God intends for Christmas to be a time of rest, reflection, and joy as you celebrate His Son, Jesus, coming to Earth. Yet, too often, Christmas ends up being the most stressful time of year, filled with unrelenting pressure to spend more than you can afford and to do more than you have time for in your schedule.
Giving into the pressure yet again this year will only leave you with burdens: debt that lasts far longer than the stuff you purchased, and regret that you didn’t enjoy the peaceful Christmas that God wanted you to enjoy.
This year you can celebrate Christmas without overextending yourself. Here’s how:
Shape your attitude. Although the Christmas season can be so stressful that it makes you feel out of control, the truth is that you always have the power to control how you spend the Christmas season – you can do so by choosing your attitude. If you choose an attitude of being determined to enjoy Christmas while also refusing to spend money you don’t have to pay for it, you can reach your goal of celebrating Christmas without debt and stress. Keep in mind that there are two distinct aspects of Christmas: the emotional side, and the financial side. If you decide to keep the two aspects separate (rather than mixing them together, thinking that you have to spend lots of money in order to feel satisfied at Christmas), you’ll be free to create a reasonable Christmas plan and stick to it.
Develop a plan. Write a plan for your family’s Christmas this year, starting with a purpose statement describing what you all would like Christmas to be like this year and why. Consider how to best express your family’s values through the ways you celebrate Christmas, and plan to invest your time and money into activities that will reflect those values. Study your budget and a calendar to look realistically at the amount of money and time you’ll have available this upcoming Christmas season, and decide to make your plans within those limits so you can truly enjoy Christmas without worrying about overextending yourself. Aim for at least these basic elements of a successful Christmas: a relaxed and loving time to worship Jesus and spend time with family and friends, realistic expectations about gifts, an evenly paced Christmas season schedule, and reliable family traditions.
Use cash. Decide to use only or mostly cash to pay for your Christmas expenses. If you do decide to use a credit card, do so only to shop online, where it’s dangerous to use a debit card (debit cards don’t provide fraud protection like credit cards do). Make sure that you pay off any credit card purchases in full so you won’t incur any interest charges. Set aside cash for shopping in stores by: determining who you’ll be buying gifts for this year and how much you want to spend on each person, labeling an envelope with each person’s name and inserting the right amount of cash in each envelope, and placing the envelopes in a safe place so you can access them when you go shopping. If you don’t currently have all the cash you want to have for Christmas, think creatively about how you can earn extra cash before Christmas arrives, such as by working odd jobs or temporarily cutting back on expenses such as eating out.
Deal wisely with holiday dilemmas for big groups. It can be awkward trying to figure out how to deal with gift exchanges within big groups, such as extended families and office coworkers. One solution that can work well is to ask each person in the group to write a wish list describing some kinds of gifts that he or she would truly enjoy within a certain price limit. Then, rather than simply drawing names, draw wish lists. That way everyone can give meaningful gifts and receive something they’ll really like, while also keeping costs down.
Give inexpensive yet caring gifts. Since gifts are messengers meant to convey your love to the people you give them to, you should avoid giving cheap presents to people. But you don’t have to go into debt in order to provide good gifts to the people on your Christmas list. Prepare to choose the right kinds of gifts by getting to know what matters to the people to whom you want to give presents this year. Observe and listen for clues about what each person enjoys. If you’re not sure what someone would enjoy, don’t hesitate to ask. Keep in mind that you don’t have to purchase every gift; instead, you can make gifts by hand or give your time and talents to someone (everything from cooking or cleaning for them to fixing their car or computer). It could be very meaningful for you to honor people by supporting the causes that they support. If you know someone who’s passionate about helping the environment or animals, plant a tree or adopt a pet in his or her honor. If you want to honor someone who cares deeply about helping sick people become well, become a living donor of blood, a kidney, or bone marrow to people in need. When considering giving to charities, research each one carefully so you know exactly how they will use the money or goods you plan to give.
Give gifts from your kitchen or garden. Most people love to eat, so they’d appreciate a delicious yet inexpensive gift of something you’ve either made in your kitchen or grown in your garden. You can present such gifts elegantly in gift jars or baskets.
Find bargains when you’re shopping. Look for sales, use coupons and other discounts, and consider alternatives to your local mall, such as art supply stores, office supply stores, and hardware stores. Use caution at outlets, since products there may defective. When purchasing gift cards, avoid those that charge service fees or don’t give people change back in cash when they use them.
Give family gifts rather than individual ones. Consider giving one gift to an entire family instead of individual gifts to each person in that family. Some family gift ideas include: a calendar, a cookbook, or a gift basket.
Cut back on decorating expenses. Use what you have around the house to make your own wrapping paper and decorate your door, table, and mantel. Buy an inexpensive, real Christmas tree, decorate it simply yet elegantly, and recycle or replant it after Christmas.
Entertain guests without stress. When hosting family and friends at your home during the Christmas season, keep in mind that they’re more interested in spending time with you than they are in having you impress them. Relax, be yourself, and enjoy your time with them.
Adapted from Debt-Proof Your Christmas: Celebrating the Holidays without Breaking the Bank, copyright 2012 by Mary Hunt. Published by Revell Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Mich., www.revellbooks.com.
Mary Hunt is an award-winning and bestselling author, syndicated columnist and sought-after motivational speaker who created a global platform that is making strides to help men and women battle the epidemic impact of consumer debt. She is founder and publisher of the interactive website Debt-Proof Living, which features financial tools, resources, and information for her online members. Her books have sold more than a million copies and her daily newspaper column is nationally syndicated through Creators Syndicate, and is enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of Everyday Cheapskate readers. Hunt speaks widely on personal finance and has appeared on shows such as Good Morning America, Oprah, Dr. Phil, and Focus on the Family. She and her husband live in California.
Whitney Hopler is a freelance writer and editor who serves as both a Crosswalk.com contributing writer and the editor of About.com’s site on angels and miracles. Contact Whitney at: email@example.com to send in a true story of an angelic encounter or a miraculous experience like an answered prayer.
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Mary Hunt's new book, Debt-Proof Your Christmas: Celebrating the Holidays without Breaking the Bank (Baker, 2012).