Jason is a financial advisor and Dave Ramsey-trained counselor that blogs over at WorkSaveLive. He aims to educate his readers on a variety of financial topics while sharing his family’s journey out of debt and a few delicious recipes.
Wow, a post about Christmas shopping already?! I know, it’s a little early but October is right around the corner and Christmas will be here before you know it!
As the holiday seasons rolls around so comes a time of great struggle and difficultly for many families. A time of year that’s supposed to be filled with joy and happiness is often overshadowed by people’s anxiety and struggle with their financial life.
As a financial coach, I’ve seen first-hand how many families rely on debt to make it through the holiday season. Then they had to work the first 2 or 3 months of the next year just to pay off the presents that their children had already lost or broken.
My hope for everybody reading this is that you take a step to enjoying a debt-free Christmas. One that you and the family can enjoy in December and not have to regret in January.
Six Ways to Survive Christmas Without Debt
1. Start Saving NOW!
It may sound strange, but Mrs. WSL and I start saving for Christmas in January. The way I teach budgeting involves having a specific savings account for targeted expenses. I call them “non-monthly” expenses but in reality they’re just bills and costs that a person/family will encounter randomly throughout the year.
For us these bills/expenses include: home owner’s association dues, annual life insurance premiums, home repairs, car maintenance, and yes, Christmas and birthday presents.
Even though you haven’t been saving since January, there is no better time than NOW to put away cash each month so you’re prepared to buy those gifts when Christmas rolls around.
2. Establish a Limit & Be Realistic
One of the greatest things you can do for your financial situation is establish a limit for each child and family member you plan to buy a gift for. In some cases, and particularly ours for the last 3 years, you might not have the money to buy anybody a gift. Instead of going into debt to buy people’s happiness, just be honest with them and tell them you’re not buying gifts this year as you’re trying to get your financial life in order.
These days we have a fairly strict budget and spend no more than $40 on each person/couple in our family. By having a specific amount in mind, it makes it easier to determine how much you need to save each month to get there.
For instance, if you have 8 people you’ll be buying gifts for: 3 kids, your husband, and each set of parents (4 people total), then you should set limits on each one. Maybe the kids will each get $100, the hubby can suck it up and take $30, and maybe each parent will be allocated $50. That’s a total of $530. With 3 months to save (considering you can’t count all of December), that means you need to set aside $175 each of the next few months to hit your goal!
3. Be Thoughtful & Get Creative
To be transparent, I’ll admit that I’m not a parent (at least not yet), but I’ve talked to enough people and been around kids long enough to know that many young ones don’t know the difference between an expsensive gift and a cheap one.
Instead of spending a lot of money on children under 6 years old, just focus on quantity. The more presents to tear open, the happier they are. The sad truth is that many of these toys will get tossed aside and given to Goodwill in a matter of months anyhow.
If you’re married and the budget is tight then consider free alternatives such as giving your spouse a massage, or if you’re a husband you could offer to be the “cook for the night” on a few occasions or the “housekeeper for the weekend.” If you and your wife are on the same page financially then it’s likely your spouse won’t even care if you don’t buy them a gift. At the WSL household my wife and I haven’t bought each other a Christmas present for the last 6 years that we’ve been together. Okay…that’s a small fabrication: she bought me a $3 coffee mug last year.
4. Ask for Practical Gifts in Return
My wife makes fun of me because I rarely want or ask for things. That’s changed recently as I’ve been dreaming of owning an iSomething but I’m fairly cheap and just don’t want to spend the money.
Saying all of that, if people want to buy us Christmas gifts we ask for gift cards to the grocery store we frequent, gas, or to a particular store where we have our eye on some household appliance we want. You might not believe me when I say this but I recently received a book of stamps for my birthday. I wish I was kidding.
5. Don’t Buy Fancy Christmas Cards
I have a grandparent that makes her own cards each year and absolutely saves a bundle. I’d much rather have a self-made card with a personal note in it as opposed to a $4 card from Hallmark with some lame/sappy phrase written by somebody in a cubicle 1,000 miles away.
If you have a large family this will really add up! I estimate we spend a good $80-$100/year on cards and it’s absolute insansity. Lately we’ve opted for the large box of cards that come fairly cheap; we even save boxes from years past so that way we can mix up the cards and don’t have to give every family member the same card that year.
6. Focus on Spending Time Together
For younger children and teenage kids I realize this may not work, but it should for anybody that is over the age of 20. The reality of our world is that we’re extremely driven by material things. Why do people get so upset and offended if you don’t buy them a gift? Why do others get annoyed when they’re given a gift that they don’t appreciate? Why do some even feel obligated or get sad at the thought that they can’t afford to buy family presents?
While this is just my belief, I truly think that we now show love through the giving and receiving of material possessions because we place so much value/worth in them. The more you can buy me, the happier I’ll be. But…if you’re not going to get me what I want, then please don’t bother.
Our pursuit of things has really changed what Christmas is all about and it’s really sad to see. Try to simply enjoy the time you have with your family this year and cherish the moments you have with them.
Navigating through Christmas and the myriad of presents is a daunting challenge, especially if you’re on a tight budget. Instead of going into debt this year, start saving now, get creative, set a budget, and tell people no if you have to.
Have you started saving for Christmas yet? Are you at least considering it after reading this post?