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.

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