Our family’s mission is to get through the holidays with no added debt, continue to pay all our bills on time (or early), and feel no dread or unneeded stress from the season.
That’s a tall order, huh? And almost un-American.
Because we live in a world that tells us we should spend, spend, spend this season away. That everyone deserves mountains of gifts, the biggest tree, and the newest electronics.
What a messed up world.
As we learn what is best for our family, our kids, and our finances, here are some things we do to make sure the above mission stays in our focus:
Save for the Christmas season all year
Years ago, we opened a savings account that we pay into January through October. Then at the end of October, we withdraw the money for Christmas. Now this practice isn’t really revolutionary; lots of people do this. But this year, we purposefully put more money in than just for gifts. Because there is a lot more than presents that we spend our money on in November and December. During those months, I buy more groceries and alcohol for parties and pitch-ins. We fill our cars up more because we’re driving to those parties and dinners. There are toys for the angel tree kids and extra money on the electrical bill for other families to keep their heat on this winter. It all adds up quickly. We have a pretty strict budget we follow with our monthly income so there isn’t a lot of extra and we felt that pinch the last couple of years. So this year we kept in mind all the other things we need extra cash for and made sure that was in the Christmas account also. We’re hoping this alleviates the additional strain we put on our regular bank account this time of year for extras.
The four-present rule
We’ve been doing the four-present Christmas for a while and still love it. As someone who just buys everything she sees around the holidays (presents! glitter! shiny lights!), I need some parameters for my spending. More than just a budget, I need some goals. So knowing that my girls’ gifts need to fit one of the four categories (want, need, wear, read) helps me stay focused. In our house, Santa fills the stockings and Mommy and Daddy buy the presents. Their stockings are filled with cheap thrills like little toys, stickers, and candy while the presents are more intentional and meaningful. Every year we do this, I just love it more and more.
Coupons and hoarding
You know those Bath and Body Works coupons you get in the mail every other month? The ones with the free travel-size something? I horde those suckers. And then always redeem them. Because there is nothing better than Bath and Body Works bottles for teacher gifts. I use the coupons all year long, storing them away for the holidays, and then come December, I’ve got a nice assortment of lotions, hand sanitizers, and body wash to make little teacher bags. Throw in a $5 Starbucks gift card and we’ve got preschool, kindergarten, and Sunday school teacher gifts complete. I also do this with after-Christmas sales, putting aside little gifts for next year. Thinking about Christmas year round makes the season less hectic for us.
Just say no
About two years ago, I had to stop trying to give money/gifts/food to every cause someone suggested. Between my school, Harper’s preschool, Ellie’s preschool, our church, our small group, and neighborhood needs, our family was running ragged with giving and there was no joy involved. So now we decide the one or two places we’re going to focus our resources on and then just say no to the rest. It’s hard sometimes and I feel like I have to explain myself and why we can’t do it, but I’m learning to just say no thanks with a smile and not worry about what others may think about that.
People not presents
I’m 33 and can pretty much buy something if I want it (except a new car because Chris said no…) so while gifts are nice and I’m never going to turn one down, I love to spend time with my friends more than getting gifts from them (another “except” because this is my favorite Christmas party ever). So a coffee date, movie night on the couch, or just spending some time together around the kitchen table after the kids go to bed is a luxury for me. Around the holidays, we try to be more intentional about relationships and worry less about the gifts.
What about you? How do you handle your finances around the holidays? Is it just whatever is available and extra or are you intentional about your money and gifts? We’ve done it both ways and are always learning more about what we want to do and what we don’t want to do each season.