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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.”

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