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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.