Plan to Enjoy Christmas

In the busyness of the season, it takes an intentional effort to focus on the true meaning of Christmas, so we have some suggestions on how to keep Christ in Christmas and how to plan a Christmas Day the whole family will enjoy.

Even if your Advent has not been very spiritual to this point, start now by reading through the Advent story in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke. It is a beautiful story of trust in the Lord where we hear about two faithful women who were open to the miracles God gave them.

Two verses in this reading relate to the Hail Mary Prayer. In Luke 1:26-28 we hear the greeting from the Angel Gabriel to Mary, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” This is the first line we use when praying “Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with you.”

The next part of the story is when Mary visits Elizabeth and we hear the second part of the Hail Mary in Elizabeth’s greeting from Luke 1:41- 42, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

Through these two faithful women, we can see that God works miracles in situations which humans would think impossible. Elizabeth was considered too old to bear a child, Mary became pregnant, even though she was a virgin. Instead of worrying about all the things you have to do this week, think about the miracles God has worked in your life.

Unfortunately, many people have a hard time seeing those miracles, and for them, Christmas is a very difficult time of the year. Some have lost their spouse. Some have experienced life changes that have thrown their world off balance. And how many single parents need encouraging friendships and financial help? It’s easy for them to feel all alone and consider Christmas as a time to simply survive.

It is easy for us to exclude these people from our celebrations—just as Mary and Joseph were excluded from the inn when they sought shelter in Bethlehem. I challenge you to make room for the lonely, the outcast, and the widow by praying that the Lord will bring one needy person into your life this holiday—someone who has a need for fellowship or financial assistance or someone who needs to feel the love of Christ in a real way.

Carry a care package in your car with handouts for the homeless, including water, granola bars, canned meals, disposable cutlery, and small toiletries. This is a great way to help the homeless without giving them money.

If there are people in your church who need transportation to Christmas Mass, go out of your way to help them. It’s easy to get caught up in the activities of your own family, but what better way to teach children about the real meaning of Christmas than to show them what it means to be a Christian.

Invite someone who is alone to join your family for a Christmas meal. Your table may be full, but there is always room for one more.

Maybe you know someone who is homebound, or in a hospital or nursing home. Take time on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day to visit with them, take them food (allowable on their diet) and pray with them. Fill Christmas stockings with simple items they’ll use like hand-cream, postage stamps, pens, pencils, a small notebook, magazines, socks or simple Christmas decorations.

Extend your outreach to your own family by planning some low key activities for Christmas Day that the whole family will enjoy. One of the problems is the headlong rush into Christmas Day, then suddenly it’s over as soon as the presents are opened. Christmas will be more meaningful if you find ways for the family to slow down and savor the day.

A leisurely gift opening on Christmas Day can foster an attitude of gratitude instead of having everyone tear into presents in five minutes of total chaos.

In our family, when it’s time to open gifts, 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 opened, 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 eliminates the ‘what’s next’ attitude when there is a big build up to Christmas presents, and the presents take less than 5 minutes to unwrap. Usually, the kids get interested in one of their gifts before their next turn, which gives them time to enjoy their gifts and appreciate what they received.

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 dad or grandma got, so there are opportunities for talking about what’s really important as far as giving and receiving gifts

Another idea we’ve used to slow down the gift opening is to make a game of it. Hide the gifts and play “hot and cold” as the person gets near where their gift is hidden. Try writing a poem or playing 20 questions in order for them to guess their gift.  And the kids always love scavenger hunts where you hide clues around the house and send them scurrying around to find each clue which finally leads them to their gift.

Creating other family traditions will bring everyone together for fun and build memories that last a lifetime. Make a fire and roast marshmallows or make s’mores. Pick a favorite family game and have a tournament—Spoons; I doubt it; Monopoly; Uno, etc. Pull out pictures from Christmas past—especially pictures of the parents as kids or the children as babies.

Watch traditional family movies on Christmas Day—It’s a Wonderful Life; The Nativity Story, The Ultimate Gift, The Polar Express: A Christmas Carol.

Put together a jigsaw puzzle. Have it set up on a card table, so people can work on it sporadically throughout the day.

Read (or make up) a Christmas story—have different people read different parts in voices appropriate to the character.  Even the little ones can get involved if you have them say some key phrases during the story.

After Christmas dinner, go outside for a walk to get some exercise and use the excess energy the kids have from all the excitement. Play flag football. Play in the snow; build a snowman; have a snowball fight, make snow angels. Or if you are in a warm climate like we are, go to the beach and build sandcastles, play volleyball or simply walk and bask in God’s beautiful creation.

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? You want to build memories you can enjoy the rest of your life. Memories centered around celebrating the birth of Christ, helping the less fortunate, and enjoying family and friends.

This Christmas season, don’t let the world make you discontent with its focus on buying. Instead, learn to be content by developing traditions that are meaningful and fun but not expensive. Use the Christmas holidays to make memories that will last a lifetime.

And most importantly, keep Christ in your Christmas.

Join the Compass Catholic podcast on thoughts on how to make conscious plans for a Christmas day you will enjoy.

Christmas Got Hijacked

Christmas has been hijacked and has become a heavily marketed secular event in which the pressure to wow family and friends with presents, decorations, and Christmas dinner is enough to cause stress for weeks beforehand as you prepare. And there is an additional stress for months afterward as you deal with the credit card bills.

Unfortunately, a beautiful holiday to celebrate the birth of our Savior has turned into one big sales event for retailers.

“Christmas creep” is the continued push to move Christmas buying earlier and earlier each year. Last year, I shopped at one of our big box stores 2 weeks BEFORE Christmas and there were two shelves of Christmas items. However, in October, the whole front of the store was filled with things to buy for Christmas right beside all the ghoulish costumes, decorations, and candy for Halloween.

For many retail businesses, Christmas has turned into a season of “make-it-or-break-it” financially. As the retailers try to reach their bottom line, they push more and more marketing strategies to manipulate us and make us want to BUY in order to boost their profits.

Another marketing ploy over the last several years is making Christmas NOT Christmas. After generations of growing consumerism, the spiritual aspects of Christmas have become the target of people who are intent on stripping away all religious references and symbols in our society. Robbing Christmas of its true meaning gives more focus to the buying and commercial aspects of the holiday. In the retail world, the word “Christmas” is avoided because a secular view means a better bottom line in a religion-free marketplace.

The good news of the Savior’s birth gets buried under all the commercialism.

As Catholics, we need to maintain the ideals of what Christmas is all about—peace, goodwill, charity, and love. These ideals are the total opposites of the consumer frenzy that characterizes Christmas today.

Consider the tradition of gift-giving. What began in the fourth century as giving essential items such as food and clothing to the needy has become the exchange of non-essentials among the not-so-needy. We’ve gone from a way to help the helpless to a tit-for-tat gift exchange. What’s more, driven by escalating expectations, too many of us end up spending money we don’t have to buy people things they don’t need, don’t want and won’t use.

Not only is that a bad exercise in Christian stewardship, but it also fuels the materialistic push towards a Christ-less Christmas. That is not to say that Christians shouldn’t exchange gifts. It only means that the Christian ideal should be balanced toward true charity and that any gifts purchased should be well within the financial means of the giver.

Reclaiming a Christian vision extends to other Christmas traditions as well, and we can move toward a more spiritual sense of Christmas by appreciating the Christian tradition behind some of our Christmas symbols.

Light is the pre-eminent symbol of Christmas. The Light Who is Christ was foreshadowed by the Advent candles and is now symbolized by the Christ Candle that burns throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas. We use this symbol in the lights on our Christmas tree, and in the lights strung around the outside of our homes. (Don’t even get me started on the Christmas “light fights” where neighbors compete to have the gaudiest displays. Another perfect example of hijacking the true meaning of Christmas.)

In ancient Rome, laurel, was used in wreaths as a symbol of victory. Christians adopted the practice, using a wreath to represent the victory of the newborn King.

The candy cane legend started in the late 1800s when a candy maker in Indiana wanted to express the holy meaning of Christmas through a symbol made of candy. He took white peppermint sticks and bent them to suggest both the staff carried by the adoring shepherds and the letter “J” for Jesus.  He let the color white symbolize the purity and sinless nature of Jesus, and the color red is representative for the blood Christ shed for us.

Poinsettias are called the “Nativity Flower,” in Mexico. The shape of the leaves symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem. Their red color represents the Blood of Christ and the burning love of God.

There is so much about Christmas that has significant meaning in our faith. Yet we often take things for granted and follow along with our culture. We need to do all we can to fight the culture wars and keep Christ in Christmas.

In Joshua 24:15 we hear the following: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Don’t fall into the habit of calling Christmas the “winter holiday.” Teach your children the Christian meaning behind the Christmas symbols. Don’t spend more than you can afford in order to achieve a false sense of the Christmas spirit.

Do everything you can do to stay focused on the Baby in the manger—the true reason to celebrate Christmas!

Join the Compass Catholic podcast for more about reclaiming Christmas for Christ.

Eliminate Holiday Spending Stress

Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday have all come and gone and the Christmas buying season is upon us. Before emptying your wallet and racking up credit card debt, take some time to think through WHY it is so easy to overspend at Christmas by reading the stories below.

Maria is a divorced mother of two teens. She overspends on the holidays out of guilt, trying to make up for the emotional disruption in her children’s lives by showering them with gifts. She knows deep down that when the credit card bills arrive in January, she will experience terrible anxiety.

Christmas is all about kids, and it can be a magical time where we make lots of happy memories. However, teens aren’t clueless and they can and do understand that money is not an infinite resource. You are not a bad parent if you can’t buy every single thing your kid likes or sees or wants. More to the point, they won’t stop loving you if you fail to provide an avalanche of presents. Let’s admit it, NOT making kids happy is a deep, dark fear that drives a lot of unhealthy financial behavior at this time of year.

Even little ones know Santa only has so much room on his sleigh. If you’re secretly worried a child will reject you over gifts, remember that they want your love, approval, time, and undivided attention. And if you have taught them to value material possessions over these things, you may want to rethink what you are teaching them. Prioritize your budget to spend more on the children than the adults. But balance this against the knowledge that overspending in the short term can be bad for the whole family in the long term.

Let’s look at Tom and Sue who LOVE the holidays and do everything they can to make the season festive and fun. They use a budget during the year, but it gets tossed out the window at Christmas. They would never want to disappoint their twelve nieces and nephews, six siblings, parents, neighbors, friends and even casual acquaintances.  Every year, they overspend their budget in quest of the PERFECT Christmas. And every January, they pay the price in stress, finance charges, and post-holiday misery.

Our own lives can seem messy when we compare them to our friends and neighbors. Top that with multiple media images of perfect families with perfect homes and armfuls of gifts and you have the textbook recipe for a holiday inferiority complex. We are holding ourselves up for scrutiny against an airbrushed, photo-shopped version of other people. But what you see in the media isn’t REAL. For all you know, the neighbors you envy may be up to their eyeballs in debt and their over-decorated house of cards might come tumbling down at any minute.

Make a conscious effort to stop comparing yourself to others. Who cares what other people think? Take a few moments to write a list of the things you truly care about, that bring you real joy and happiness. Shifting your focus can help you to prioritize what is most important, and is most likely to bring you lasting happiness in a way that material goods cannot. You can’t buy a good Christmas, you can only make one.

Emma and Ben have enough money that overspending during the holidays is not a problem. But what really makes them crazy is to see the holiday focus on elaborate gifts while friends and family miss the real reason for the celebrations. They hate seeing gifts that are broken, discarded, or ignored as soon as the holiday has passed. They struggle with the feeling that their money is not being well spent.

This situation is often linked with having one or more demanding, unreasonable family members who are difficult to stand up to. Don’t be a martyr. You can’t actually make people like that happy, so quit trying. There’s no point exhausting yourself and your bank account. Re-think the situation: what’s affordable and comfortable for you?  State your intentions simply without apologizing, justifying or arguing.

For example, “We’re only buying presents for the kids this year.” Sure, it feels weird the first few times you try acting assertively around certain friends or relatives who aren’t used to it, but it gets easier over time.  You can do it without being nasty or looking like the bad guy. The world won’t end if you say ‘no’ every now and then.

Sam and Suzie would never dream of buying presents at the discount store or doing anything other than over the top gift giving, decorating, party throwing and meal planning. Because they DESERVE the BEST! But, every year they get stressed out and the holidays are less than joyful, especially as the credit card bills start piling up in their mailbox.

Christmas is not really about deserving anything, is it?  Either you can afford something or you can’t, however entitled you or anyone else might feel. Do the math. If you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it. There’s nothing wrong with buying the standard version of something, if that’s what your budget allows.

In mid-December, Josie heads to the store for Christmas gift shopping. She doesn’t have a list—only a vague idea of what to buy and who to buy for. She wanders around aimlessly picking up those gifts that seem like a good idea. But when she gets home the gifts are all wrong and she forgot half the things she wanted to buy in the first place.

One of the biggest risks to our budget is panic buying. Feeling rushed or overwhelmed leads us to make snap decisions. We take the easy way out rather than the smartest option, and it ends up costing far more than we’d planned.

To avoid being in debt for months and months during 2019, avoid panic buying. Take a deep breath, calm down, check your budget and develop a detailed list for each person. Then stick to the list! Keep yourself focused and the panicky feelings will be a lot easier to overcome.

The holidays are rapidly approaching, but there is still time to take these proactive steps to avoid finding yourself in a financially stressful situation come January. If you see yourself in one of these situations, rethink what Christmas is all about.

Once Christmas 2018 is finished, we highly suggest saving 1/12 of your Christmas budget each month. If you say you can’t afford to do that, what makes you think you can pay the credit card bills for Christmas 2018, PLUS interest.

After all, the buying frenzy that occurs every year at Christmas has absolutely nothing to do with the baby in the manger, the gift of God made man. The only one and true gift we need at Christmas.

Here’s wishing you an affordable Christmas, and a financially stable New Year.

Join the Compass Catholic podcast for more about eliminating holiday spending stress.

Don’t Go Into Debt for Christmas

Halloween is just finished and we are getting ready for Thanksgiving. Yet all the big box stores have been featuring twinkle lights and Christmas trees for weeks! 

We rush from one frantic buying season to another without even thinking about what the holiday is and why we should be celebrating. Unfortunately, this puts a lot of financial pressure on people to spend money they may not have.

Many parents are beginning to wonder how they’ll fund the Christmas holidays this year. According to CNN, two-thirds of America’s gift giving families spend more than they can afford, meaning many parents will go into debt to buy Christmas presents this year. They’ll use credit cards for Christmas spending, run up a big balance, and the Christmas bills will get paid off just about the same time the whole cycle restarts next year.

Other people will take more drastic measures to fund their Christmas purchases, such as 11% taking funds from their retirement account, 14% using their emergency fund, and 11% taking out a payday loan.

Christmas should be about creating memories, not about creating debt, stress or future financial problems. Christmas is a wonderful time of year, but it isn’t worth putting your long-term financial security at risk in order buy presents or to try and keep up with some false concept of what Christmas is all about.

It might seem harsh, but you don’t have to buy gifts for all your family, friends, neighbors, coworkers and acquaintances. Not everyone has the budget to give a beautifully wrapped gift to everyone in their life.

For many of us, being able to give amazing expensive gifts would be nice and we like to be generous, but the reality is that we simple can’t afford to be Santa to all the people in our lives during the holidays. Making everyone you love feel special at Christmas is awesome but it’s not worth sacrificing your financial future. Think about ways to create special fun times without going on a spending spree.

If you’re from a large family, suggest that you each pick a Secret Santa. That limits the gift buying to one person and makes it much less stressful and expensive.

Or try a white elephant gift exchange game where everyone just brings one wrapped gift, and there is usually a $$ limit on the gift. As people arrive, pile the gifts in one location and hand them a numbered slip of paper. When it’s time to open gifts, the person with #1 chooses a gift first. Person with #2 can either “steal” the gift from #1 or take a gift from the pile. Set up your own rules about how many times a gift can be taken and if gifts can only be taken once in a round.

This is a fun time, involves everyone, and is a simple way to give gifts to the family while also maintaining a dollar limit on your spending. In addition, it eliminates the financial stress of buying something special for each person in the family.

You can always make cookies for your neighbors or your children’s teachers or buy a $5 gift card to a local coffee shop. Attach a handwritten note saying how much you appreciate them and how they have touched your life. A personal message will mean more to people than an overpriced item they aren’t going to use. Try to think of all the ways that you can tell the people in your life that you appreciate them and be thoughtful without breaking the bank. The truth is that there are plenty of ways to spend less than you did last year on Christmas presents and still give the people in your life gifts that are both special and personal.

If you’re accustomed to shopping in person for your gifts every year, consider shopping online this time. The online experience can be much more peaceful and thoughtful than battling the crowds at the mall, or succumbing to the pressure to buy SOMETHING just to get out of the mall.

Don’t tie gifts to your worth as a parent. Kids don’t care whether or not their gifts are brand new. They don’t care that you spent hundreds of dollars to make sure they had the hottest gift of the year. We all know that if you put four massive cardboard boxes in your living room on Christmas morning your kids will have a ton of fun (unless they’re teenagers). So, try to relax. You’re not a bad parent if you limit your spending or buy your child a bike at a garage sale.

If you’re not sure how to rein yourself in when it comes to shopping for your kids, try using the Five Gift Rule:  1. Something they want; 2. Something they need; 3. Something to read; 4. Something to wear: 5. Something to share. It’s a great way to organize your gift giving without breaking your budget.

Kids remember Christmas because it’s a fun time of year. They remember it because they get to spend time with you, their parents. They get to eat cookies and sing fun Christmas carols. So, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. And don’t set unrealistic expectations for the kids where every gift-giving event is over the top. They aren’t going to count each gift and ask the price of everything under the tree. And if they are counting gifts and calculating how much you spent, what does that say about what you’re teaching them?

Going into debt for Christmas presents prevents you from reaching your long-term financial goals, like paying for your kids’ college tuition, paying off debt or funding your retirement. Every time you go into debt to buy a present, you’re choosing a physical object over your long-term financial security. 

Before you do any shopping, you should be able to answer these questions: What is your total Christmas budget, including gifts, food, decorations and travel? What is your Christmas budget for GIFTS this year?  How much do you plan to spend on each person? What gift will mean the most to each person?

Remember what Pope Francis has said about money: “If money and material things become the center of our lives, they seize us and make us slaves.” Don’t become a slave to our culture’s ideas of what Christmas should be!

Keep your eyes focused on Christ—the reason for this season—and not on what you feel forced to buy! Start planning now and don’t go into debt for Christmas.

The Compass Catholic Podcast has more about how to stay out of debt this Christmas.

The Christmas Bills Have Arrived – Now What?

“Black Friday” was in November of last year, but for many consumers, “Black January” occurs when the Christmas bills start piling up in January.

For many people, this might be the worst time of the financial year. Most people don’t budget for Christmas spending, but they spend a lot of money anyway! And if there is no money in your budget to cover Christmas spending, those credit cards get used.

If you are the typical American, instead of creating a financial plan in January to save for Christmas, you didn’t create any special savings to cover the cost of Christmas spending–gifts, travel, decorations, extra food, and drinks.

Now it’s time to figure out how to pay for all those presents and Christmas parties. Statistics show that the average family will be paying for Christmas 2017 all the way until October 2018.

If you are facing a ton of debt from Christmas spending, it’s time to go into crisis mode. All available cash should be funneled towards paying off the Christmas debt on your credit cards.

The best thing to do is to put your credit cards in your drawer and not use them again until your Christmas debt is paid in full, otherwise you are digging a debt hole you may be able to escape. Scour each and every spending category for ways to cut back. If you are saving for something special such as a vacation, put it on hold until those Christmas bills have been paid in full.

Calculate the total of your Christmas purchases on each of your credit cards. This will tell you how much you spent on Christmas for each card. On every card where there is Christmas spending, make the minimum payment plus as much extra as you can scrape up to pay against your Christmas purchases Do this for every card that you used for Christmas spending

If you have cards that you didn’t use for Christmas spending, but they still have balances—pay only the minimum payment until your Christmas debt is paid in full.

Christmas happens every year on December 25th, so why does it catch people unprepared financially every year?

There is a great verse from Luke 14:28-30 that goes like this: “Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’”

So we want you to plan ahead for the resources you need for Christmas. As soon as you have the debt from Christmas 2017 paid in full, figure out how many months are left until Christmas 2018. Then divide the amount you spend on Christmas by the number of months remaining.

When you begin to purchase presents for Christmas 2018, spend only as much as you have saved! If you were only able to save $500. That’s all you can spend. It may be a lean Christmas, but it will certainly help you get ahead financially.

Once you have paid for Christmas past and begun saving for Christmas future, in 2019, you can save each month to pay for Christmas and avoid the huge credit card bills in January.  

After you get a handle on Christmas debt, you can tackle the rest of your credit card debt. Begin by taking the money you were using to pay down the Christmas debt and apply it to the smallest credit card balance. Once that is paid off, tackle the next smallest balance.

This process will help you pay off old debt and avoid new debt.

Even ants know how to plan ahead. Listen to this verse from Proverbs 6:6-8: “Go to the ant, O sluggard, study her ways and learn wisdom; For though she has no chief, no commander or ruler, She procures her food in the summer, stores up her provisions in the harvest.”

If ants are smart enough to save ahead, aren’t we?

You may think you deserve to spend a lot of money on Christmas, or you may think that you need to buy everyone you know a nice present, but it’s more important to live within your means.

You can do it if you put your mind to it!

Do you have any creative ideas for Christmas savings?

Avoid Holiday Spending Stress

Following is loosely based on an article in USNews that was titled “7 Ways to Avoid Holiday Stress”

We are finished with Black Friday and the buying season is in full swing.

But you still have time to pull together a financial plan for the holidays that will keep your bank account in the black.

So take some time before your spending spree starts to go through the following steps and keep some sense of sanity in Christmas spending this year.

Check your credit score. 

  • That may seem like a weird way to start holiday shopping
  • But if you are already in trouble with our credit score, overspending on Christmas will make things even worse
  • So it is a good idea to check your credit score before you head our shopping
  • and that may be a wake-up call to help you put some sanity into your holiday spending
  • If you are motivated to maintain or improve your good credit score you will be less likely to
    • overspend,
    • rack up credit card purchases you can’t pay back
    • or open new lines of credit when you are presented with deals that are just too good to be true.
  • We recommend using as it is a free service and will help you stay on top of your credit through weekly emails and suggestions on how to improve your score.

Decide who and how much

  • You need to plan for who and how much
  • Are you only going to buy for your immediate family
  • ]or do you want to buy for the extended family plus a bunch of neighbors and friends
  • If you only have a few people you can spend more on each one
  • If you have a lot of people on your list then you need to concentrate on buying inexpensive presents that won’t break the budget
  • BUT the tendency to overspend may be hard to resist, if you have a huge list of people

Set your budget and divide that by the number of people on your list.

  • First step in to figure out your budget for holiday in total – including gifts, travel, meals, decorations and donations
  • Then assign an amount to each of those categories
  • And figure an amount you can spend per-person
  • The more organized you are and the more detailed you are, the less chance you will bust the budget
  • Define an exact dollar amount for each person on your shopping list.
  • Once you hit that dollar amount, stop shopping for that person.

Window shop

  • Scope out purchases in advance. 
  • Use online shopping carts or “wish lists” as a way to avoid impulse purchases.
  • Select things for your basket or “wish list,” then walk away until tomorrow
  • To entice you to complete your purchase, some retailers will email coupons to those who have left a full cart on the site, making a future purchase less expensive.
  • For people who shop in a real store, do the same thing by scouting out purchases
  • Leave your purse or wallet at home and visit the stores which are most likely to have the gifts you want to buy
  • Both of these methods also help consumers avoid the scenario in which they buy one gift and then later find something else they like better.

Pick one day to go shopping with a list. 

  • When it comes time to actually buy, try to pick one day to complete all your shopping.
  • Be sure you have a complete list of specific purchases for each person on your list
  • Without a list, it’s easy to get confused and overwhelmed
    • Without a list, everything in the store is fair game to buy
    • That may mean over buying for one person and completely forgetting another one

Plan your credit card usage. 

  • You may have a budget for the holidays that includes a spending plan for everything
  • But without cash in hand, you are going to use credit to for your purchases
  • And that can mean disaster come January when the bills start rolling in.
  • There’s nothing wrong with using credit cards for holiday shopping IF you have a budget and plan to pay them off at the end of the month.
  • If you are racking up credit card debt hoping you can pay it off sometime in 2018, you are asking for trouble.

Think of alternatives to store-bought gifts. 

  • One of the best ways to avoid being financially stressed during the holidays is to skip the expensive store-bought gifts altogether.
  • This approach has benefits beyond simply saving money.
  • Maybe you can make baked goods for some of the neighbors,
  • or maybe you can offer services such as mowing the lawn once a month for an elderly neighbor
  • For family members, how about a digital picture album of fun times you shared during the previous year

The holidays are closing in fast, but there is still time to take these proactive steps to avoid finding yourself in a financially stressful situation.

Once Christmas 2017 is finished, we highly suggest saving 1/12 of your Christmas budget each month.

If you say you can’t afford to do that, what makes you think you can PAY 1/12 of the charges you made for Christmas 2017, PLUS interest.

After all, the buying frenzy that occurs every year at Christmas has absolutely nothing to do with the baby in the manger

The gift of God made man

The only one and true gift we need at Christmas.

Don’t Go Into Debt for Christmas

This year, it seems like Christmas advertising started the day after the kids went back to school.  For months, stores have been featuring Christmas decorations, trees, wreaths, lights and ideas for presents.

As a society, we seem to skip from one shopping season to another with no regard to the holiday we are celebrating.  Other than the meaningless rush to buy stuff there seems to be no reason for the Christmas holiday. We don’t even think about what we are really celebrating and what the holiday is all about. Unfortunately, this materialistic mindset has many parents worrying about how they will pay for Christmas this year.

According to CNN, two-thirds of them will spend more than they can afford, meaning many parents will take drastic measures to afford Christmas. Many of them will use credit cards for Christmas presents and go into debt which will take months to pay off. Others will take more extreme measures to fund their purchases:  11% will dip into their retirement account, 14% will use funds from their emergency savings, and 11% will take out a payday loan.

Funding short term purchases with anything other than cash can have harmful effects for years to come.  Paying off credit card debt for months means paying 15%-21% more for those presents once the interest charges are factored in. Using money withdrawn from a retirement account means a penalty on early withdrawals, lost interest and tax consequences. Raiding emergency funds for Christmas presents makes people more vulnerable when an actual emergency does occur. And using a payday loan for anything is a horrible idea. You will be paying an exorbitant interest rate plus a finance charge.  For a two week loan, the interest rate on a PayDay loan can be as much as 400% APR. 

Christmas should be about celebrating the birth of Christ, creating memories, and enjoying friends and family, not about creating debt. Christmas is a wonderful time of year, but it should not come at the risk of your long-term finances stability.

So, as you are getting ready for Christmas, here are some tips to avoid going into debt for the holiday season.

Begin by matching your budget to your Christmas list. You may want to buy gifts for every one of your family members, all of your co-workers, the tradespeople you deal with on a regular basis, and every neighbor up and down the street.  But can you really afford to do that?

It might seem harsh, but you don’t have to buy gifts for everyone. You can always make cookies for your neighbors or your children’s teachers. Or give them a small token gift card with a sincere thank you note about how they have touched your life.

Most times, a simple thoughtful gift means more to people than one more overpriced trinket that they don’t want and won’t use. Try to think of all the ways that you can show the people in your life how much you appreciate them without going into one penny of debt.

For many of us, being able to give a beautifully wrapped expensive store bought gift would be a nice way to make the people we care about feel special. But the reality is that we simply can’t afford to be Santa to everyone in our lives during the holidays.

If you’re from a large family, suggest that you each pick a name and only buy something for that person. A white elephant gift exchange is another way to do something fun and inexpensive. Each person brings one wrapped gift to contribute. (Be sure to indicate some parameters such as a dollar limit for the gift.) Have the gifts in a pile with everyone seated around the pile. Assign an order in which the gifts will be chosen. You can draw numbers from a hat or assign an order based on age. The first person gets to choose a gift from the pile, open it and show it around. Each person follows one at a time and when it’s their turn, they can choose to either pick an unwrapped gift from the pile or steal an open gift from someone else. Anyone who gets their gift stolen can do the same–choose a new gift or steal from someone else. This usually results in both chaos and fun.

Another way to save money is to window shop before buying. Start with your list of recipients and a budget for each of them. If you are doing online shopping, save items to your wish list for a few days before buying. If you are shopping in a brick and mortar store, walk through the store without your wallet or purse to scope out what you may want to buy. This helps you see what’s available that may be an appropriate gift in a slow thoughtful way. After your window shopping expedition, make a specific list of what you are going to buy for whom and return to the store or website to complete your purchases. This method helps you comparison shop, keeps you from buying things you have to return, ensures you remember everything and everybody and puts some sanity into what can be a chaotic rush to buy something – anything!

If you’re not sure how to rein yourself in when it comes to shopping for your kids, try using the Five Gift Rule.

1. Something they want

2. Something they need

3. Something to read

4. Something to wear

5. Something to share

It’s a great way to organize your gift giving without breaking your budget.

And let’s face it, how many times do the young ones have more fun with the huge cardboard boxes than with the toys. And kids don’t care how much you spent or whether it is brand new or from the thrift store. They don’t even notice that you spent hundreds of dollars to make sure they had the hottest gift of the year.

Take the stress away. You’re not a bad parent if you don’t spend $500 on each child. You’re not a bad parent if you bought them a bike at a garage sale and fixed it up. Kids remember Christmas because it’s a fun time of year. They remember it because they get to spend time with you, their parents. They get to eat cookies and sing fun Christmas carols. They aren’t going to count each gift and ask the price of everything under the tree.

So, avoid the inevitable financial pressure that comes each year at this time. Remember, going into debt for Christmas presents prevents you from reaching your long-term financial goals, like paying for your kids’ college tuition or funding your own retirement.

Every time you go into debt to buy a present, you’re choosing a physical object over your long term financial security. Try some of the above tips to stay on track and on budget this holiday season. It will still be merry and bright; and your future self will absolutely thank you.

 And remember what Pope Francis has said about money, “If money and material things become the center of our lives, they seize us and make us slaves.” This Christmas, escape from the slavery of debt and consumerism. Keep your eyes focused on Christ—the reason for this season—and not on all the unnecessary stuff our society throws at us.

For more on this topic, connect with the Compass Catholic podcast on Podbean as we discuss how to keep some sanity in Christmas spending.

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