School just started a few weeks ago, and Christmas is probably not at the top of your priority list currently, but the best time to start planning for Christmas is now.
Bring unprepared can lead to stress and debt. Plus so many times we feel pressured to make Christmas perfect and we aren’t content till there is a mountain of toys for the kids and we have spent a ton of money buying gifts for every aunt, uncle, friend, neighbor and 5th cousin 10 times removed. Too often our buying and spending frenzy is driven by an effort to be content.
Did you know that contentment is mentioned in the Bible seven times and six times it has to do with money and possessions? Scientific evidence suggests that being content may have major benefits for your health. Contentment helps fight stress, boosts your immune system, protects your heart and reduces pain. What’s more, it may even increase your life expectancy.
Contentment is in pretty short supply in our culture because the advertising industry creates discontent, especially when there is a holiday where the advertisers can influence us to spend money and buy what they are selling.
If we believe the commercials, we have to buy things people don’t need in order to satisfy our gift giving obligation and in an effort to make them happy. And you and I know that Christmas can be one of the most frustrating times of the year when it comes to obligatory gift giving.
It doesn’t matter if we can afford to spend a lot of money, the problem is being obligated to do it, and not being content unless we are keeping up with everyone else. We live in a consumer society that operates on the assumptions that more is always better and happiness is based on acquiring more stuff.
That concept is especially true when it comes to the overload of spending many people do at Christmas. Paul wrote in Philippians 4:11-13 “I have learned to be content in whatever my circumstances. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”
Paul learned to be content, it’s not an instinct we’re born with; we must learn it. And the foundation of contentment is being grateful for what we do have. As Americans we live in one of the richest countries that ever existed. Even if you are barely making ends meet, you are still among the richest people on earth when compared to the standard of living in most other countries.
So if you struggle with being content, or if you are overwhelmed with Christmas obligations you would just as soon avoid, meditate on Phil 4:11-13. If your feeling of happiness, peace and joy comes with a price tag, you’ll never be content no matter how much you spend at Christmas. The poorest people can be content, while all the money in the world can’t buy contentment.
Take a long hard look at Christmas last year. What brought you the greatest joy and contentment and what added to your holiday stress? The key is to plan Christmas so you can do more of what went well and less of what was a disaster.
Maybe the kids really enjoyed going to midnight Mass, or maybe they were so tired and cranky that midnight Mass was a failure. Maybe traveling halfway around the country to visit grandparents was the best thing ever or maybe it was a disaster because the kids really missed being at home for Christmas. Maybe your Christmas spending was well planned and under control or maybe it was out of control and you ended up facing a ton of bills in January.
Now is the time to plan on doing more of what went well and figuring out how to avoid the disasters. 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. But do it now so nobody is surprised in December when you want to change what you have always done.
Even if you are financially well off, what about your friends, family and neighbors. Are they able to keep up with the overspending most families do at Christmas? Or are they pressured into spending money they don’t have in order to keep up with everyone around them?
If finances are tight, as a family decide to cut down on the number of gifts you’re giving until your finances are in better shape. This could be a tough call and you may have a lean Christmas in order to get ahead, but there will be no long-term harm if you spend less.
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. 2 Corinthians 9:15 (NABRE) “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”
The only gift anyone really needs at Christmas is the Baby Jesus.
So as you are thinking about and planning for Christmas, and as a way to focus on what is really important at Christmas time, try to make this Christmas a time to practice the virtue of contentment, and remember the verse from St. Paul … “For I have LEARNED to be content” … anyone can learn to be content and escape from the discontent the advertisers try to thrust upon us at Christmas.
Join us on the Manage Your Money God’s Way podcast for additional thoughts about how to be content this Christmas.