Avoiding Christmas Debt

It’s August, so why in world are we talking about Christmas?

Too many Americans whip out the plastic for Christmas spending and use credit cards to finance Christmas costs. The average consumer ends up with more than $1,000 of Christmas related debt on their credit cards each year. Last Christmas, 14 million Americans were still paying off holiday debt from the previous Christmas.  

More than 25% of all consumers said it took them until October the following year to pay off credit cards from their holiday spending. That’s 10 months of interest payments on top of whatever you spent on Christmas. If the interest rate on your credit card is 18%, and it takes you 10 months to pay off the Christmas debt, that $1,000 Christmas debt cost you an additional $154.

The reason so many people get into debt for Christmas is simple—they haven’t planned ahead. Now is the time to establish a budget for how much you’re going spend for Christmas and start saving some money each month between now and Christmas. This exercise will put you in much better financial shape come January 2018.

You may be thinking that you can’t possibly save all the money you need for Christmas in 4 months. So, my question to you is “How can you possibly afford to pay for those Christmas costs PLUS INTEREST in the months following Christmas?”

Planning ahead not only helps you avoid the last minute rush to buy presents, it also eliminates all the stress of shopping with a deadline, which can get us out of the Christmas spirit. What is really important at Christmas is the gift of God made man, not all of the toys, games, clothes, and electronics we buy for each other.

In an effort to maintain peace in the family, many people spend more than they should, something that becomes painfully obvious when credit card statements arrive in January. Now is the time to have the discussion with other family members and friends about cutting back on Christmas spending. They will probably be as relieved as you are to simplify things. Instead of trying to buy gifts for the whole family, draw names and have each person buy a present for one other person.

Look at your checking account and your credit card statements and figure out how much you spent last year for Christmas. That info will help you determine a reasonable amount to set aside each month for holiday spending.

Be sure to include ALL costs. If you host a Christmas party, that needs to be in your calculation for savings. If the holiday dinner is at your house and you take care of all the food and beverages, that needs to be in your budget.  Or if you travel to be with family in a different state, the costs to cover the trip need to be included in your planning. If your family lives in a different location there are shipping costs to consider, along with the cost of gifts.

Where many people get into trouble is not matching the list of gift recipients to their budget. Once infused with the gift-giving spirit, you may be tempted to include every aunt, uncle, fifth cousin, neighbor, and friend on your list. Before that happens, limit the number of names by dividing the amount of money you can reasonably spend by the number of people on your list.

For example, if your budget is $400 for gifts, determine whether it’s better, to spend $100 a piece on four people or attempt to please 20 people by buying each one a $20 present. More often than not, this will help you pare down your list to your immediate family.

Let’s be realistic—many of the gifts we give are not used by the recipient. They are tossed aside, ignored, re-gifted, returned for something else or donated to a non-profit organization. So why spend your hard earned money on something a person won’t use and doesn’t appreciate?

Thoughtful spending also means keeping some sense of sanity in the gifts for the children in your family.  It’s easy to over buy and shower the kids with everything they think they want, but is that really a good lesson for them to learn?

We had a mom share with us their formula for Christmas gift giving. Each child gets 5 presents: something to wear; something to share; something to read; something they need and something they want. This family discovered the formula for keeping their Christmas spending in bounds with their budget. And along with that they set reasonable expectations for the kids. This is a much more reasonable plan that buying the ten things the kids just have to have.

When it comes to the children in your life, pay attention during the year to ideas for gifts. You may get some great ideas as you analyze what interests them without the pressure to buy the perfect gift at the last minute. We were on vacation last week with our son and his family and in talking to the teenagers, we got several good ideas for Christmas gifts based on those conversations. Keep your ears open to the interests and activities of the children and teens in your life so you can pick up gifts throughout the year.

By starting your holiday shopping early or, better yet, by keeping your eyes peeled for bargains year-round, you’re almost certain to find great gifts at steep discounts—from toys and games to clothing and electronics.


If you are a crafty person, make some of the gifts. It’s very personal and often more appreciated than a store bought item. Summer is also a good time to get the kids involved in crafts. Maybe the kids can decorate an inexpensive picture frame with seashells. Add a picture of the family at the beach and you have a unique personalized present that grandparents will love and treasure. And that handmade gift would communicate how much you care for them without costing much.

Now is the time to plan for saving and keeping some sense of financial sanity in Christmas spending. Otherwise, you are into the holiday season and it is too hard to change what you’ve always been doing

The most important thing you and I can do is to remember why we’re celebrating Christmas—the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ. In the busyness of the holiday season, it takes an intentional effort to focus on the true meaning of Christmas. It takes a purposeful effort to have a spirit that’s ready to worship the Christ of Christmas without getting caught up in all the Christmas hype our culture throws at us.

The important thing is to prayerfully make the commitment to avoid all debt this Christmas. When you are tempted to overspend, think of this verse from James 1:16-17: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers: all good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father.”

The only gift anyone really needs at Christmas is the Baby Jesus.

Christmas is Coming!

This year… Christmas will be in December!decoration-1934889_1280

That is really not news, but too often the Christmas season catches people unprepared financially. Consumer counseling agencies see a 25 percent increase in the number of people seeking help in January and February, mostly due to overspending during the holidays. In an effort to maintain peace in the family and goodwill toward themselves, many people spend more than they should every Christmas, something that becomes painfully obvious when credit card statements arrive in January.

The reason so many people get into debt for Christmas is simple—they haven’t planned ahead and they overspent. They haven’t saved or given thought to how they may be able to creatively reduce the cost of Christmas. Now is the time to establish a budget for how much you’re going spend for Christmas and start putting money aside. Even though we just finished the holiday season and Christmas is out of our minds right now, it’s the best time to start planning for Christmas 2017.

To determine a reasonable budget for Christmas 2017, look at your spending for Christmas 2016. While it is fresh in your mind, in your bank account, and on your credit card statements, calculate the total you spent on Christmas 2016.

Be sure to include everything. if you host a Christmas party, that needs to be included. If the Holiday dinner is at your house and you take care of all the food and beverages, that needs to be included. If you travel to be with family in a different state, travel costs need to be included, along with the cost of presents, decorations, and any other items you bought.

Starting now, there are 12 months to save up for Christmas, so divide your total spending for Christmas 2016 by 12 and that’s what you need to save each month to have a debt free Christmas in 2017.
Saving $25 per month gives you $300 at Christmas; $50 a month results in $600 at Christmas and $100 a month is $1,200 for Christmas spending. Saving something each month will help you avoid a holiday spending hangover. If you can’t afford to save something each month, what makes you think you can pay off the credit cards after Christmas?

Now is the time to have the discussion with other family members and friends about curbing Christmas spending – they will probably be as relieved as you are to simplify things. Suggest drawing names and having each person buy a gift for one other person. But do it now so nobody is surprised in December when you want to cut back on spending. Otherwise, you are into the holiday season and it is too hard to change what you’ve always been doing.

Once infused with the gift-giving spirit, we all may be tempted to include every aunt, uncle, fifth cousin, neighbor and friend on our Christmas list without being able to afford it. Even if you are financially well off, what about friends and family – are they able to keep up with the overspending most families do at Christmas?

Many stores liquidate merchandise at the end of each season so start your holiday shopping early and keep your eyes peeled for bargains year-round. If you shop sales throughout the year you’re almost certain to find great gifts at steep discounts – from toys and games to clothing and electronics.

One reason so many people bust their holiday budgets is waiting until the last minute when the pressure to buy is the highest. Pay attention during the year to ideas for gifts. You may get some great clues as you analyze what interests the people in your life without the pressure of trying to figure out the perfect gift.

If you are a crafty person, make some of the gifts. It’s very personal and often more appreciated than buying something at the store. A handmade gift communicates how much you care for them without costing much, and you have 11 ½ months to finish making the gifts.

Think of something unique and meaningful like a framed picture of the family you took during a special time. Try getting the kids involved in decorating the frame to make it more unusual.

Maybe you make baked goods for gifts. I realize there are no Christmas cookie bags and plastic containers in the stores now – so buy a red one at the Valentines Day or July 4th sales and make it Christmassy with ribbons and tissue paper.

For the non-financial aspects of the holiday, take a long hard look at Christmas 2016. What went well? What was a disaster? The key is to plan Christmas 2017 so you can do MORE of the fun things and LESS of the non-so-fun things.

Remember, Christmas is the time of year that we should be centered on celebrating the birth of Jesus. We encourage you to prayerfully make the commitment not to go one penny in debt this Christmas.

But this doesn’t just pertain to Christmas. Planning and budgeting for birthdays, anniversaries, and any other holiday that involves gifts or spending helps us stay out of debt.

James 1:16-17 reads, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers: all good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father.”

No matter how much we spend, or how many presents we buy, our gifts are only temporary and the only true gift comes from above.

Evelyn Bean

Christmas Isn’t Ever Over

advent-1897920_640It seems like we’ve been preparing for Christmas since Labor Day and on Sunday Christmas will be here.

Then it’s over.

By Monday, December 26th our secular world will have moved beyond Christmas to the next big shopping event—Valentines Day. Once December 26th arrives, there will be no more Christmas carols on the radio. Shortly thereafter, the Christmas trees will be dumped at the end of the driveway for trash pickup. All the ornaments and decorations will be packed away. The cookies will be nothing but crumbs and Christmas will be out of mind and out of sight for another 10 months.

However, when most people are finished, Catholics are just getting started with the Christmas season. For Catholics, the Christmas season begins at the vigil Mass on Christmas Eve and the season ends with the Baptism of our Lord (on January 10th in 2017).

What about us? When do we bring Christmas to an end? We are all very familiar with the saying “Keep Christ in Christmas” but do we also say “Keep Christ in February 23rd or May 15th or October 9th”? What do we do to keep Christ as the center of our lives beyond the Christmas season?

St. Augustine wrote that “our hearts are restless until they rest in him.” This year take a few minutes out of your Christmas celebrations to plan ways to keep Christ out of Christmas too! We need him every minute of every day, not just at Christmas time.

A great tradition to start with your family is to talk about the real end of the Christmas season on January 10th and tell the children about the baptism of Our Lord. This leads to discussions about their own baptism.

Tell them stories about their baptism. Did they cry or smile when the water was sprinkled on their head? What did they wear? If you have moved to a different location, which church did you attend when they were baptized? Who was the priest who baptized them? Which family members and friends joined with you to celebrate? What did the family do to celebrate?

Talk to your children about the saint’s name you chose for them. By choosing a saint’s name you asked a particular saint to assist you in bringing up the child and that saint became your child’s patron. Find ways to teach them about their patron saint.

You can remind them of their saint when we say the creed at Mass, acknowledging that we believe in the Communion of Saints. This means we are spiritually united with those who have died and are now in heaven. They can act as intercessors—they have the ability to assist us and pray for us—and they should be a role model for your child.

If your child also bears the name of a relative, you have another teaching tool. What do you remember about the relative? What good qualities did they have that you want your child to share? Are there any funny stories you remember about their namesake? If they have passed away they are also united with your child in the Communion of Saints.

During the year, you can return to the focus on baptism and faith by celebrating the anniversary of your child’s baptism. It can be something as simple as a cupcake with a candle. Or even lighting their baptism candle (if you know where it is) on the anniversary of their baptism. This is a very real way to help them bring their faith to life.

Children love hearing tales about when they were a baby and telling them about their own baptism is a great way to bring the Christmas season to a holy and meaningful end. It is also a simple way to keep the focus on faith throughout the year.

Another way to keep the faith in front of them is to say this simple prayer from St. Patrick each day. What a beautiful way to send them off for the day. Try learning one stanza at a time and recite it by alternating each line between parent and child:

Christ be beside me,
Christ be before me,
Christ be behind me,
King of my heart.

Christ be within me, 

Christ be below me, 

Christ be above me, 

never to part. 


Christ on my right hand, 

Christ on my left hand, 

Christ all around me, 

shield in the strife. 


Christ in my sleeping, 

Christ in my sitting, 

Christ in my rising, 

light of my life. 


Christ be in all hearts thinking about me; 

Christ be on all tongues telling of me; 

Christ be the vision in eyes that see me; 

in ears that hear me, Christ ever be.

Merry Christmas from Compass Catholic Ministries from now till January 10, 2017!

Evelyn Bean

The Perfect Christmas

smores-1582448_1280Many people approach Christmas as a day when everything has to be perfect. The house needs to be beautifully decorated with just the right trimmings. The ornaments on the tree have to be spaced and hung in exactly the right way. Dinner has to be a gourmet feast, and all the people you spend Christmas with need to get along and enjoy each other’s company.

In reality, the house will probably be in a state of disarray if you have children. The tree will have less than perfect decorations, especially if you are like us and cherish the baubles the kids have made which have so much meaning, but don’t necessarily look good together. The meal may or may not turn out perfectly and one of the kids (or adults) is sure to have a meltdown at some point during the day.

We all know we are merely human and will never achieve perfection yet we continue to seek it. One of the problems is the headlong rush into Christmas day, then suddenly it’s over. You can appreciate Christmas more by slowing down and savoring the day.

One of the ways we slow down is to use a very elaborate process for opening gifts. The children take the gifts from under the tree and pass them out to each individual. When everyone has their presents in a pile in front of them, we start with the youngest, who opens ONE present. When that one present is open, and everyone has oohhed and aahhed over it, the next oldest opens ONE present. We go through the family in rotation from youngest to oldest with each person opening ONE present when it’s their turn, till all presents are opened.

This slow process accomplishes several things, the best of which is that slowing down the gift opening on Christmas Day fosters an attitude of gratitude. Usually the kids get really interested in one of the presents before their next turn to open a gift, and they enjoy the gifts a lot more and they appreciate what they have, instead of moving quickly to the next one. We’ve even stopped opening presents for a few hours while the children play with their gifts. It eliminates the frantic ‘what’s next’ attitude when there is a big build up to Christmas presents, then and the presents take less than 5 minutes to tear open.

The other thing that happens is that the oldest people (usually parents and grandparents) generally have the fewest gifts and drop out of the present opening rotation earliest. This situation results in the kids noticing that mom or grandma got fewer gifts, so you have lots of opportunities for talking about what’s really important as far as gift giving and appreciating what you get whether it’s a lot or a little.

Giving children an opportunity to be grateful trains them in the verse from 1 Thessalonians 5:18 “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”
Here are some other ideas for family traditions which will bring everyone together for fun:

  • Build a fire and roast marshmallows or make s’mores.
  • Pick a favorite family game and have a tournament – Spoons; I doubt it; Monopoly; Uno, Go Fish, etc.
  • Look at pictures from past Christmases.
  • Donate your time on Christmas day to work at a soup kitchen as a family serving meals to the homeless.
  • Watch traditional family movies on Christmas Day – The Nativity Story; It’s a Wonderful Life; Santa Clause; Polar Express: A Christmas Story; The Year Without Santa Claus: Home Alone; Charlie Brown Christmas, etc.
  • Put together a Christmas jigsaw puzzle. Have it set up on a card table, so people can work on it sporadically throughout the day.
  • Read a Christmas story–maybe have different people read different part in voices appropriate to the character. Even the little ones can get involved is you have them say some key phrases during the story–it’s fun to make it up as you go along.
  • Take a hike. After Christmas dinner, get out and walk as a way to get some exercise and also use that excess energy the kids have from all the excitement.
  • Play flag football.
  • Everybody take a nap – even if it’s just snoozing by the fire staring at the tree lights.
  • Play in the snow; build a snowman; have a snowball fight; make snow angels.
  • Go to the beach–walk, take pictures, play outdoor games.
  • Make crafts–even Christmas decorations for next year.

By consciously making plans to slow down and enjoy the holidays. “Then you and your family… shall make merry over all these good things which the LORD, your God, has given you.Deuteronomy 26:11.

When you really think about it; what do want to accomplish during the Christmas season? Don’t you want to build memories you and your family can enjoy the rest of your life? Memories centered around celebrating the birth of Christ; memories centered around helping less fortunate; memories centered around enjoying one another.

This Christmas season, don’t let the world make you discontent with it’s focus on buying. Instead, learn to be content by developing traditions that are meaningful and special to your family but not expensive. Use the Christmas holidays to create and celebrate traditions with your loved ones so they will all have memories to last a life time.

No matter how messy the house is, how lopsided the tree is, whether the dinner is a feast or the mashed potatoes are lumpy and even if Uncle Fred and Aunt Myrtle are arguing again, Christ is still in your Christmas. And that’s all you really need to have a perfect Christmas!

Black Friday and The Light

black-1271449_1280On Thanksgiving, we express our gratitude for all the good things in America: “spacious skies, amber waves of grain, purple mountain majesties and brotherhood from sea to shining sea.” The last line of this beautiful song written by Katherine Lee Bates says, “Confirm thy soul in self-control….”

At midnight on Thanksgiving, we are faced with “Black Friday” which marks the beginning of six weeks of a general lack of self-control.

There are many reasons for the term “Black Friday” but in the world of retail sales, this particular day will make or break their financial year. A good day will put them in the “black.” A bad day will put them in the “red.”

Unfortunately for most American families, the very thing that puts retailers in the black puts us in the red. Too often experiences like Black Friday encourage us to buy based the pressure from society and we fall prey to overspending and going into debt for Christmas buying sprees.

We are over-run with a culture that pushes us into spending frenzies, and consumption in its highest form, which can press down upon us and darken our lives. We are constantly besieged to buy this or buy that in order to be successful, happy, or fulfilled. We focus on buying the latest fad for our kids, or they will be forever harmed, because everyone else is sure to have one under the Christmas tree!

Buying presents for Christmas is not necessarily bad and taking advantage of sales is a good thing, but like all good things, moderation is the key to success.

Answering the call of our culture, and getting caught up in the unending busyness, we can become immersed in blackness as the demands of the season press upon us. We are hurrying, but going nowhere. We are busy but not productive. There is no sense of peace and calm and joyful hope as we anticipate the birth of the Christ Child.

This year the first Sunday of Advent is the first Sunday after Black Friday. Our frenzied buying spree collides with our Advent preparation to celebrate the birth of Jesus, who was born in a manger, worked as a carpenter, walked everywhere he went, focused on the plight of the poor and lame, and was crucified for his beliefs. What would a modern day Jesus think about all of the frenzy that accompanies the celebration of his birth or the debt that is created by our overindulgence?

Nowhere in our culture do we hear about Advent, and preparing ourselves spiritually for the arrival of the Infant Christ Child.

In order to appreciate the beauty and meaning of the advent season, let’s redefine the term “Black Friday” this year, and use it as a metaphor for the journey of our Advent preparations.

One of the definitions of the word “black” is “an absence of light.”

During Advent we await the birth of the Light of the World, so we are indeed in darkness, living in a world that seems very black because the light has not yet arrived. Yet, in 1 Thessalonians 5:5, we are reminded that the light is within us. “For all of you are children of the light and children of the day. We are not of the night or of darkness.”

Even in the hurry and stress of Christmas preparations, we can shine the light of Christ into the darkness of our consumer culture.

Our Advent preparations can include giving to those in need, consciously and prayerfully. Proverbs 21:13 tells us: “He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will himself also call and not be heard.” Make opportunities for the children in your family to hear the cry of the poor. Give your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or godchildren a list of adult approved charities and a dollar amount for each child to donate.

Then let them investigate the charities, weigh the relative benefits and decide which charity gets the money. Help them pray for wisdom and discernment in their decision-making. This teaches them to see there are many less fortunate people and encourages them to grow into generous givers. The important thing is to plan now so it becomes part of your Advent journey and an activity you can share with the children in your life.

Bring some light into Advent by simplifying and stop buying endless presents for friends, long lost relatives and other ‘obligatory’ people on your list. The recipients will probably be as relieved as you are. In Acts 8:20 “…Peter said to him, “May your money perish with you, because you thought that you could buy the gift of God with money.” No money can buy us the joys of family, friendship, and love. Find ways to celebrate with friends and family in a meaningful manner that does not include buying more stuff that nobody enjoys, wants or uses.

Use your Advent candles as way to anticipate the light and “wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” Pray each evening as you light the Advent candles and ask for peace, serenity and harmony.
Black Friday can be turned into the first step of a continuum to experience the darkness lifting as we get nearer and nearer to the joy of Jesus’ birth.

The Advent season can be one hectic rush into what is supposed to be one perfect day, or it can be a time to spread light into an ever darkening world.

Worldly wealth is only important if it is used for eternal purposes. Reflect on this verse about the unfaithful steward from Luke 16:11, “If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest [worldly] wealth, who will trust you with true wealth [an eternal life with our Lord]?”

Advent can be a time of hectic buying sprees or a time to prayerfully and consciously wait for the arrival of the Baby in the manger.

After all, what does that hectic 24-hour day of shopping have to do with the Christ Child? Nothing – absolutely nothing.

Ho, Ho, Ho not Owe, Owe, Owe for Christmas

christmas-1786558_1280The number one worry people have during the Christmas holidays is debt! Christmas is more than a month away and if you are not prepared financially by now, you are already in trouble. The average consumer ends up with more than $1,000 of Christmas related debt on their credit cards. And during Christmas 2015, 14 million Americans were still paying off holiday debt from Christmas 2014.

That’s not what the Lord has in mind for you as you celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

So what should we do to maintain sanity with our finances during the hectic buying season of Christmas?

First of all, establish a budget for how much you have available to spend for Christmas. Note the budget is based on how much you are able to spend. It is not based on how many people you need to buy for or how much you want to spend on each person. It’s based on how much you are able to spend for everything related to Christmas—gifts, travel, meals, decorations, etc. Not having a Christmas budget is a sure way to dig yourself into debt this Christmas season.

When you have your budget, write down everyone on your gift list plus all the other Christmas expenses you’ll have. Then take the total amount of your budget set aside the non-gift portion and divide the gift portion by the number of people you have to buy gifts for. This gives you a target amount to spend for each person and allocates some of your budget to non-gift items. If you are like most people, you’ll have more gifts to buy than money available to pay for them.

If this happens to you, try looking at other areas in your overall budget where you can cut back. Maybe you can dine out less, brown bag lunches or carpool to reallocate money toward Christmas giving.

If there is no wiggle room in the budget, it’s time to cut down on the number of gifts you’re going to give or the amount you intend to spend per person. Have a discussion with other family members and friends about cutting back Christmas spending – they will probably be as relieved as you are to simplify things, to reduce costs as well as the stress of trying to buy that perfect something for each and every family member.

A good way to cut out the insanity of overspending in a large family is to draw names and have each person buy a gift for one other person within a set dollar amount. This helps avoid the tree-to-trash route that so many obligatory gifts follow when they are given as a requirement. If you are giving gifts because you have to, then the whole point of gift giving has been missed.

Be creative in your thinking. Store bought token gifts are often relegated to the junk pile soon after they are opened. A teacher may prefer a hand drawn picture from a child with a heartfelt thank you note from the parents rather than one more “Best Teacher” mug or bag of candy.

If you are a crafty person, make some of the gifts. The handmade gifts are much more personal and more appreciated than buying something at the store just for the sake of giving something. When we lived in Raleigh, one of our neighbors made a Christmas Tree coffee cake each year for our Christmas breakfast and it was one of our favorite gifts.

Is there a gift you can make for a family member that would communicate how much you care for them without costing much? Gifts can be something as simple as a framed picture of the family you took during a special time. An expensive gift isn’t the only way to show how much you love someone.

The hardest thing to tell people at this time of year is “We can’t afford to…” But once you say it, there is a great sense of freedom and you will feel like there is a 200-pound weight lifted off your shoulders. Consider what is more important to you, getting into debt to buy obligatory gifts or the financial security of your immediate family?

Budgeting is incredibly important, but like many things that are vital to our well-being, it is not a fun thing to do and it is certainly not comfortable to admit to family and friends that you will be cutting back on your gift giving. But it is certainly much better than facing a mountain of debt in January.

As a family focus on the real reason for the season—to celebrate the birth of our Savior. This year, make a commitment to focus on the spiritual side of Christmas and focus your thoughts and hearts on the coming birth of Jesus.

Prayerfully consider how you can bring both financial and spiritual sanity back into this consumer frenzy and make the commitment not to go into one penny of debt this Christmas.

This verse from James 1:16-17 best describes the attitude we should have at this time of year, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers: all good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father.”

Christmas is Just Around the Corner!

Lots of people are at the beach this week, air conditioners are blasting and July is a great month for ice cream, snow cones, bathing suits and sun screen, but it’s also a great time to consider Christmas!  

The fact that Christmas will be in December is not news to anyone reading this, but we often act as though we don’t know when Christmas will arrive, because time and again the Christmas season catches us financially unprepared.  

As you probably know all too well, the holiday season can be a major financial event each year. Many Americans tend not to think about Christmas until November or even December.  And the result is that we whip out the plastic to pay for Christmas. The average American pays off their Christmas credit card bill in October.  The average consumer ends up with more than $1,000 of Christmas related debt on their credit cards and last Christmas, 14 million Americans were still paying off holiday debt from the previous Christmas.  

Think about it—should we celebrate the birth of Jesus by taking on more debt?

What is really important at Christmas is the gift of God made man, not all of the toys, clothes, electronics and stuff nobody uses that we buy for each other. In 2 Corinthians 9:15, we read of the only important Christmas gift, Jesus, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

We are talking about Christmas in July to help you plan ahead financially so you can use the Advent season to concentrate on what is really important this Christmas. Hopefully this will mean that the weeks leading up to December 25th are a prayerful and serene preparation for the Lord’s birth instead of one mad dash from store to store to buy stuff nobody needs.

The best time to start planning for Christmas is January 1st.  If you decide then how much you are going to spend on Christmas, you can save 1/12th of that amount every month and break the habit of using debt to pay for Christmas. If you did not start saving for Christmas in January, you still have 5 months to build a Christmas nest egg. You may be thinking that it’s impossible for you to save any money between now and December, but if you can’t afford to save now in order to pay cash for Christmas, why do you think you’ll have enough money to pay the credit card bills after Christmas?

To determine a reasonable amount to set aside each month for holiday spending, look at your previous year’s checking account and credit card statements to see what you spent last year.  Be sure to include ALL costs – if you host a Christmas party, that needs to be in your calculation for savings. If the Holiday dinner is at your house and you take care of all the food and beverages, that needs to be in your budget. Or if you travel to be with family in a different state that needs to be in your calculations

Look at the list of people who received gifts from you. Next, factor in the average price of gifts. Then determine whether it’s better, for example, to spend $100 a piece on eight recipients or attempt to please 40 people by buying each a $20 present.  More often than not, this will help you pare down your list to just your closest friends and relatives.

Many times in an effort to maintain peace many people spend more than they should, and no one wants to take the lead in the family about putting a level of sanity on gift giving. Now is the time to have the discussion with other family members and friends about cutting back on Christmas spending. They will probably be as relieved as you are to simplify things. Maybe instead of trying to buy gifts for the whole family, decide to draw names and each person buys for one other person. Or drop the older kids (18 and up) from the gift giving and cut out all the adult gifts.

Now is the time to discuss changes in gift giving–otherwise you are into the holiday season and it is too hard to change what you’ve always been doing. In the relaxed atmosphere of the summer vacation time, you may want to initiate discussions with family and friends about special memories of Christmas past so you can do more of those things this Christmas and cut back on the non-essential gift giving.

Once you have a clear idea of who you are buying for and how much you are spending on each gift, start your holiday shopping early. Keep your eyes peeled for bargains year-round and you’ll almost certainly find great gifts at steep discounts – from toys and games to clothing and electronics.


Also pay attention during the year to ideas for gifts.  People who wait until the last minute are usually so focused on simply finding something that they buy whatever comes to mind without much thought or analysis. You may get some great ideas as you analyze what interests the people in your life without the pressure to figure out the perfect gift. By listening and observing, it will be much easier to find the perfect gift.

If you are a crafty person, make some of the gifts. It’s very personal and often more appreciated than buying something at the store. And that handmade gift would communicate how much you care for them without costing much. Gifts can be something as simple as a framed picture of the family you took during a special time.

By preparing for Christmas proactively, your December can be a time to focus on the spiritual side of Christmas this year. The important thing is to prayerfully make the commitment not to go one penny in debt this Christmas.

From James 1:16-17: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers: all good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father.”

The only gift anyone really needs at Christmas is the Baby Jesus.
Evelyn Bean

Ideas for a Simple Christmas

Christmas can be a peaceful time to make memories and share love or a time of unbridled consumerism.  Here are some ideas to help you keep things simple this year.

Evelyn Bean

Care Package – create a gift that take more time and effort than money and make it special to each person:

  • Notice the kinds of things your spouse or friend likes (special coffee, tea chocolates or snacks and pack them into a basket or gift bag.)
  • Take dinner to someone—cook it, take it over, join them for dinner and clean up the kitchen afterwards.  Give them a night off along with the benefit of friendship.
  • Rent a DVD, pop some popcorn and snacks and reserve a night to be company for friends, or family.
  • Give the children in your life a certificate to spend a day or weekend with each of them individually doing something that is unique or special to their unique interests.
  • Create a “craft kit” with crayons, markers, glitter, glue, staples, stickers…popsicle sticks and anything else that would be fun.

Regift – while ‘regifting’ is sometimes thought to be the cheap way out, done properly, it can be a blessing to the recipients.

  • Try the attic, basement and hidden corners of your home for heirlooms or things with sentimental value that could be passed on to your children or other family members.
  • Create a “dress up box” with cast off clothes, old gowns, costumes from past Hallloweens, flannel shirts, cowboy hats an anything else to help young children create a fantasy world of make believe.  If you don’t have these items around the house, go to places that sell used items like Goodwill.
  • For those of you with adult children, wrap up their rock collections, stamp collections, dolls, baseball cards and sports trophies and take a trip down memory lane on Christmas day when they open these special gifts from their childhood.
  • For a gift exchange with friends, set up a rule to exchange something you already own that has been a blessing to you.  When you exchange gifts, tell them how the item has blessed you, and why you decided to give it to them

Audio Messages – A recording in what ever format is a gift than can be enjoyed over and over again.

  • Make a mix of favorite music on a CD.  The music you pick should be meaningful to your relationship with the other person so they’ll think of you when they listen to it.
  • Read a selection of the child’s favorite books and record it on a CD or MP3 file. The child can listen to your voice over and over again.

Coupons for Services – Give the gift of time when you offer your services via a special coupon designed specifically for that person.

  • Give elderly relatives an invitation to your home for dinner once a month to offer them a change of routine.
  • Offer a house cleaning coupon to include dusting, mopping, and vacuuming to a new parent or elderly friend.
  • If you know the recipient has a need, create a coupon for things like painting a room, fixing the fence, planting a garden, or whatever they need to have done.

Create Memories – Everyone (young or old) seems to enjoy looking back at pictures of the past and remembering.

  • Make a memory by pulling together photos of a child as they grew up or a special family vacation or a collage of photos from Christmases past.
  • Create a memory jar by writing down favorite memories of the person receiving the gift.  Use small pieces of paper and put them in a decorated jar with instructions to open one memory every month, week or day or on some special dates throughout the year, depending on how many memories there are.
  • Select a single word that honors who they are and what they mean to you. Give them a letter telling them why you chose that special word to describe them.
  • Get photos of you and the person you’re giving the gift to, and make a personalized calendar.  Add in upcoming events and special family dates such as birthdays and anniversaries.

Food – We all have to eat, so food is always an enjoyable gift choice.

  • Make a big pot of soup and buy a good loaf of bread and deliver it. This is especially appreciated if it’s delivered when the person is frantic with holiday preparations or if they have guests.
  • Make batches of of frozen soups or casseroles, which are sized appropriately for the recipient – family size or single serving.  They can defrost and cook them for a quick meal.

Appreciate the Gifts as they are opened:

Take the focus off the gifts and concentrate on the meaning behind the gifts. Slowing down the gift opening on Christmas Day can foster an attitude of gratitude. We use a very elaborate present opening process: The children pass out the gifts to everyone. When everyone has their presents in a pile in front of them, we start with the youngest, who opens ONE present, when that one present is open, and everyone has oohhed and aahhed over it, the next oldest opens ONE present. We go through the family in rotation from youngest to oldest with each person opening ONE present when it’s their turn, till all presents are opened.

This slow process accomplishes several things. First it eliminates the ‘what’s next’ attitude when there is a big build up to Christmas presents, then and the presents take less than 5 minutes to open in a frenzy of greed.

Usually the kids get really interested in one of the presents before their next turn to open a gift, and they enjoy the gifts a lot more and they appreciate what they have instead of moving quickly to the next present.  We’ve even stopped opening presents for a few hours while they played with their gifts.

The other thing that happens is that the oldest people (usually parents and grandparents) generally have the fewest gifts and drop out of the present opening rotation earliest. This situation results in the kids being worried about how few presents mom or grandad got, so you have lots of opportunities for talking about what’s really important as far as gift giving and appreciating what they got no matter how few gifts it may be.

When you really think about it; what do want to accomplish during the Christmas season? Is it fostering an attitude of consumption or memories you can enjoy the rest of your life? Memories centered around celebrating the birth of Christ; and memories centered around helping less fortunate; and memories centered around enjoying one another.

This Christmas season, don’t let the world make you discontent with it’s focus on buying. Instead, find ways to simplify your celebration and focus on what is really important.

If you happen to find yourself shopping on Amazon.com to implement one of our ideas, please be sure to use our link. 0.5% of the price of your eligible AmazonSmile purchase will help Catholic Compass’ vision.

Christmas in July

We just celebrated July 4th and lots of people are at the beach this week, air conditioners are blasting and July is a great month for ice crème and snow cones and bathing suits, and thinking about Christmas!
It’s the middle of the summer, so why in the world are we talking about Christmas? Because, guess what, this year… Christmas will be in December! Many Americans tend not to think about Christmas until November or even December. Too often, we act as though we don’t know when Christmas will arrive and the Christmas season often catches us financially unprepared.

For most families, the holiday season can be a major financial drain each year. Many people don’t budget or plan for holiday spending throughout the year. The result is that Americans wind up whipping out the plastic to pay for Christmas. The average credit card bill for Christmas is finally paid off in October—it takes 10 months to pay off Christmas charges, and the cards get paid just in time to run up the next years Christmas bills.

Do you think that taking on debt and financial stress pleases the Lord as we celebrate the birth of Jesus? That’s why we’re talking about Christmas July, because we NEED to plan ahead. We are now 6 months into the year and you still have 6 months to build a strategy to stay out of Christmas debt. Here are some ideas:

  1. Set a budget NOW
    In an effort to maintain peace in the family, many people spend more than they should. To avoid a holiday spending hangover, set a realistic budget for presents and stick to it. Agree on spending caps with the people on your list and if finances are tight, cut down on the number of gifts you’re giving until your finances are in better shape. Now is the time to have the discussion with other family members and friends about cutting back on Christmas spending – they will probably be as relieved as you are to simplify things. Maybe instead of trying to buy gifts for the whole family decide to draw names and each person buys for one other person.
  2. Match the list of gift recipients to your budget
    Once infused with the gift-giving spirit, you may be tempted to include every aunt, uncle, fifth cousin, neighbor and friend on your list. Before that happens, factor in the average price of gifts. Then determine whether it’s better, for example, to spend $100 a piece on eight recipients or attempt to please 100 people by buying each an $8 present. More often than not, this will help you pare down your list to just your closest friends and family members.
  3. Shop at clearance sales year-round
    By starting your holiday shopping early or, better yet, by keeping your eyes peeled for bargains year-round, you’re almost certain to find great gifts at steep discounts – from toys and games to clothing and electronics.
  4. Do your due diligence
    One reason so many people bust their holiday budgets is lack of research. People who wait until the last minute are usually so focused on simply finding a gift that they buy whatever they find first, without checking to see if other retailers have the same merchandise for less. Devote some time to researching your gift list—online, in catalogs, newspaper ads and circulars—so you don’t end up experiencing buyer’s remorse within days (or minutes) of leaving the store.

    Also pay attention during the year to get some great ideas as you analyze what interests the people in your life without the pressure to figure out the perfect gift.

  5. Be creative
    If you are a crafty person—make some of the gifts. It’s very personal and often more appreciated than buying something at the store and that handmade gift would communicate how much you care for them without costing much. Gifts can be something as simple as a picture of the family you took during a special time.
    Maybe you love to bake so this is the time of year to buy the boxes and bags to use for your baked goods gifts. I realize there are no Christmas cookie bags and plastic containers in the stores now – so buy a red one for the 4th of July and make it Christmassy with ribbons and tissue paper.

In the relaxed atmosphere of the summer time, you may want to initiate discussions about special memories of past Christmases. Once you know what special memories your family has, you can make plans to do more of those things this Christmas.

The main thing is to prayerfully make the commitment not to go into one penny of debt this Christmas.
James 1:16-17 tells us: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers: all good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father.” No matter how hard we try and how much money we spend in all of mankind there has only been one perfect gift.

What is really important at Christmas is the gift of God made man, not all of the toys and clothes and electronics we buy for each other. The only gift anyone really needs at Christmas is the Baby Jesus.

The Reason for the Season

content ball

This time of year evokes sentiments of gratitude and joy for everything and everyone that has blessed us. The Advent Season allows us to pause and reflect on all the events leading up to our Savior’s birth as well as the people who were involved over the course of hundreds of years who were instrumental to God’s Plan. If your family has ever participated in the tradition of the Jesse Tree, you know that the ornaments hung each night tell the story of different events and individuals, ultimately leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ. As the stories unfold, we are able to follow historically how, after the fall of Adam and Eve, God intended to bring a Savior to his people.

Similarly, we take certain events in our lives step by step as if each individual story feeds into some pinnacle event. Usually it looks something like going through school, getting a job, discerning a vocation such as religious life or marriage, having children, and so on. It would be nice if our lives could be as predictable as that, but sometimes life throws us a curveball or two and our story changes course unexpectedly.

Maybe we land that first job and things are going well. We anticipate that promotions and raises will happen year after year provided that we continue to perform at our best. With everything moving along according to our plans, it is easy to become comfortable in our lifestyle and maybe even push the envelope from time to time by charging a few things here and there because the next raise ought to cover it.

However, sometimes our plans don’t roll out the way we think they will and we find ourselves struggling to make ends meet. Despite our best efforts, sometimes the raise doesn’t come or the promotion is given to someone else even though we have been encouraged to believe we would be the best candidate. Sometimes hindsight will give us the explanation we couldn’t come up with in the moment, but usually wisdom only comes over time through various experiences. But, it is in those difficult times when we have to remember that life is a series of seasons—some according our our plan and some not. Granted, it is very difficult to evaluate our circumstances while we’re in the midst of these struggles.

Which is why, in those difficult moments, we can look to the Bible and take comfort in knowing that God has a plan for us, just as He had a plan for the birth of our Lord which took many years to unfold. While his plans for us won’t span hundreds of years (even though it might feel that way at times), we need to remember that he loves us and is prepared to help us in whatever season we find ourselves. When we rely on him, we have the peace and joy to tackle anything that life throws our way because ultimately we are exactly where God intends for us to be.

“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope. When you call me, and come and pray to me, I will listen to you.” Jeremiah 29:11-12