There are only eight more Sundays until Christmas! In our household they’ve already started watching Christmas movies (notice I said “they” not “we?”)! If you haven’t already started planning for how to get through this season without the anxiety that racking up more credit card debt will bring, it is not too late.
Here are some great ideas on how to not go into debt this Christmas Most of these ideas have been taken from the 2008 book, “In My Heart I Carry a Star: Stories for Advent”.
- Move into December with a Thanksgiving Foundation: Let Thanksgiving be your launching pad into the Christmas season since Thanksgiving is defined by gratitude for what we have. It has often been said that America is the only nation that has a day of thanks on Thursday and then go crazy on Black Friday buying things we do not need. Let gratitude form the foundation for the giving spirit of Christmas.
- Make a budget and stick to it: Enough is enough! Do not forsake the essentials to buy more stocking stuffers, plastic toys, more electronics, or the latest video game. Decide on a budget, put the cash in envelopes (explained below), leave your credit/debit cards in the car, and shop with the cash in the envelope. When the cash is gone, you are done! If you do not control your spending, it will quickly run away with itself.
- Save and designate: Take the next few weeks, put together a stack of envelopes of everyone you “need” to buy gifts for. As you relentlessly save money, place cash in these envelopes and then purchase your gifts using this cash.
- Be clear about the meaning of Christmas: Do not allow yourself to be manipulated by somebody else’s priorities. You have values and can make your own decisions about your money! Refuse to be swayed by our culture, the power of advertising, peer pressure, or guilt! You have money goals (hopefully to get debt-free) and there is a beautiful Christmas story to focus on. When God left heaven and incarnated Himself into the womb of a teenage virgin, He did not do that so you would spend this season focused on you and not Him
- Give to a charity instead of buying stuff nobody really needs: There are so many great charities out there! Church budgets are often tight as the end of the year rolls around. We have a host of missionaries that are struggling financially. There are homeless shelters, the Red Cross, and a plethora of other things. Giving to a charity financially is great. Including your family to serve that charity in tangible ways is awesome! Do it!
- Shop early, as you can afford items, and then save them for Christmas: We did a bit of early Christmas shopping while in Alaska. The hardest thing to do is to not give them early but we’re holding on. Why not start shopping early, little by little, and buy what you can afford as the money becomes available? Prices tend to go up and then they manipulate us into thinking things are on “sale” when, in reality, they are just discounted from the inflated prices.
- Choose ahead of time not to use a credit card, and then put the promise in writing: Being pro-active about this is way better than re-active. Re-active means finance charges. Pro-active means you only buy stuff you can pay cash for. Making an active decision always makes a difference in behavior. Once credit is out of the equation, it frees our thinking up for alternative ideas and more realistic priorities
- Pay attention to cues from your family, and get gifts that will bring joy rather than gifts that will make you feel generous: Are you buying that expensive bracelet because it will make your wife happy? Or because it will make you feel generous? Learn to listen, plan ahead, and make the giving experience a real treasure hunt.
- Handmade gifts reflect planning, effort, creativity and love: They are, in effect, more valuable because they represent creative thought and personal effort. At some point, I would love to do a Christmas where everything is handmade.
- Value thoughtfulness over cost: “It’s the thought that counts” may be a cliché… but it’s a cliché because it’s true. Jesus Himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35b). Raw dollar amounts say nothing about the gift. We are deceived if we believe that a gift is “better” because it has a larger price tag. Be generous givers because of the blessing of giving but make sure you define generous in thoughtfulness rather than dollar amounts.