debt free christmas

For many Canadians, overspending at Christmas is just a way of life. But the cycle of going into debt to buy presents isn’t going to end until you change the way you ‘do’ Christmas. There are ways you can still have a holly jolly celebration without dreading the January credit card statements. 

A merry Christmas doesn’t have to depend on how much money you spend. Sharing time making memories with family and friends without overspending can be the new normal. 

Licensed Insolvency Trustee, Mark Marshall shares his personal experiences and a few ideas of how to scale back on Christmas giving. Other topics discussed are:

  • Cost effective ways to give
  • Importance of communicating with family members about gift giving
  • Community associations that help with presents for children
  • Incorporating the Yankee swap game into your gift exchange
  • Boxing Day and thrift store shopping

If you are drowning in debt this holiday season or at any time of the year, speak to a Licensed Insolvency Trustee. They are federally regulated and approved by the Canadian government and will give you honest advice and help you find a solution to your debt problem.

Wayne Kay 00:04
Welcome to another Debt Matters podcast where we help Canadians find solutions to their debt with Licensed Insolvency Trustees from across Canada. ‘m Wayne Kand and in today’s show we’re going to talk about something that’s super important for this time of year. Celebrating the holidays without breaking the bank. 

My guest today is Mark Marshall from Allan Marshall & Associates Licensed Insolvency Trustee with offices in Alberta, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Mark, thanks for being here.

Mark Marshall 00:33
Thanks for having me.

Wayne Kay 00:35
It’s a perfect time to be chatting about finances as we’re heading into the ‘happy’ time of year. And I’m going to use quotes on that. I think there’s more stress for Canadians than happiness right now.

Mark Marshall 00:49
Yes, I tend to agree. I mean, I was actually at Christmas shopping today just to pick up a couple of items for my kids.

My kids are young, so just picking up a few little things and people are scrambling around. They’re scrambling around the stores and you can tell they’re just buying for the sake of buying.

Wayne Kay 01:07
And that’s the worst because a lot of Canadians are crunched right now. But the thought of them telling their families that, listen, we’ve got to really cut back on the gift giving, they just can’t do it.

Mark Marshall 01:18
No, it’s hard. There was a girl, I was standing in line when I was making my purchase and she was going through her basket. This is for my brother, this is for my mother, this is for my nephew. And I just thought, my soul, that’s crazy. 

I try to, on our side of things here with my family – my wife has got a large family and you have to figure out a way. You can’t get into purchasing presents for every relative and every next kid. You’re just going to blow the bank.

Wayne Kay 01:50
Absolutely. That’s a good point, though. As somebody who works with money and works with people are having a hard time with money. You look at this Christmas season and what do you think?

Mark Marshall 02:02
Well, I see people come in for counseling, financial counseling, and Christmas stresses them out. They feel the pressure. They want to buy stuff. It’s almost like it’s inbred. And then they want to spend.

They want to spend, they want to make sure they have a gift. And I just try to reiterate to them that Christmas really and truly is one day. And oftentimes you’ll stress and you’ll worry and you’ll pick something up – something that they may need or may not need. And there’s a strong likelihood that they’re probably not even going to know what you got them last year, two days after Christmas, what do you get them at all? So you have to take those things into consideration and kind of work within your means and sometimes your presence is the present, right. Being available.

Because most people, myself, I know others, the holidays are about just getting together with family and seeing people. And I try to kind of instill that in people and try to keep clients of mine that are coming in away from the stressing over the consumer’s side of it.

Wayne Kay 03:04
Yes, I remember when I was growing up, when we went to my grandparents house and it was just a great time for the whole family to be together. I would make up silly songs, Christmas songs on the guitar, and the kids would kind of have fun with that. And that was the best part. I could not tell you right now, I could not remember one gift I ever received.

Mark Marshall 03:26
That’s right. I’m sure you received some gifts, but I guarantee it – the thing that most people kind of fail to recognize is that Christmas is a time of getting together and socializing, and there’s ways you can do that. 

What we’ll do is instead of buying for the nephews and the nieces and the brothers, because most people, if they need something, if they can afford it, they’ll get it. You got to kind of sometimes step back and say, do I just keep buying stuff and put myself further in debt?

And a Yankee swap is a perfect way to handle a large group of people. You spend – maybe put a $10 limit or a $20 limit on something. You buy one gift and you wrap it up and you start the game. And it’s a great time. It’s a time to laugh and people are taking gifts from each other and there’s one gift for everybody and that’s all you need. And that’s a perfect way to kind of enjoy the season, provide a gift and get a gift in return without going crazy.

Wayne Kay 04:23
Yes. There’s also this program called Elfster, which I’d never heard of before. I just heard about it last week and everybody kind of puts what they kind of want for a gift and then it picks out. You get one Santa, secret Santa, and you get to buy one gift for that person.

Mark Marshall 04:39
Perfect. Yes, I never heard of that. That’s a great idea.

Wayne Kay 04:42
And when you get large families, I love that idea also. You know what I did this year?

I said, because I don’t like my kids spending money on dad because, well, we do this show, so we have to be fiscally responsible. I asked for books from everyone. I want to know why they thought the book was a good one for dad. That’ll be our Christmas discussion.

Mark Marshall 05:08
So, Wayne, the book is a perfect gift that you can receive that you can again re-gift. When you’ve taken the time and you’ve read the book and if it’s a book that you know that you’ve enjoyed and other people will enjoy again, that’s something that you can kind of pass out again at Christmas time. Right. It’s something that you can do, because sometimes some people like to hold onto their book, some people read them and they want to move on.

Wayne Kay 05:32
Yes, pass them along. I’ve got some stats for you, Mark, that I don’t know if they’re going to surprise you, but I’m going to throw these at you. And Mark has not seen any of these stats. 

43% of Canadians plan to spend less this Christmas. I think that’s pretty fair, wouldn’t you say?

Mark Marshall 05:50
That’s a surprising stat for me because I find most people just get caught up in it and they really go and they spend. Yes, that’s an encouraging stat. And, you know, it probably has a lot to do with just the price of everything, right. So if things are creeping up, interest rates are creeping up and people are kind of peeling back, so that’s important. It’s a good stat. I’m glad to hear that.

Wayne Kay 06:14
39% are hoping for cash as a gift so that they could then help pay down some of their debts.

Mark Marshall 06:23

Wayne Kay 06:26
I thought that was interesting.

Mark Marshall 06:29
If you’re going to get a gift of cash, why not cash? Right?

Wayne Kay 06:33
But this is the one you’re not going to like. 35% plan to pay for holiday expenses, taking on more debt.

And I’m going to give you some of these final numbers. 13% will carry a credit card balance, which I find low. I thought it would be a lot higher than that. 6% will use buy now, pay later, and 5% will just skip looking at the bills altogether. Another 5% will borrow from family and friends. And 3% plan on using a payday or cash advance loan.

Mark Marshall 07:04
Yes. Crazy. Those are staggering a little bit, because, look, it’s one of those things if you have small children, yes, you need to provide some form of Christmas for them. There has to be some kind of Christmas under the tree.

But again, depending on your circumstances, there’s organizations and associations in everybody’s community that they can rely on if they need to. And if you’re to the point where you’re trying to decide as to whether or not to put food on the table or put a present under the tree, well, you should be looking to kind of tap those organizations, whether it’s your church or the local Salvation Army or something along those lines. 

We’re fortunate, luckiest Canadians to have access to those types of programs and systems and those that need them should take advantage of it. Because going further into debt or taking a payday loan, the interest on that, that interest that you’re going to pay for, that honestly, that ten minutes of excitement that’s going to happen underneath the tree, it’s not worth it. It’s not worth it. And you do have to provide some excitement for the kids of that age, but there’s ways you can kind of access gifts without borrowing money from a payday loan, for example.

Wayne Kay 08:21
And you just find the right gift for the child that will mean something to them. I mean, that’s really the secret. You don’t have to spend $100 per child and per spouse. There’s no written rules.

Mark Marshall 08:36

That’s right. Like you say, it’s a matter of what’s going to spark them. And again, that spark is going to be for ten minutes. It’s going to be for ten minutes, that level of excitement. So you have to kind of put things in perspective and one nice gift that’s not going to blow the bank and not required to get a payday loan, that’s the way to go.

Again, it’s one of those things you can look at and use places. My son at one point in time was so into after the Minion movies, those little Minion toys, and I went to Value Village and I could buy bags of them for $5. And it’s because they’re there, they’re accessible. 

So you can go find thrift stores and there’s places that you can find stuff to, again, put a little bit of excitement under the tree.

Wayne Kay 09:26
So we got lots of different ideas here, but I think it’s a lot of pressure just from maybe thinking about family members. Now we can’t compare each family member. When you mentioned nieces and nephews and brothers, you never know what their situation is as opposed to somebody else’s family and to start buying for everybody. I dread the thought of having grandchildren one day. I figure it’s going to cost me way too much.

Mark Marshall 09:53
Yes. The key is communication, though, right? Communicate with your family. Communicate. So in my family, I get a hold of my brothers and I get a hold of their wives and I talk to them and I say, look here’s, here’s what’s going to go on.

We’re not buying presents for everybody. So we’ll say we’re going to have a Yankee swap and we’re going to do it on Christmas Eve. Or there’s maybe a couple of nieces and nephews that are young and we’ll say, similar to your situation, we’ll buy a book or book exchange between them. 

So again, instead of blowing the bank and thinking you got to provide a Christmas gift to every relative that’s coming through the door, or quail the expectations by making some calls and communicate with them and say, look, I’m not expecting you to buy me anything. And really, I’m not going to buy you anything. But come to my house and have a nice meal.

Wayne Kay 10:41
Or I also love this for gifts. I love when people will bake for you or cook a spaghetti sauce or anything at all like that that they’ve taken time to do. I don’t know why, it just totally impresses me and touches me. I go, that’s a great gift because they took the time to make this pizza or whatever it is.

Mark Marshall 11:04
That’s right.  And again, it’s a cost effective way because there’s a strong chance that you’re going to be making spaghetti sauce. You’re making one for yourself that night, and so you make a little bit extra and you bottle it up. Or maybe it’s salsa or something along those lines.

It’s something that’s affordable. And again, there’s the thought behind it, but again, it doesn’t have to be the 75 inch plasma TV. You have to be smart about what you’re doing because you don’t want to roll into the new year in January, like you say, and have huge credit card bills for one day of glory.

Wayne Kay 11:35
Right. By the way, I don’t think they make plasmas anymore.

Mark Marshall 11:39

Wayne Kay 11:39
Okay. Which proves right there you’re not spending in the wrong spots. Good on you, Mark. No, it’s all LED now.

Mark Marshall 11:52
Okay. I haven’t bought a new TV in a long time.

Wayne Kay 11:57
Yeah, well, that just proved it right there. I was like, oh, that those plasmas, those were, like, seven, eight years ago. I think those were pretty popular. So that’s always good.

I love it because, you know, we’re trying to help Canadians that are in these situations. We want them to feel like you can still have Christmas, but we want you to be just conscious of spending because there’s nothing better than not having that huge credit card bill come December 20th.

Mark Marshall 12:24
Yes, it’s the best feeling is when you get that credit card statement in the new year and there’s is little to nothing on it or if you’ve gone out and you’ve purchased something, if you’ve taken the money and you use your credit card, but you take the money and you set it aside so that you know that you got the ability to cover that when it comes. And it’s not a big whopper of a bill that you can’t handle.

Wayne Kay 12:43
Here’s another idea. What about buying stuff throughout the year?

Mark Marshall 12:49
Yes, a lot of people will do that. I guess it depends on how financially responsible you are, whether or not you’re setting budgets for yourself. And you’re kind of saying to yourself, here’s what I’m going to try and do through the year, because I know some families, they’ll have a target for per child or per family member, and they’ll say, this is how much money we’re setting aside, and they will start in January. They’ll start to put those funds away. 

And like you say, all of a sudden, they’re picking things up for sale on Boxing Day. There’s things that you’re picking up for the following year along the way, and then you’re getting the best deal. There’s a family that I know in the area that they’ve got three teenage girls that they’re all in their late teens, like, close to 19, 18, 17.

They spend no money at Christmas time. And then what they do, they have their budget after Christmas. They have a meal, and then the Boxing Day sales is when they take their allotted budget and those girls go out and buy all the clothes that they can within their budget, and that’s their Christmas. But they get the deals right because everything’s on sale, everything’s marked down. Again, the cost of the Christmas experience is kind of gone.

But again, if they’re getting together with their family and having a meal, they’re not worried about what’s under the tree. They’re still getting what they want, but they’re approaching it from a very financially, fiscal way, really doing that.

Wayne Kay 14:15
I don’t think my kids want me picking out their clothes, so I agree with that. That would be a perfect idea.

Mark Marshall 14:22
Let them do it themselves.

Wayne Kay 14:24
Yeah, exactly. Dad’s choices might not be theirs. Okay, so that’s great advice. I remember I was in a mall down in America, actually overheard this gentleman. It was in I think it was in January and he was talking about how he’d put $5,000 of spending on his credit card. And he was talking to his friend, just worried about how he was going to pay that off because he said he had so many grandchildren and stuff.

That was years ago. And I still remember this guy being so devastated that he’d spent so much money.

Mark Marshall 15:04
Yeah. And it’s easy to get caught up in it.

Some people, come December 1, all they care about is making sure that there’s presents under the tree and there’s gifts in doing that year after year. And you might be able to get away with doing it, but if you’re doing it year after year after year, it’s eventually going to catch up with you. 

And again, I think that’s where communication with the family kind of has to come into play, because if you have family members that are expecting, oh, Grandpa gives us this huge gift every year, well, they’re going to expect it and expect it, and it’s difficult. If you’ve been that individual that’s provided that huge gift or that big present every year, all of a sudden you’re just not going to provide anything. But again, you have to communicate and just talk to the family and say, hey, look, it’s just not here this year.

You don’t do the best you can, but you don’t need like, $5,000 in credit card for Christmas. That’s crippling.

Wayne Kay 16:05
Yeah. It stresses me out. Even. That’s horrible. Any final words of advice you have for us getting through the holiday season affordably?

Mark Marshall 16:14
All I would just say is just remember that it is one day, and so don’t get caught up spending all kinds of money for what turns into ten minutes of excitement, because that ten minutes of excitement can be done in a cost effective way. 

A Yankee swap or like I say, a used book, just something that a child or maybe a sibling or somebody will want, that’s an affordable, one gift. And don’t look at blowing the bank, because you’ll blow the bank and you’re excited with everybody else for ten minutes, but then 30 days from there, when you get your credit card statement, it’s not a lot of fun, and so just keep that in mind.

Wayne Kay 16:55
Yes. Mark, thank you very much for being on the show. It’s always a pleasure. Happy holidays to you and your family.

Mark Marshall 17:01
Okay, same to you. Thank you, Wayne.

Wayne Kay 17:03
To learn more or to schedule a free consultation with the team at Allan Marshall & Associates Licensed Insolvency Trustee, you can go to their website, 

And that is it for another edition of the Debt Matters podcast. Make sure you subscribe wherever you get your favorite podcast from. And of course, for more information, you can always check out Thanks for listening.

About Mark Marshall

Mark Marshall has been working in the insolvency field for 20 years. He received his Licensed Insolvency Trustee accreditation in 2012 and has also been an active board member with Music NB. He endeavors to give each client he meets advice on all of their available options so they can proceed with the knowledge they need to make an informed decision. 

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