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Swap your way to a debt free Holiday Season

November 1, 2012

Hi. I’m Michele Winkler, and for fifteen years, I ran both community and professional barter clubs, in which people swapped everything from housecleaning to houseboats. While trading doesn’t work for every cash expense, every time you can trade for something you need, you can hang on to some much-needed cash.

If you’re feeling pinched and don’t want to face an unpleasant credit card bill come January, here are some ideas that let you feel festive–without overspending:

Neighbor Swaps

–cookie exchanges are a great way to have fun with the neighbors w/out spending a fortune on entertaining. Invest in a stack of paper plates and some saran wrap, and invite neighbors to participate. Everyone bring 3 dozen cookies and something to sip. When they go, they take a plate of assorted cookies home with them. This  is a fun way to catch up with the neighbors, with the added bonus of a plate of goodies you can take your next holiday potluck, office party, etc.

Toy Swaps

–A toy doesn’t need to be brand new, just new to your child. This is a great swap for a church or other community organization. We used to do it with our homeschool group and it was always a hoot (and a big $ saver.) Everyone shows up with outgrown holiday outfits and toys, all in good condition and complete. Lay them out on table, or on bedsheets on the ground, and take turns picking out things for your own kids. The idea is that you leave with a carful of clothes and toys that are new to your child. This swap helps leave you enough money to buy your children one or two brand new items, since you’ve saved so much on holiday clothes and the ‘bulk’ presents.

You can add a ‘grown up’ twist by also exchanging ‘white elephants’, or decor that ‘s in good condition but that you’d like to swap out for something different.

Family Swaps

–do you have a large, gift-giving family? You can bet you’re not the only one concerned about how to cover the cost of gifts for all the siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews. For this crowd, rather than swapping, picking names out of a hat lets everyone receive a few nice gifts, instead of a lot of cheap ones.

Teen Swaps

–How do you keep up with kids who’ve gone from Hot Wheels to real wheels? This is where the gifts that they want (and sometimes need) get really, really pricey.

COMPUTERS/CELL PHONES–hard to trade for these. You can often find a good deal at a Black Friday sale, or even (surprisingly) at a pawn shop.

Once the kids are post-Santa, one nice gift and a few stocking stuffers can help keep the wallet from screaming. Remember, not every gift has to be monetary–offering to do your teen’s chores for a week, or even clean their room, might be a gift remembered long after that $60 video game is gathering dust under the couch.

Spouse Swaps

Nope. Save enough money doing the other swaps to get your partner something special. If you’re truly broke,  make a coupon book–not the one the kids sell for fund-raisers, but a homemade book with at least ten pages of nice things you will (cheerfully) do. Not as glamorous as a new purse or surround sound, but much, much nicer thank fighting about the bills in January.

Michele Winkler, former homeschool mom and barter club coordinator, lives, writes and trades in Littleton, Colorado.

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