How to not overspend this year on Christmas gifts

What was your favorite gift?  

I remember being a seven year old waking up early Christmas morning, just two short hours past going to bed after midnight Christmas service. The tree still lit and presents of mostly socks and underwear fully in place underneath.  In a hush – “Mom!  Mom! Santa was here!”  Minutes of negotiation and pleading for me to return to bed led to a compromise that gave me this memory forever. My mom and I sat together in the quiet of our apartment, tree a glow and I had her full, all be it sleepy, undivided attention.  She was in the present, in the moment with me. I can still hear her asking me which one I wanted to open. I can still feel resting in her arms as I unwrapped a transistor radio made in the shape of a Coke can and quietly playing it until falling back to sleep.  For years, I remembered that Coke can as being my favorite gift, but as I matured, I began to understand and realize the can was just the cover page for that memory.  A memory that reflected God’s love, understanding and patience for us.  That was the real gift, a very good and perfect gift from above, coming down from the Father. 

The material cost of my favorite gift was nothing. Ok technically, there was the $5 transistor Coke can and the wrapping paper but I hope you see the point here. As times at home improved financially, the cost and complexity of the gifts given to me went up as I grew older.  There was the first game systems (Magnavox Odyssey, Atari), a stereo record player with speakers that went to eleven, and more socks and underwear.  None of them ranked in comparison to the Coke can. Today we give seven year olds I-phones and X-box systems and way too often we willingly over extend ourselves and use debt as a means to buy items as an expression of our love. That expression and willingness to march into debt is often times tied to an inner need to be liked and accepted. Or, it can be what I call Competitive Gifting Disorder or CGD. CGD is the sad attempt to be the favorite parent, aunt, uncle or grandma by competitively outspending everyone else. If this is you, stop now!
It’s the thought that counts. Really. Consider the following when giving gifts to children, family, friends, co-workers: 

1) Accept it – kids don’t care. 
They will remember Christmas for the traditions and fun times. It’s not important to them to get gifts that are brand new or cost hundreds of dollars. Most of those hottest gifts of the year end up collecting dust in a toy box by New Year day.  Honestly, we could have used a couple large cardboard boxes and markers to make a living room fortresses on Christmas morning and spent all day decorating it as a family. Parenting done right does not mean spending $500 on each child!  
2) The reality is that no one can afford to be Santa to everyone in our lives. Making everyone you love feel special at Christmas can be done without big dollar gifts.  
a. Have a large family party? Suggest everyone picks a Secret Santa gift or do a fun gift exchange game where everyone brings only one gift. 
b. Co-worker? A handwritten card or note saying how much you enjoy working with them and an invitation to go for coffee – set a date!  
c. Neighbors, teachers, mailman? Fresh homemade cookies and treats or ethnic delicacies (my best friend’s family makes incredible pierogis) are always a winner and can double as an entire family event while preparing.

3) The debt industry works hard to persuade people that if you really care for someone, you'll spend more money on them. Don’t believe the hype and buy into the idea that you should sacrifice your long term financial goals of saving for retirement or your children’s college tuition.

The best way to stay out of debt and get ready for any extra spending around Thanksgiving and Christmas is to create a budget and stay the course on your financial goals.  In your budget, plan on saving a set amount every month for gifts and special occasions so the money is there and ready to go. Wishing you all Peace, Joy and Love during this Christmas season.

What is your Christmas budget this year? How much do you usually spend on your kids? Do you like shopping for second hand gifts or do you prefer to buy everything new? What are some other tips for making the holidays more affordable?

Written by Financial Stewardship Volunteer Jon Kotrba.

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