During the holiday season a lot of people — eager to please — toss financial common sense out the window.

They shop until they drop, racking up debt.

So, I try to get them to see the light. As I often say, it’s about your presence, not the presents. This is the message I gave to a reader recently who was struggling with the guilt of not buying gifts this year. She and her husband have $62,000 in credit card debt.

This column generated a lot of comments. Here’s what some had to say about the couple deep in debt:

— “Do not allow yourself to be bullied into buying gifts. You must protect your family and your future. People who expect you to buy gifts are not your friends. And if they're your family, you need to put some distance between yourself and them.”

— “Being $62,000 in credit card debt is no joke, so telling the couple that they have to stick with a sensible repayment plan is their only real hope for them to have any financial future.”

— “Anyone who is ‘disappointed’ that you didn’t give them a more expensive and bigger gift, doesn’t deserve one. A gift from the heart (like homemade cookies) IS a real gift!”

“While you’re at it, remind those relatives that, as you pay off your credit card debt, there will be more than one lean year and discuss the next couple of years, too.”

All the comments hit on a common theme: Do what you can afford and don’t feel guilty about it.

Then I received an email from Gisele Gauthier from Cape Cod with a message for the family and friends of folks trying to dig out of debt.

“The most precious gift anyone can give me is to take good care of themselves,” Gauthier wrote. “This includes managing their finances in a thoughtful way. I feel like the people who know and love me best want me to take care of myself and would never dream of asking me to hijack my and my children’s future by spending money I do not have.”

Her advice is a drop-the-mic moment.

Give the people you love who you know are in debt a present they can’t take back: Relieve them of the expectation that you want a gift.

“Expecting someone to act irresponsibly to buy them things they probably don’t need is missing the point of this holiday season entirely,” Gauthier said. “No one would want you to steal gifts from a store, and to me, asking someone to overspend is asking them to steal from their future, which I think is worse (though admittedly, not against the law). On those years when things have been lean for me I have been plain with folks, telling them that I don’t have any money to give gifts and telling them that the greatest gift they can give me is to not give me a gift.”

But you don’t have to be taken into someone’s confidence about their financial situation to know what’s going on. You can figure out that they’re struggling just by paying attention. And you know a lot of folks in your life are trying to pay off student loans.

“I’ve been deep in the hole, and digging my way out was one of the hardest and most liberating things I’ve ever done,” Gauthier wrote.

The best holiday present you can give someone in debt is peace of mind. Let them know — even before they broach the subject of not exchanging a gift — that you don’t want or expect anything. And mean it. That’s a present they won’t soon forget or need to return to the store.

Read more:

Color of Money Question of the Week

What’s the best present you’ve ever received that didn’t come from a store? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. Put “No Gifts” in the subject line.

Live Chat canceled

I’ll be away, so the chat is canceled for this week.

But please join me next week at noon (Eastern time). My guest will be Anthony ONeal, author of “Debt-Free Degree.”

I’m live every Thursday from noon to 1 p.m. (Eastern time).

Holiday spending

There are a lot of people planning to go into debt for the holiday season.

A survey by CreditCards.com found that 61 percent of consumers who carry a credit card balance are willing to add to this debt for the holiday season.

In a Bankrate.com survey, 63 percent of U.S. adults say they have felt pressure to overspend on gifts or travel during this time of year. And when is the pressure felt the most?

Retailers certainly do their part to encourage holiday spending.

Last week I asked: Do you have plans to spend wildly this holiday season or scale back, and if so, why?

Mark Latham of Hartford, Vt., wrote, “My wife and I went through several boom and bust periods with credit card debt. Years ago we decided that had to stop. We reserve our sole remaining credit card for emergency use only and for our day-to-day expenses use cash or a debit card. That basic step has really helped to keep our spending in check. If the cash isn’t there we don’t spend and (knock on wood) absent an emergency certainly no longer look to use exorbitantly high interest credit card debt. Thanks so much for the sound, basic financial advice in our grossly indebted consumer culture. I hope people heed your advice! ”

“I will be making shoe bags out of distinctive fabric, for some people, and homemade candy for others,” one reader wrote. “Beware the cost of homemade. Using $17 per pound chocolate in peppermint bark adds up in a hurry. As do fancy tins for the candy or cookies.”

Dorrie of Reno, Nev., wrote, “I purchase specialty gifts online … so I will not set foot in a department store. It may cost a little more to customize gifts, but I won’t be wooed away by special offers for which I could overspend. And, my loved ones receive meaningful gifts rather than impulsive purchases.”

“Enjoy the thrill of giving (and receiving), while curbing holiday spending by getting your family members to agree that each will buy for only one family member,” wrote Donna Horn of Hyde Park, N.Y. Everyone’s name goes in a hat, and each person pulls a name. Set a dollar limit that is within all participants’ budget. For easy shopping, my family has everyone make up a gift wish list (within the budgeted amount) and share in a group family text. We have the fun of some holiday shopping, gift wrapping and, best of all, giving and receiving a gift! This practice has made the holidays much more fun for me! Not to mention, it is a lot easier on the pocketbook! ”

Color of Money columns this week

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