‘Tis the season to go shopping, Fa la la la la la la la la ….
Christmas is officially here! It’s time to trim the tree, decorate our houses, go to parties, and exchange gifts. It’s a wonderful time of year filled with an air of excitement and joy.
Of course, all of this celebrating comes with a price tag. For those of us who are committed to living on a budget and following God’s financial principles, the holidays can present a challenge. How do we continue to live within our means without becoming the Grinch Who Stole Christmas?
We’re here to help with: Secrets to Celebrating Christmas on A Budget. Let’s get started:
1. Count your Pennies
….and nickels and dimes and dollars. The point is: before you start shopping form a spending plan by asking yourself: How much money do I have to buy Christmas presents?
Be realistic. Only count the money you have in a Christmas savings account or that you know you can glean from any December discretionary funds without adding any extra stress to your life. Once you have determined the sum of these two amounts, that’s how much you can spend—no more. These are your limitations, and the wise woman will stay within these boundaries.
2. Determine to Avoid Credit Card Debt
Even though credit cards may help you have a Merry Christmas, they will guarantee you a lousy start to the New Year. To avoid the after-holiday hangover, keep the credit cards in your wallet and only buy what you can afford.
3. Make a List and Check it Twice
If you’re really committed to celebrating Christmas without breaking the bank, the first step is making a list of all the people for whom you need to shop. Remember there’s a difference between people we need to shop for and people we want to shop for. If you’re a single Mom, then your kids are your top priority. Getting your priorities straight is important as we move onto step #4:
4. It’s Time to Make Some Cuts
Start by going back over your list and writing down the amount of money you can spend on each person.
Now to the tricky part—how much can you spend and on whom? This is where each of us needs to look at our personal financials and determine our own personal limitations and priorities. If you find yourself within very tight limitations, the best thing to do is make your immediate family your top priority.
There is nothing wrong with telling extended family, friends and acquaintances that due to financial limitations you will not be exchanging gifts this year. Most people will not be offended if you tell them that you can only afford to buy gifts for your kids this year. Even if they are offended, it is more important that you stand by your commitment to following God’s money managing principles than participate in every gift exchange.
The key is being open and honest with people beforehand. Don’t wait until they’ve bought you a present to tell them your plans. Remember: just because you aren’t exchanging gifts doesn’t mean you’re excluding these people from your holiday celebration. You could still send them a Christmas card, invite them over for dinner or dessert and coffee, or include them in a Christmas cookie exchange. There are lots of ways to share love over the holiday season without exchanging gifts. Keep this in mind and you’ll feel less guilty about making cuts!
Now, how do you stick to your pre-determined amounts for the people for whom you’ll be shopping? Here’s some ideas for that:
1. The Internet—A Busy Woman’s Secret Elf
The internet is a great resource for checking out the store’s daily sales flyers. Using the list you made earlier as a guide, with a few clicks of a mouse, you can browse the circulars to see who has what you’re looking for at the lowest prices. This is a great way to compare prices without wearing yourself out going from store to store. If no one has the items you’re looking for on sale that week, wait a week and it will probably go on sale then.
2. Coupons—Don’t Leave Home Without Them
While you’re online looking at the store circulars, don’t forget to download the free coupons the store probably has available. It only takes about 2 minutes to download a coupon and print it out, but it saves money and helps you stay on budget. Think about it: if you spend $50.00 and use a 20% off coupon—you’ve kept $10.00 in your Christmas budget. Not bad for a few minutes work!
So before you hit the stores (or order online) look for coupon codes or printable coupons on the stores website and coupon sites like www.retailmenot.com. Also, many stores are offering free Apps this year so you can have their coupons sent right to your phone. While we’re on the topic of coupons:
3. Be All About That Free Stuff
This time of year, stores are desperate to stand out among the crowd of advertising voices. In an effort to get you to choose their store, they frequently offer coupons like “$10 off of a $10 purchase”.
If you are a wise shopper, you can use these coupons to fill in the gaps in your Christmas budget—they might even help you pick up something small for someone who would otherwise be cut from your list. Think about it: You could pick up a candle, a set of nice dish towels, perhaps a pair of earrings, a scarf or a wallet for less than $10. When you use one of these coupons, that’s a free gift! Many of these coupons can also be used online. Combined with a free ship-to-store option, these coupons could be the ticket to keeping on budget this year.
4. Remember it’s the thought that counts.
So often in today’s world, we think we need to buy a big expensive gift to show our love. This simply isn’t true. Many times a small, sentimental gift will be more appreciated than an expensive impersonal one.
For instance, I remember the Christmas we were going through our financial crisis (and trying to pay off a huge debt) my Mom bought my Grandma a small ceramic Christmas house that looked like a bakery. My Grandma would rather bake than do anything. As soon as we saw it, we thought of her. Even though it only cost a few dollars, everyone who came to my Grandma’s house commented that the gift was a perfect fit. It was sentimental and showed that my Mom cared. So don’t be ashamed to keep it small.
5. Get Up Early and Stay Up Late
If you pay attention to the holiday advertising, you will see that the best sales start after 8 p.m. on Friday and end around 11 a.m. on Saturday. Once the clock strikes 11 a.m., the computers automatically raise the prices throughout the entire store. But during those peak hours, there are bargains to be found. By rearranging your schedules to fit into these sales, you can save a lot of money. Also, keep an eye out for Wednesday sales—sometimes they are the best deals of the year.
6. Remember: There’s nothing wrong with underwear.
Have you ever seen the comedy sketch where the child is shaking every package under the tree determining which presents are toys and which ones are underwear? It’s the stuff sitcoms are made of because we can all relate. We’ve all opened Christmas presents filled with socks, underwear, a much needed sweater, or a bathrobe.
The truth is there’s absolutely nothing wrong with these gifts! Even though advertisers have tried to convince us that Christmas needs to be filled with the newest video games, big screen televisions, the latest electronics and lots of bling for the ladies, reality is that the average family budget cannot afford these things. It’s time that we went back to the old-fashioned ideas about Christmas where people got one or two special things and the rest of the gifts were things they needed. If your family needs underwear, then go ahead, and wrap up the underwear!
7. Check Out Church or Community Toy Drives
This tip is especially for all of the single parents. If you’re in a difficult situation and struggling to buy Christmas gifts for your children, look online or ask your pastor to help you find a church or community organization that offers free, new toys to single parents or low income families.
For instance, one of the larger churches in our area holds a huge toy drive at the beginning of December. The first day is dedicated exclusively to single parents. The toys are donated by caring people who want to see everyone have a Merry Christmas. They offer cookies and cocoa, and every family goes home with a free blanket knitted and prayed over by women in their congregation. Don’t let pride keep you from taking full advantage of opportunities like this. Just thank God for the help now, and someday when your situation has changed, you can pay it forward and help someone else who is in need. Remember: as the family of God, we’re all in this together.
8. Remember Santa’s Helpers
While we’re talking about accepting help, another way that a single parent can stretch their holiday dollars while giving their kids a good Christmas is to include Grandma and Grandpa or anyone else that you know will be buying gifts for your child in your holiday plans. Let’s be honest: these people are going to buy your children presents anyway. Why not provide them with some direction as to the presents your child really wants? This will take some of the stress off of you, and they’ll probably even appreciate the guidance. Even as a one-income family, my Mom used this idea to help supplement our Christmas budget. The key is communication, communication, communication.
9. Choose to Buy Gifts instead of Cash or a Gift Card.
With the new tradition to give cash or gift cards has come the pressure to keep writing bigger and bigger checks. Ultimately, instead of giving a gift from the heart, many people feel obligated to write a check they may or may not be able to afford. However, when you purchase a gift, people don’t know what you spent. If you shop around and God blesses you with an awesome sale, you may be able to give an incredibly lovely gift while sticking to your budget. If it’s something they can use, they should appreciate it. If they don’t like what you bought, then they can return it using the gift receipt you’ve placed in the box.
10. Pick It Up Yourself
Okay, it might be a hassle, but many stores now allow you to buy online and have the item shipped to the store FOR FREE. No shipping charges. Let’s face it—$6 here or $10 there can really add up, so whenever free shipping to your home isn’t available, have them ship it to the store or just go to the mall and pick up the item yourself. There’s a good chance the price in the store will be lower than the online price anyway.
I have a friend who says it isn’t “regifting”, it’s passing on a blessing you were given but can’t use. No matter what you call it, if it’s in good shape and you can’t use it, don’t waste—instead pass it along. Who knows that your unusable item won’t be someone else’s treasure?
Finally, and probably most importantly, Remember the Reason for the Season.
It’s very easy to get caught up in all the commercialism and the pressure to spend money this time of year. It’s important to remember that the first Christmas didn’t involve a tree or lights or any gifts at all. The main characters were a very poor, newlywed couple. The setting was a barn filled with animals. The only guests invited were poor shepherds who came directly from their fields. As all the world was focused on paying the Roman tax, God sent the greatest Gift that mankind has ever known.
I pray that you will keep this perspective as you plan your holiday celebrations this year. Instead of stressing about spending money on expensive gifts, focus on celebrating Jesus and giving the gift of love to the people in your life. Remember, because we are celebrating Jesus’ birthday, we should be honoring Him as we celebrate it. When we choose to focus on Him and live by the financial principles that He taught us, we are honoring Him on His day. That’s what Christmas is truly about—bringing glory and honor to Jesus.