Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Slightly Scroogey

Christmas 2004

A friend Jenn asked me today how I do Christmas within a budget. I am not sure I have mastered this, but here are a few tips.

The absolute first task is to refocus what the season is all about.

Christmas is when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, who was born of a virgin, suffered on earth, was crucified, dead and buried, rose from the dead, sits at the right hand of God the Father, redeems all those who call on him to be saved, calls us his children, forgives us of our sins past present and future, prepares a place for us in the heavenlies, and via his Holy Spirit daily sanctifies and purifies his Church.

I think we can stand to be reminded of that daily, especially during the hubub and stress of the holidays. The presents and food and Christmas outfits are part of the monthlong birthday party that we celebrate. But when our focus becomes more on the birthday party than on the Birthday Boy, then it is time to sit back, exhale and reflect. Kind of like being more caught up in the wedding than the marriage, if you get my drift. I firmly believe that going into massive debt at Christmas time does nothing to bring glory to His name.

Ok, that being said...

My attitude about spending money at Christmas time is the same as my attitude for the rest of the year. And it is this: after God, my absolute number one priority is my family's welfare. I must always put that first. If that means clothes shopping at thrift stores, so be it. If that means returning a gift my child doesn't need to WalMart and using the money to buy diapers, so be it. If that means spending less on a Christmas present than someone spends on me, so be it.

I want to revisit that last statement more indepth. My family, both my original and my inlaws, are not hung up on the cost of things - thank the Lord. But I have known many who are.

I knew a girl once who spent the majority of November and December complaining about how she had to buy presents for all her of nieces and nephews that had to have a certain pricetag, or else the rest of the family would think she was cheap. Then she spent January complaining that her inlaws had given presents to her son that were cheaper than the ones she gave to their children. Jiminy crickets. My husband calls people like this Fun-sucks - they can suck the fun right out of any situation in no time.

If people think we are cheap - well, they get a sticker for the right answer. We are cheap. My husband makes a good living, we are abundantly blessed and grateful. However, we are still six people living on one income. We are stretched. So I have had to learn to get over people thinking we are cheap - cuz we is cheap.

So, here are just a few cheap tips:

1) My natural inclination is to go tit for tat: well, she spent $30 on my present, I need to spend $30 on her. Nope. I fight that and I spend what we can afford to spend. Remember priority one.

Conversely, if you find yourself thinking, "I can't believe I hauled my fat butt all over the mall and spent $40 on her and she gave me this cheap ole Kmart thing", slap your own face, hard. Then sit your own self down and have a long talk with you about your motives behind gifts. I can preach it, cause I've lived it!

2) Years ago when I was teaching, one of my parents told me something ingenious. She said "I tell Asha, you get three presents for Christmas. Because Baby Jesus only got three presents, and it's not even your birthday!" How brilliant is that? The grandparents and other relatives give so much, that they do not need a mountain of toys from Santa and/or Mom and Dad too.

I originally liked this idea because I am constantly wanting to fight materialism in our kids. The hidden upside to this is that it saves lots of money. Often I buy the kids' presents, and think, ok, all done. Then I see something so great and just have to get it too. So now kid A has five toys, and kid B only has four, so I have to buy more to even it out...Not this year. I have declined several terrific things because one of the kids was already at the three present limit. This is the first year I have instituted this, which brings us to number

3) Until now, Santa was a huge gift recycler. The kids always get so many things for their birthdays, and I would hold a few back and later pull them out of Santa's sack. Wow! New present! I am a huge believer in doing some things with children for as loooong as you can get away with it. We can't get away with that this year dang it, Shep and Eva Rose are too old to not notice, but it worked great for three years.

4) I start shopping about six months before Christmas and buy things on sale. This also cuts down on lots of holiday stress. Note for next year: write it down! By December I have forgotten what I bought in July! Heck, I have forgotten what I bought in November.

5) Drawing names. The first Christmas after our wedding, I had been married less than a month and I was suddenly given the job of buying 15 presents for my new inlaws! Ahhhh! I was still getting it straight in my head who these folks were, and I had to decipher their Christmas dreams as well?? (I know some of you are saying 'It's your husband's family, let him buy them!' Great idea! Ok, back to reality.)

By the next Christmas I had a new sister-in-law who was also overwhelmed by the idea, and together we gently lobbied for the name pulling idea. The bill passed. It is much more fun to be given a dollar amount to spend, and then focus your energy on getting a great gift for one person, rather than trying to find affordable obligatory presents for 15 people, some of whom you barely know.

Since then the kid population has increased to nine, so this year we instituted a cousin draw as well, which is great as far as my anti-materialism crusade goes.

Today I heard about a family that celebrates Christmas like this: each person brings a gift certificate to a restaurant or store for an agreed upon dollar amount, and then they do a white elephant exchange for the gift cards. I think that sounds like a blast! I am going to float that idea to our family as well.

6) Everything I need Christmas related: lights, wrapping paper, decorations, Christmas cards, some presents, etc, is bought after Christmas when it goes to 50%-90% off, and saved for the next year.

Those are just a few cheapo tips - what are yours?

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