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.