‘Tis the Season to Budget
by Jeanette Hanscome
I can’t recall a time during my married life when money wasn’t tight. A move sent us to an area where “lower cost of living” equaled “lower-than-average pay,” and my husband spent a lot of time out of work due to health problems. Things got even more difficult after he left and I became a single mom. Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly live on less, I had to. I grew to dread the holiday season with its pressure to spend, until I learned to let go of that, focus on Jesus and make gift giving about expressing His love. As stressful as financial struggles have been, they taught me budgeting tactics that I plan to take into the future no matter what my bank account looks like. Now I have the honor of passing on what I’ve learned to you.
Have a positive attitude about it. Setting limits on spending can feel restrictive, but it also prevents the stress of overwhelming credit card bills later. Like budgeting for groceries or back-to-school clothes, it’s just a wise thing to do. Think of your budget as a creative challenge. How far can you stretch it? One year I decided to use a generous financial gift as my Christmas budget. I enjoyed seeing how long I could make that money last.
Plan ahead. Make a list of who you need to buy gifts for and how much you can spend on each person. Prioritize your list (e.g. family, special friends, parties that always include a gift exchange, etc.) and decide where your cut-off will be. For example, if your kids have reached an age when gifts get more expensive, you might need to eliminate something, like mailing Christmas cards. (You can always send greetings at Valentine’s Day or Easter.) If lack of money makes it difficult to buy a gift for your child’s teacher, write a card of appreciation instead. If your church does Operation Christmas Child and you’re concerned about the cost, ask a friend if she’d like to pack one together.
Keep non-gift expenses in mind. I often forget to take into consideration all the baking I do in December, and that ingredients add to my grocery bill. Decorations also cost money.
Will you be hosting a party, or attending one? What do you plan to make for Christmas Eve, your small group’s potluck and Christmas dinner at Mom and Dad’s? You might want to designate a separate budget for these things.
Stash your cash. Set aside what you plan to spend. I try to use cash as often as possible for Christmas gifts so I’m less likely to go overboard. Include a “cushion” for unexpected expenses so you won’t panic. Something always comes up!
Consider what you don’t need. One year I decided that, other than buying my sons their traditional ornament, I would not buy any new Christmas decorations. That freed up funds for more important items.
Do you really need new garland for the Christmas tree, more red candles or a whole new outfit for the neighborhood party? Keep in mind that by skipping what you don’t need, you’ll have more money for what you do need.
Make simplicity a tradition. One benefit of falling into the category “low income” is that my boys have never gone into Christmas with grandiose expectations. From the time they were babies, I made a tradition of giving one toy that I knew they wanted, one item of clothing, a book, an ornament and a stocking filled with fun stuff that was also useful. They looked forward to getting bubble bath and “kid toothpaste” because they only got those things for Christmas. Even now they know that when I ask, “What is the one thing you want most?” I’m not talking game systems or the latest phone.
When budgeting for your kids, think quality instead of quantity. What will they love that doesn’t cost a lot of money?
IF YOUR BUDGET IS UNUSUALLY TIGHT, REMEMBER …
It really is the thought that counts. Last year a friend gave me a sweet note that included a meaningful Bible verse. It didn’t cost a thing, but I still treasure her gift. I knew a young woman who gave each of her co-workers their favorite kind of gum, wrapped and topped with a tiny bow. For the past two years, I have used scrap yarn to crochet ornaments for special people. If you don’t have much to spend, focus on small-but-from-the-heart presents.
Count the cost of homemade gifts. My mother and sisters look forward to choosing yarn for a knitted or crocheted scarf so I can surprise them with the style. One of my sisters requested my homemade room sprays the last time I had her name. However, this only helps the budget because I’m careful when it comes to selecting yarn, scarf patterns (how much yarn does it require?) and other supplies.
If you’re planning to stretch your funds by making gifts, keep in mind that you won’t save any money if the supplies cost more than the store-bought version.
Trim the cost of mailing gifts. A couple of years ago, I thought it would be fun to send my young adult son a surprise just-because treat. The postage cost more than the bag of Swedish Fish! Now I send gift cards or pack as much as possible into a flat rate box.
When mailing gifts to out-of-town family and friends, be sure to consider postage. You might be able to give more by sending a gift card.
When we cut down on the financial stress of Christmas, we have more room in our hearts to focus on Christ.
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