'Tis the Season to Ruin Your Budget
- Steve Scalici, CFP(r) Treasure Coast Financial
- 2006 12 Dec
Be jolly? Not in America. Over 45 per cent of those who responded said that they dread the festive season.1 The top three reasons cited for this are:
- Christmas has become too commercial.
- A feeling that everyone is having a better time than you.
- Spending far too much money.
As much as I would like to play psychologist, I am not qualified to do so, so I will stick to the financial side of Christmas. As you can see above, two of the top three reasons we dread Christmas are related to financial issues: Christmas has become too commercial and we spend far too much money. How do we buck this trend? We must remember that Christmas is a celebration of Christ’s birth. That sounds simple, but it’s easy to get caught up in the commercialization of Christmas. In early October, I was in a store with my six year old daughter and she asked me why they already had Christmas decorations in the store. Even at six years old, she realizes the absurdity of this.
Of course, we give gifts in remembrance of God giving us His Son. There’s nothing wrong with giving gifts. It’s actually a nice thing to do. But, many of us get so caught up in the gift giving that it consumes us and causes us lots of anxiety when we spend too much money.
Have a plan
Good decisions begin with a plan. Unfortunately most people give out of compulsion rather than delight. That's why Christmas shopping can seem overwhelming. Planning your gift-giving will not only save you money, but can also help you to enjoy the true meaning of the season.
I don't know about you, but I am not a shopper. I go in, get what I want and get out. I am a retailer's worst nightmare. All those fancy signs they make to entice us to buy more stuff don't faze me at all. Yet, even if you love to shop, you ought to decide before you go to the store exactly who you are buying for, what you can spend on each person and, as best as you can, determine in advance what you want to buy for each person. Whatever you do, don't spend on the fly. Even if you do not know exactly what you are going to buy, know what you are going to spend.
Assign a dollar value for each person
It is important to have a firm overall budget. Decide how much you are going to spend in total this Christmas. If your overall budget is $500 do not spend $600 just because it does not max out your credit card. Also, do not try to spend equal amounts of money on each person. For example, if you spend $100 on one child and $150 on another, don't fret over it and feel like you have to buy something else for the first child to make them even. I know this sounds cliché, but it really is the thought that counts.
Shop throughout the year
About six years ago, we began buying our gifts throughout the year. My bride came up with the idea because our baby was due in November and she didn't think we would have time to shop after the baby came. Traditionally, we did all our shopping after Thanksgiving. But, that year we started shopping around June and we found that we had a lot less pressure, we were able to find better deals, and we bought gifts we knew our loved ones would like. Many have justified their procrastination by saying they work better under pressure. In reality, procrastination causes you to rush around at the last minute trying to make decisions. Solomon wrote: "The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty" (Proverbs 21:5 NIV). The sad truth is procrastination is simply the tendency to put off until tomorrow what you could be doing today.
Keep the main thing the main thing
Retailers have done a fabulous job of pushing their agenda to make us think we have to spend lots of money for Christmas. They entice us by opening their doors at 6 am the day after Thanksgiving. Give me a break! For the believer, Christmas should be about one thing, and that is celebrating the birth of Christ. I've heard all the arguments, "But my kid wants this" or "I have to get them this game." No you don't.
I think we have to keep the main thing, the main thing. Of course, the main thing about Christmas is Jesus Himself. When we get away from that focus, we get sucked into believing that we have to buy things to make Christmas successful. Nothing could be further from the truth. The things we buy are only temporary, while our Savior is eternal. Now, am I saying you shouldn't buy gifts? Not at all. I'm just saying that you need to be wise with your money. When you focus on the importance of what God did for us by sending His Son as the ultimate sacrifice, that should drive you to give. But, we should go beyond blessing our loved ones and reach out to those that are less fortunate. Christmas time is the best time of year to share Christ's love with others. But, at the end of the day, we need to realize that every day for Believers is Christmas. We should celebrate Christ's birth each and every day and work to get that message out on a regular basis, not just during Christmas.
Steve Scalici is the Vice President of Treasure Coast Financial, a financial planning firm in Stuart, FL. He is co-host of God's Money which can be heard weekdays at www.oneplace.com. He can also be reached at his website www.tcfin.com.