How to Celebrate Christmas without Debt and Stress
- Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Mary Hunt's new book, Debt-Proof Your Christmas: Celebrating the Holidays without Breaking the Bank (Baker, 2012).
God intends for Christmas to be a time of rest, reflection, and joy as you celebrate His Son, Jesus, coming to Earth. Yet, too often, Christmas ends up being the most stressful time of year, filled with unrelenting pressure to spend more than you can afford and to do more than you have time for in your schedule.
Giving into the pressure yet again this year will only leave you with burdens: debt that lasts far longer than the stuff you purchased, and regret that you didn’t enjoy the peaceful Christmas that God wanted you to enjoy.
This year you can celebrate Christmas without overextending yourself. Here’s how:
Shape your attitude. Although the Christmas season can be so stressful that it makes you feel out of control, the truth is that you always have the power to control how you spend the Christmas season – you can do so by choosing your attitude. If you choose an attitude of being determined to enjoy Christmas while also refusing to spend money you don’t have to pay for it, you can reach your goal of celebrating Christmas without debt and stress. Keep in mind that there are two distinct aspects of Christmas: the emotional side, and the financial side. If you decide to keep the two aspects separate (rather than mixing them together, thinking that you have to spend lots of money in order to feel satisfied at Christmas), you’ll be free to create a reasonable Christmas plan and stick to it.
Develop a plan. Write a plan for your family’s Christmas this year, starting with a purpose statement describing what you all would like Christmas to be like this year and why. Consider how to best express your family’s values through the ways you celebrate Christmas, and plan to invest your time and money into activities that will reflect those values. Study your budget and a calendar to look realistically at the amount of money and time you’ll have available this upcoming Christmas season, and decide to make your plans within those limits so you can truly enjoy Christmas without worrying about overextending yourself. Aim for at least these basic elements of a successful Christmas: a relaxed and loving time to worship Jesus and spend time with family and friends, realistic expectations about gifts, an evenly paced Christmas season schedule, and reliable family traditions.
Use cash. Decide to use only or mostly cash to pay for your Christmas expenses. If you do decide to use a credit card, do so only to shop online, where it’s dangerous to use a debit card (debit cards don’t provide fraud protection like credit cards do). Make sure that you pay off any credit card purchases in full so you won’t incur any interest charges. Set aside cash for shopping in stores by: determining who you’ll be buying gifts for this year and how much you want to spend on each person, labeling an envelope with each person’s name and inserting the right amount of cash in each envelope, and placing the envelopes in a safe place so you can access them when you go shopping. If you don’t currently have all the cash you want to have for Christmas, think creatively about how you can earn extra cash before Christmas arrives, such as by working odd jobs or temporarily cutting back on expenses such as eating out.
Deal wisely with holiday dilemmas for big groups. It can be awkward trying to figure out how to deal with gift exchanges within big groups, such as extended families and office coworkers. One solution that can work well is to ask each person in the group to write a wish list describing some kinds of gifts that he or she would truly enjoy within a certain price limit. Then, rather than simply drawing names, draw wish lists. That way everyone can give meaningful gifts and receive something they’ll really like, while also keeping costs down.
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