It’s Christmastime- Budgeting 102!
“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and the average consumer tends to blow their budget to smithereens as they get carried away by the holiday cheer. Each year Christmas spending has been increasing, usually prompted by Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. This is good news for retailers whose profit earnings during the Christmas season can be significant, up to and even exceeding half of their annual profits. Christmas is big business, but it can land consumers in the poor house.
Haunted by ‘The Ghosts of Christmas Past’?
According to The American Research Group Inc. the average American spends almost $1000 on Christmas gifts. If you add other seasonal expenses like decorations, food, and expenses associated with traveling to visit distant friends and family, the amount can easily skyrocket. Most of this is rung up on plastic. Let’s not forget about charitable donations either. How much pocket change did you throw in the Salvation Army Kettle each time you passed a bell-ringer? Till it’s all said and done, the end-of the-year shopping spree spreading Christmas Cheer is followed each January by the real ‘Ghosts of Christmas Past’ – the credit card bills!
“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
At the end of A Christmas Carol Ebenezer Scrooge learns the true meaning of Christmas. You don’t have to go overboard and be a miser to avoid the consumer trap, you just need to plan a budget and stick to it.
Naughty or Nice?
Do you honestly have to buy something for EVERYONE you know? It may be sad to say, but there are many people we know who deserve a lump of coal for Christmas. If you have little or no money to spend, you have two choices:
- ‘Everyone’ doesn’t get a gift.
- ‘Everyone’ gets a share of the pot.
I’m not a fan of cutting people out because I feel mistreated or cheated. Everyone we know is facing some inner turmoil we know nothing about. If someone gives you a gift, you don’t have to automatically reciprocate with an equal or even more expensive gift. Just say ‘thank you’. A gift is a gift, not an obligation. I have almost a thousand regular customers at my day job. I treat them all the same. A very small few give me Christmas gifts. I don’t expect anything from them, but I always thank them. I know that in many cases, some of my elderly customers are on fixed incomes and have very little money. I worry about accepting gifts from them, and I sometimes ask ‘are you sure?’ or state that they ‘didn’t have to do that’. It’s rude to refuse a gift. Be grateful, smile and thank them. They appreciate it far more than you know, and it costs NOTHING to be kind!
I budget for Christmas. I have a set amount ear-marked for the season, and I stick to that limit. Everyone on my list gets something, even if it’s only a card. It’s the thought that counts. I mail out almost 50 cards, each with a printed annual newsletter. It’s an expense, but I enjoy doing it. I have not been able to see some of the people on my list in years because I am so busy, and they are busy, and our schedules don’t mesh. A Christmas greeting in the form of a card and newsletter is a nice way to let people know you still care. Only about 20% of them mail me a return card, but that’s okay. Gifts are gifts, no obligation remember?
Keep gifts appropriate
Always consider that just because you like something doesn’t mean everyone will like it. Take fruitcake for example. Some people think it makes a great gift. Others feel it’s great for propping open the door. Some people have food allergies or special diets. Some parents don’t allow certain toys. NEVER GIVE PETS AS GIFTS! Give cash or gift cards and let the recipient purchase what they really want.
During the Great Depression, banks first started the idea of seasonal savings accounts earmarked for Christmas. These are still offered by some financial institutions. In many cases you can even arrange for automatic payroll deductions to make saving for even Christmas easier. Christmas Clubs usually send out checks or electronic bank deposits of the entire amount at the end of October, in plenty of time for Christmas.
Grandma hates me!
Children do not understand gifts of socks and underwear. I grew up poor, and Christmas was about getting toys. Very few children have the understanding and level of maturity to understand that they may be poor, and don’t get why ‘Santa’ didn’t bring them a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle, opting instead for much needed clothing. I was always disappointed by clothing. I also had too many toys. I didn’t play with the ones I had, or need new ones. I don’t have kids, but let me tell you, if I did they wouldn’t be spoiled with showers of toys. Yet each year, I see friends and relatives spoiling their kids. Some elderly people have a dozen or more grandchildren. They can’t afford a gift for every grandchild. If there is some special must-have toy that is quite expensive, consider pooling resources, and just labeling the one gift ‘From Santa’.
Visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads
Instead of buying gifts, throw a small dinner party. I do this each year for a few close friends who live local. Arrange party games and take pictures to make it memorable.
Made with Love
Maybe there is nothing in the store they need, but what about some token of love? Bake Christmas Cookies, or give a handmade gift like a decorated mason jar filled with coffee or cocoa mix, or a handmade ornament. Send cards to let them know you care. What about just love itself?, Share friendship, understanding, consideration, a helping hand, a smile, and a prayer. You can’t buy these things in any store , but these things are what people need the most. As always I wish you happiness and success! And God bless us, everyone.