I get giddy at the sight of twinkling holiday lights. Candles softly glowing in windows warm my heart. And Christmas music makes me sing along. But there is a part of the upcoming holiday I dread: the push, push, push to spend, spend, spend. As if peace and goodwill could be purchased with a credit card.

To offset the commercial takeover of Christmas – and the dreaded credit-card debt that often goes with it – here are 5 tips (in no particular order) to help curb overspending.

  1. Give away half of what you buy. No, I don’t mean donating your nephew’s hot-new-whatever to the Salvation Army. But when you buy a hot-new-whatever for your nephew, or granddaughter, or child, buy one for a child in need too. You can do this literally, by purchasing two at the same time and donating one, or by taking an equivalent amount of money and donating it to a charity of your choice. Still too much? Decide on a lesser amount and stick to it, even when it means giving up something you’d really like for yourself.
  2. If it is going to end up in the trash in one month or less, don’t buy it. The time-frame is arbitrary, but the problem is not. The world, according to a recent article in The Washington Post, is literally drowning in garbage. Globally, we now produce 3.5 million tons of trash per day. Do your best not to add to it. That includes jumbo-sized, blow-up lawn ornaments. Unless you can figure out how to recycle or reuse it – a children’s summer tent? – leave it in the store. Instead, focus on gifts that can be easily used and reused (Books!) and trim the house with natural décor. Remember pine boughs?
  3. Buy less, spend more. I’ve been reciting this mantra for a couple of decades now. Instead of buying as many gifts as possible, spend a little more on something your loved one truly needs or will cherish. And consider who your money is benefiting. Limit online shopping and avoid items made in countries that promote unfair labor practices. Spend as much as possible in your local community. Think local craft fairs, farmers markets, and theater and concert companies. If you buy fewer gifts overall, you’ll still save money.
  4. Focus on people rather than presents. I love a well-chosen gift. But what I love even more is gathering my family around a tasty meal, watching a fun movie, taking a walk on a wind-snappy beach, and coming back home to play silly board games. The presence of loved ones is more valuable than the most lavish of presents. Know someone who’s lonely? Include him or her too!
  5. Prioritize Advent, which began this Sunday. Advent means “coming” and is focused on preparing our hearts through Scripture reading, prayer and personal reflection for the coming of Christ. Want a guide? Pick-up an Advent book at your local bookstore. Or look up a free Bible-reading calendar online.

Focus on the real meaning of Christmas and you’ll be less likely to succumb to the commercial rush and the many regrets that go with it.

Meadow Rue Merrill, the author of Redeeming Ruth: Everything Life Takes, Love Restores, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine. The first volume of her new children’s book series, shining the light of Christ on the holidays, releases in September.