Christmas is quickly approaching and with it comes a myriad of expenses from holiday treats for work and school parties to gas or plane tickets for your holiday travels to gifts for your kids and relatives alike. Here's the truth, Christmas like many holidays has become highly commercialized, and if you're not careful, it can seriously hurt your financial plan.
Now, am I suggesting you need to forgo giving gifts altogether and focus solely on the little gift that is the true reason for the season? No, I'm not suggesting anything that radical (unless you feel called to that, of course). Rather, I want to encourage you to do two simple things.
One, before we are full swing into the holiday season, I want you to check your heart. No, I'm not talking about going to your doctor for an echocardiogram. I'll explain exactly what I mean in a second.
Two, I want you to get a holiday budget in place as soon as possible. Don't wait until December!! Please!
I believe, if you are intentional in acting on these two steps, you will find yourself in a place of peace this Christmas season. And, let's be honest, which of us doesn't desire more peace?
So, what in the world do I mean when I say you need to check your heart?
Well, we live in a very 'picture perfect' society. We see these perfect pictures on Facebook, on our favorite TV shows, as we stand in the line at the coffee shop, and as we drive through our neighborhood. These pictures tell us exactly what we need to buy and what we need to do in order to have the perfect family and the perfect life. These pictures impress upon us a lifestyle that is, quite frankly, unrealistic. These are the very pictures that encourage us to buy things we don't need (and can't afford) just to attempt to maintain this perfect life - to try to keep up with the Joneses.
The holiday season is a time when these perfect pictures seem to multiply in abundance. Everywhere we are bombarded with ideas about what the perfect Christmas looks like - a huge tree in the living room, lights covering our house, matching pajamas for the entire family, the latest pieces of technology for our kids, the diamond necklace for your wife, and the list of perfect goes on and on. But, do you know what happens when we succumb to these messages? Do you know what happens when we believe that we need all of these things - all of this stuff - in order to have the perfect Christmas?
A couple of things result...
We find that we are still incredibly unhappy. This stuff doesn't bring joy to our lives, because stuff can't do that! Love, family, Christ...that brings joy! Buying stuff to create the perfect Christmas does not.
And, in addition, to still being unhappy, purchasing all of this stuff results in a whole lot of Christmas debt. That debt creates financial stress and only further intensifies the unhappiness we feel. Did you know that the average holiday debt last Christmas was just over $1,200 per person?!?
So, what exactly do I want you to do when you check your heart?
I want you to take time for reflection. Make a list of all of the things in your life for which you are grateful. Consider where your heart and mind are focused this holiday season. Are you feeling the push to keep up with all of this perfect? Or are you reveling in the perfect, tiny gift that arrived at Christmas? Commit to spreading the joy of this season. You will be so much more happy with a content, grateful heart that is focused on the true reason for the season.
Now, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I'm not expecting you to give up the gift-giving (or every 'commercial' aspect) of Christmas. I am simply encouraging you to do two things - the first being to check your heart. In addition to taking time to focus your heart, I want you to take time to prepare your holiday budget. There are lots of 'extras' that come during the holidays and we want to be prepared for those extras so that we don't derail our financial plan this holiday season.
As you're thinking about your budget, I want you to use the acronym 'P.E.A.C.E.' We all desire peace at Christmastime, so why not get some peace in our budgets too?
P is for Presents
Make a list of the people you want to give to this Christmas. Plan what you want to give each person and how much you will spend on that individual. If you are a family who includes Santa in your holiday celebrations, remember to also include those stocking stuffers in your budget.
E is for Excursions
Often our holidays involve extra traveling to see friends and family. Whether you will be traveling by car, train, or plane, be sure to include these excursion expenses in your holiday budget. And, remember, you will also need to eat while you travel!
A is for Activities
The holiday season is packed with extra activities - Christmas parties at work, holiday programs at school and church, opportunities to spread joy to others in your community through caroling or delivering goodies, and the list goes on. Some of these activities come with extra expenses, whether that be your ticket to get into your child's performance or the plate of goodies you've been asked to bring to your work party. Make sure you've included these activity expenses in your budget!
C is for Cuisine
Who doesn't love holiday food? The turkey or ham, the stuffing, and all the delicious sweet treats!!! The only hiccup is that all of this traditional food we love and the extra mouths we feed (if you're having company this Christmas) makes for a higher grocery budget during the month of December. Side note, New Year's Eve also falls in December, which is easy to forget with the focus being on Christmas. If you plan on hosting a New Year's Eve party with lots of great snacks, don't forget to include that in your food budget as well.
E is for Extras
Just as we encourage our financial coaching clients to have a miscellaneous category in their monthly budget, I want to encourage you to set aside a little bit for those holiday extras. You know, things like: 'Two strands of our lights burnt out after last Christmas and we need new ones,' or, 'little Tommy needs a $5 gift for his school gift exchange.' This is the random, catch-all category for those expenses you forget about or don't expect. Now, don't think for a second that you're too good for this category - that you've factored everything into your budget and you couldn't possibly need anything else. Just put this category into your budget. If you don't use it, great! (At the end of the month, you can designate this money elsewhere.) But, don't neglect including this category. You never know what might come up and December is NOT the month to mess up your budget!
I want to encourage you this holiday season - encourage you to, first, check your heart and, second, set and stick to your holiday budget. Don't neglect these two things. Don't let the pressure from society to have the perfect Christmas steal your joy and derail your financial plan. Instead of spending $100+ on matching pajamas for the whole family, spend one hour caroling with your friends and bringing joy to the homebound individuals in your community. Instead of worrying about having your house perfectly decorated, enjoy some time with your family and friends playing games and making memories together. Instead of trying to buy your perfect Christmas, taking on extra debt and financial stress, commit to practicing gratefulness and contentment, sticking to your budget, and staying true to your financial plan this holiday season.