An Abundant Christmas Budget
by PeggySue Wells
What I saw the first time I came through my friend’s front door still takes my breath away. Her country abode was a Christmas wonderland. The sparkling, ceiling-high Christmas tree was catalog perfect and skirted by a pile of brightly wrapped packages.
And it was summer.
“Pick a gift,” she invited.
My children and I starred at her dumbly.
She urged us closer. Gathered around the tree, we selected from the beribboned parcels. Tearing away the paper, each item was just right.
“This is wonderful,” I said. “But I don’t understand.”
“Christmas,” she said, “is not just once a year.”
For more than a decade, it’s always Christmas at Saundra’s home and every visitor who enters chooses a gift from under the tree. It is Christmas in her heart, too. Saundra is famous for sowing what she calls seed money; monetary gifts so generously tucked into pockets and envelopes that receivers can’t wait to pass along the giving.
How did Saundra, a single mother of five, make Christmas a year-round condition of heart and hearth when so many go in debt to celebrate once a year on December 25?
Make a List and Check It Twice
When it comes to finances, I learned to make a list and check it twice. In addition to the demands of daily life, expectations for creating a memorable Christmas can include tree shopping, home decorating, Christmas card sending, gift buying and wrapping, party hosting, grocery shopping, cookie baking, friends and family visiting, and money spending to make it all happen.
Combining ideas from Saundra and incorporating some of my own, here are tips to keep the wonder, make Christmas easy and spend without regret.
Ask family members what one Christmas activity they most like. Make these the priority and let the rest go for now. Often our beloveds would rather do less and have time to enjoy the aspects of Christmas that mean the most.
Estimate the costs of these priorities. Caroling, reading aloud The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and lighting Advent candles are traditions with minimal monetary requirements. Traveling to Grandma’s and attending the Civic Theater’s yearly production of The Nutcracker are line items on the Christmas budget.
Who is on the gift list? I realized that several people reciprocated because I gave them a gift. Taking them off my gift-giving list was a blessing for us both.
Ask God what He wants to give to others through you.
Add the cost of each gift and activity for this year’s grand total.
Set a plan to save this amount between now and Christmas.
But what if you want to spend less, or your anticipated spending is beyond what you can save in the time until Christmas? What if finances are challenging?
Many families have unspoken rules around money. “We can’t afford it” and “Money doesn’t grow on trees” and “That’s too expensive” are clichés that speak volumes when those words are the deciding factor for what children can and can’t do. Am I teaching my children about possibility or limiting all of us to probability?
Psalm 115:14-15 says, “May the Lord make you increase, both you and your children. May you be blessed by the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” When my children suggest activities or gifts that initially appear outside the budget, I respond:
“That’s a great goal. How can we make that happen?”
“What ideas do you have to help fund this?”
“Let me think about this.”
As my children and I prayerfully compare what we want to what seems possible, these alternatives stretch the budget and add joy to our celebrations:
Instead of individual gifts, consider family gifts such as a zoo pass, library card, Science Central family pass, or AAA Road Service. Combine popcorn with a family DVD or board game.
Wrap gifts in memories in the form of bags collected from places you’ve been throughout the year.
Gift an experience such as dinner at your home followed by attending the church Christmas play, and touring your town’s Christmas lights.
Barter. Does a child want music lessons? Trade a meal or housecleaning with the music teacher for lessons.
Give your talents. Write a poem, play a song, bake your famous enchiladas, coach a sport, or create a coupon good for painting a room, planting a flowerbed, or stacking firewood.
Combine funds with another gift-giver to purchase that just-right present.
Give to a non-profit or help fund a mission trip, and let your gift list know the donation was made in their honor.
Give a family heirloom that the receiver can enjoy now rather than after the will and testament is read.
Open a savings account with any amount that can take ongoing contributions for a young person’s first car or college.
Christmas celebrates that first holy coming when the Author of generosity gave the best gift ever—Himself. Generosity is the gift that keeps giving and a budget provides freedom to be Christmas-generous all year.
Celebrate your own Holy-Day with these fresh and fun themes you can afford.
Scavenger Hunt: How about a scavenger hunt at the mall? Make a list of items to hunt (pair of striped pajamas, green shoes, piggy bank, funny t-shirt, you in a store window display) and take photos with your phone camera. Come back together at a designated time to compare and share over snacks—laughs guaranteed.
Costume Hide and Seek. This is hugely fun for teens and parents. Dress up with your own clothes, trade clothes with others, or challenge party-goers to purchase outfits at Goodwill for $5.00 or under. Put on the disguise and blend in at the mall. Hide in plain sight. How long will it take the finder to recognize and locate each person?
Caroling Party. Too cold to sing outside? Sing to stores in the mall, go to retirement homes, ask to sing at the hospital and visit businesses. Return home for bowls of hot chilitos—chili poured over Fritos.
“Cuz we need a little Christmas, right this very minute…” Invite friends to decorate your home for the holidays. While hot cider simmers, bring the boxes of decor from storage and everyone decorates. Save the best for last when someone reads aloud the nativity story in Matthew and Luke while children place nativity pieces as they appear in the story.
Ornament Party. Decorate your tree with memories—make awards and favorite toys into ornaments. Invite friends to bring their own memories along with glue, ribbon, fabric scraps, etc. Drink tea and eat popcorn as you create ornaments unique to your family. So much better than storing these keepsakes in a box in the attic. Glue and weave sports medals, 4-H fair ribbons, toys and photos to wreaths.
Little House on the Prairie Party. Read aloud A Little House Christmas from the library. Let little ones mix up a box of corn bread, or if you are brave, yeast rolls. Pour cream in a jar and show children how to roll it back and forth to each other on the floor until it becomes butter for the cornbread. String popcorn to hang on the tree. Make pulled taffy for dessert. Bob for apples. Each child can bring a sock to hang by the fireplace. As party favors, fill each sock as they did back in Laura’s day with an orange, a ten-cent candy stick and a toy.
Bring your favorite book party. Invite children to wear pajamas and bring their favorite blanket, pillow and storybook. With everyone on the living room floor, read children’s books aloud or let the kids read aloud stories such as McElligot’s Pool, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, I Love You This Much, All the Places to Love, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, or The Giving Tree.
Make a Gift Party: Have a gift-making party where participants create gifts for parents, grandparents, teachers, Sunday school instructors, or siblings. Consider baked goods, video messages, easy photo albums and calendars through VistaPrint, beaded bracelets, handprints on pillowcases, thumb-print stationary, fill jars with beans and attach a recipe for Nine-Bean Soup or homemade chili. Shop Pinterest for ideas. Use your imagination. Recipe for Nine-Bean Soup: 2 quarts water, chopped or dry onion, 12 ounces mixed beans, one pound any kind of meat, one can any type of tomatoes added after beans are soup-soft. Simmer in the crockpot, or on the stove until beans are soft. Add tomatoes. Enjoy!
Queen Esther Party. Party-goers make construction paper crowns. Create noisemakers by dropping pennies in empty soda cans and taping closed the top. With crayon, write the name of Haman on the bottom of your shoes. Read aloud the story of Esther from the Bible. In Jewish Purim tradition, each time the name of Haman is mentioned, everyone stomps their feet, shakes their noisemakers and boos. Afterward, make and eat hamanstashan cookies.
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup butter
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup orange juice
5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup fruit preserves, any flavor
Combine ingredients. Form into cookie-sized triangles. Fold edges up. Spoon preserves into center. Bake 12-15 minutes in 350-degree oven.
Producer and co-host of WBCL’s Mid-Morning, PeggySue Wells is the author of a couple dozen books including a couple bestsellers, an audio finalist, and several co-authored projects because she writes well with others. Her titles include The Slave Across the Street, Slavery in the Land of the Free, Rediscovering Your Happily Ever After, and Bonding with Your Child Through Boundaries. Connect with PeggySue at www.PeggySueWells.com
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