Treating Your Loved Ones Without Breaking the Bank -- At Christmas and Year-Round - TheStreet

Christmas is on its way. Paying only the minimum monthly payment on credit card debt from the holidays, the average American will be spend four years getting himself out of the Christmas hole. That's probably why credit counseling agencies get a 25% in people looking for help in the post-Christmas months. Still, you can stop revolving Christmas debt before it happens by finding ways to treat your relatives without breaking the bank.

Avoid Shipping Charges to Save Big

Ellie Kay is a family financial expert who says that no one should be without Amazon Prime at the holidays. That's because of the free shipping. Kay points out that you can search just for items that come with free shipping. "You can go through categories like books, toys or candy," she says, allowing you to target your search for gifts. "An inexpensive gift can cost twice as much when you add in shipping."

Kay recently purchased a book for her grandson that she used to read to her kids. "It cost $2.13 with tax because of the free shipping," she says. What's more, you can add in additional gifts for kids when you take advantage of free shipping. "Why not ship it to the house in a child's name?" Everyone loves getting mail, but for children there's an extra special treat getting something in the mail. "If you do it regularly with your child you can make a little game of it," she says.

Time Can Be Better Than Money

April Masini, a relationship expert, notes that "time is more valuable than money in many cases."

"Spending quality time with a loved one doesn't have to entail a surf and turf dinner," Masini says. While you might not want to skip out on a material gift all together, you can give of yourself around the holidays, which can be even more meaningful. "A coffee brewed at home in a carry out cup and a walk around the park, an impromptu dog walk or babies in your strollers, catching up -- that can be a lovely way to treat your loved one," she says. 

That time can include favors for the people in your life. "Taking something off someone's plate can be a really easy way to show the you care," Masini adds. So you might want to return library books, go shopping, run errands or take care of a pet while a friend or family member is on vacation. "You want to offer, not wait until you're asked," she says. "Simply doing favors for someone can relieve their hectic schedule." That's especially important around the holidays.

Craigslist and eBay Bundles

Kay says that one place where you can get deals is on eBay and Craigslist. That means getting people big bundles of things that people in your lives need and want. "You can get bundles of clothes, bundles of toys," she says. "Search for that and see what comes up. A lot of things are discounted and cheap and put into bundles." This can be especially helpful for new parents, buying them a big pile of baby clothes for a low price.

"I used to look for bundles of razors and ship them to my marine in Iraq," she says. "I could get 30 high quality razors for $5 and have them sent directly to him." Getting back to sending people things directly, this can be especially thoughtful and thrifty when sending things to the friends and family who are far away from you. A lot of items sold in big lots, especially in consumables, come from extreme couponers who are cleaning out their closets. Their overspending is now your savings.

The thing about buying items in big lots or getting free shipping on discount items is that no one knows what you paid for it. "I got three FitBit bands on Amazon Prime for my daughter," she says. "She didn't know what I paid for it." Wrap your gifts in nice paper, send them off or hand them over and you're giving someone something they need and something they want. And like mom used to say, it's the thought that counts.