by the collection agency.

If a collection agency tries to collect an expired debt from you, don’t engage them any further beyond your demand for validation and your cease and desist letter. If they escalate the situation by calling you at work, you may need to hire a lawyer to get them to go away.

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