“Merry Christmas!” is often synonymous with “I maxed out the credit card.”
How did that happen?
News Flash: Commercialism bought Christmas decades ago.
In years past, perhaps a cartoon-like this caught your attention: a bewildered shopper in the middle of a superstore in September looks around at all the overdone decorations and holiday displays. There’s a speech bubble overhead quizzically asking, “Happy HalThanksMas?”
While Christmas – some recognize – is about more than gifts, even the most Jesus-loving folks can get caught up in the financial frenzy with which our precious Lord’s birthday is entangled.
How does one do Christmas right… financially speaking?
Here are some ideas to help you keep your wallet and your relationships merry and bright this season.
Decide How Much Will Be Spent
How many people are on the shopping list? How much is spent per person?
Yes, the mail carrier and mom get gifts at different price points, but it is possible to figure this out. Tally it all up.
How much is the total price tag? Does it seem like too much? Too little? Make changes.
Maybe there are people that too often get forgotten – teachers, coaches, hair stylists, neighbors. Include them now! Add it all up, then break it down once more into how much needs to be saved before Christmas.
One of the biggest stressors and budget busters for families is not drawing the line on gift-giving.
A local teacher recently posted on her social media account when the topic of teacher’s gifts came up: “We have tons of mugs and items with “teacher” on them.” Stop shopping from the $1 bin and get creative!
Alternative gifts might include coupons for time spent together (coffee, anyone?), an act of service (like getting the team together to wash the coach’s car), or even a simple letter of true appreciation. Noticing what someone has been doing for your benefit is a gift too often not given.
Be creative. Make time for appreciating, relating, and connecting. Sometimes the best gifts are free.
Save a Little All Year Long
Yep. That’s right. Christmas comes every December 25th. It’s not a surprise or an emergency. No one needs to use a credit card and carry a balance where payments from January through May are punished for what was purchased in December.
Change it up. Don’t be like everyone else. Even if this year you’ve already done the damage, decide now to do it differently next Christmas.
Put the Christmas spending (decided ahead of time and on purpose) in a savings account ahead of time. Voila! Buy each gift knowing there is money earmarked for it!
Whether choosing to pay with cash or a debit card, it’s a done deal. If a credit card is used, pay the entire amount off immediately. Do not carry a balance. Then, when the tree comes down there won’t be bills piling up.
Talk About Expenses
Schedule a family meeting. Gasp. Talk about money? What if a conflict arises? Better to know ahead of time. Partners need to discuss hard things sometimes.
Maybe this is a recurring fight. Finances are often a source of tension for couples and families. What better way to avoid resentment, debt, and unmet expectations than to talk about who gets gifts, how much the gifts cost, and how much money overall can comfortably be committed to this wonderful season?
There are trees to decorate, cards to print and send, cookies to bake, lights to put outside, parties to attend, holiday outfits to buy… the list goes on. That’s in addition to buying gifts. So don’t forget about these things when creating the Christmas budget. (Sorry – the B-word slipped out.)
If couples – and even their children – can talk about the cost of all these layers of the Christmas season, then decisions can be made ahead of time to reduce the stress that will inevitably come afterward when the conversations aren’t prioritized. Again, it’s okay to trim down the to-do or to-buy lists in order to achieve less tension and stress.
Since you’re talking anyway, examine those wish lists. When the kids make their lists for Santa, Grandma, and several aunts and uncles, let them know there is a limit. Maybe limit the cost of items. Or, limit the number of items that can be requested.
Put some parameters on their requests. Like what? Provide categories: something to read, something to wear, something to play, somewhere to go, etc.
Insist they donate or get rid of as many items as they write on their lists – in advance. Yes, this can be done. Be creative! Boundaries can help everyone – young and old.
Isn’t it better to give than to receive? When the kids start getting starry-eyed about all the things they want, try shifting their focus. Adopt a family. Fill shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child.
Shop together and pray for the ones receiving the gifts. Wrap everything in pretty packaging and make Christmas more about its true spirit.
Go somewhere together and serve a meal, sing a carol, or do a good deed when no one is looking. Fill blessing bags and walk the downtown area of your neighborhood looking for folks who might be homeless or have other special needs.
Get the idea? Check out the local community organizations to help fill the needs of those nearby. No matter what, turn the tables and take the focus off getting things. Turns out, the joy of Christmas is free.
Remember, people may say “knowledge is power” but the real power comes from doing things differently.
Using these few suggestions, each of us can afford the kind of Christmas we choose to celebrate.
Take a deep breath knowing that when Christmas comes next year there will be no surprises.