On the Consumerism of Christmas and How We Can Use It Well (part 2)

It happened again today. I was out and about and heard Christmas songs coming over the store speakers. Somewhere a turkey shed a tear about it. Poor, poor Thanksgiving turkeys. But, to make the most of the situation, I posted the first half of this blog last week. As much as we need to give Thanksgiving its due before it is run over by Christmas, we can use the early onset of the holiday to get us ready for all of the spending that is Christmas. Click here if you haven’t read Part 1 of this blog, and then continue on for more.

What To Do About the Christmas Spending?

Make a List – Write down every last person and their dog paper & pencilthat you may need to buy a present for. If the number isn’t shocking enough, write an expected gift price next to each recipient and add that up. Then make a list of all of your other expenses as listed above, remembering ‘Gifts’ was only one of five areas I listed. Total it all up and if the amount is overwhelming to you, adjust the individual amounts accordingly to make it manageable for you. Then, when shopping, stick to the list and only the list.

Update the Budget – I’m not talking about your specifically-Christmas budget here. This is your general living budget. How much do you have coming in? How much is going out in all of the normal living expenses like housing, utilities, groceries, etc.? Subtract those expenses from your income and see how much you actually have left over to spend. If your Christmas budget is over your excess money, you now need to decide where the extra money is coming from (please do not forgo rent or mortgage payment to fund Christmas, because it really has happened). You are either going to have to lower your Christmas budget, raid the savings account you have been so good about building up, or put it all on plastic (which means you just pay more later).

Manage Your Credit – Speaking of plastic, do you have a plan for that loan you just took out when you swiped the credit card? I’m not necessarily against using credit cards. I just want people to use them with full awareness and a plan. How long is it going to take you to pay it off? How much extra will it cost you in interest? We’ve done the math on minimum payments on $2,000 of credit card debt and how long it takes to pay it off making minimum payments. I won’t scare you here with the numbers, but think ‘longer than a house’. Better to have a plan than be hog-tied to your credit card bills for the next several years.

Think Creative – Sure, everyone talks about the ‘creative’ gift giving of homemade gifts. Some of them really are good gifts, like a quilt from Grandma. But I won’t belabor that knife-edge subject any further. Instead, be creative in your other Christmas budget items. Do you really need to provide all of the food for 50 people? I’m a Lutheran from the Midwest and let me tell you, there is nothing like a good potluck meal. Why not give your family members the privilege of sharing their best culinary masterpieces? Going to the same place? Pack a little lighter and carpool. If you can shrink a caravan of three vehicles to two, you could well end up in the vehicle without the sugar-overdosed munchkins. Decorating? You would be surprised how many decorations are deemed ‘Christmas’ only by their packaging. The colors and styles may be used year-round by decorations from another season. Reuse them and I won’t tell if you won’t.

nativityPrioritize – What is Christmas really about for you? This blog is actually part two of what was originally a standalone blog post. Yep – that wordy. But at this point I am going to stop talking (figuratively, of course) and use my best creative writing skills to encourage you to take a moment to ruminate and truly consider your priorities for observing Christmas. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
Funny how we get so distracted by all of the other ‘shtuff’, isn’t it? Much like prioritizing where our money goes, prioritizing everything else can help keep the budget in check as well. Recently I drove my son out of town after dark just to look at the stars. We found a field approach to park in and spent time just looking at the stars, the Milky Way, airplanes, and constellations. It was a single gallon of gas to get there and back. There was no admission, no souvenirs, no super-size snack value packs, or anything else to spend money on. Yet it was a big enough deal that, as he crawled into bed that night, he thanked me for TAKING THE TIME to take him out to look at the stars. Sometimes kids are really good at speaking the truth.

I recently saw a Facebook post that one of my friends was nearly done Christmas shopping already. OK. I can deal with that. But if your own shopping is overwhelming you, or even the thought of any extra holiday expense, come in to see a counselor at the Center for Financial Resources. We don’t judge. We aren’t humbugs. We just want to help you get your finances in a condition that they won’t ruin the holidays for you. You can schedule on our website, or call us at 605-330-2700.

Be ready for Christmas, but for the sake of the turkeys (and a lot of other reasons), don’t forget Thanksgiving.

written by Breck Miller
images courtesy freedigitalphotos.net

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