Money Sense Christmas Spending

This holiday season, families across America will be trying to spend their way into the merriest Christmas ever. Yet in the process, many will be spending their way deeper into debt by using credit cards. On a recent “Money Sense” segment for Family & Marriage Today, financial correspondents Tracy and Elaine Hays gave some tips to our viewers about keeping Christmas spending in check.

“Today in America, people feel the pressure to make Christmases bigger and better than last year’s,” says Tracy. “The problem is that a lot of times, we’re doing that with money we don’t have.”

The Hays family has developed a yearly tradition that helps them evaluate their previous Christmas celebrations. Before Christmas each year, they ask their children three questions:

1. What do you want for Christmas this year? 2. What did you get for Christmas last year? 3. What are your favorite Christmas memories?

The answers to these questions have helped Tracy and Elaine to focus on the true value and importance of the holiday. When they asked the second question, “there was silence for a few minutes, and finally, the older ones began to remember a couple of things they got,” says Tracy. “But it took them a long time.”

The third question brought enthusiastic responses from the children. They didn’t mention gifts, but began to talk about things they had done together as a family. Their remembrances included the time they surprised their grandparents, Christmas Eve worship services they had attended, and the year their cousins came to visit and they all watched the snow fall from the upstairs window together.

These responses gave Tracy and Elaine new insight into what their children treasured most about Christmas. “It began to show (us) that the celebration of Christmas was much more important than the gift buying,” observes Tracy. That concept is one that many people acknowledge in theory but often fail to practice.

The Hayses offer practical alternatives to holiday overspending. First, make a list of the people you want to buy gifts for. Decide what you want to buy them, and estimate the cost. When you total the cost of all the gifts you intend to buy, then determine if you have enough money to pay for all of them. Often, you will find that some adjustments to the list are necessary.

Once you’ve made a list, the key is sticking to it, according to Tracy. “A good way to do that is when you see that total, withdraw that amount in cash, and use the cash envelope to purchase those gifts. Once the envelope is empty, you’re done with those gifts.”

Elaine recommends a mutual agreement between families that ordinarily exchange gifts. “Consider giving a single, family present, instead of trying to buy individually for each child and parent,” she advises.

The time you save by buying fewer gifts can be just as important as the money saved, according to Elaine. “It’s not just the dollar issue, but also the pressure, the time, and the stress of getting everything completed that keeps you from just stopping and enjoying the holiday.”

Buying gifts throughout the year is another way to taper holiday spending. “You can find some sales and not end up focusing everything in November and December,” says Tracy.

Most important is that our families are able to enjoy the true meaning of Christmas and not have it spoiled by financial pressures. Matthew 2:11 (NAS) says, “And [the wise men] came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell down and worshiped Him; and opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.”

Elaine observes, “It just changes the story totally if it says, ‘They brought Him gold, frankincense and myrrh that they charged on their American Express Card.’ “

“Don’t let this Christmas be filled with the pressure of finances,” encourages Tracy. “Instead of investing in gifts, invest in time. Invest in patience. Invest in the celebration of Jesus’ birth. If we change our focus to those things, then we will have a good holiday, and one that our kids and our families will remember for a long time.”

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