Too Much Good Advice
I regularly read the blogs of other people who are tackling their debt, and one topic that keeps coming up these days is Christmas. Top 5 Ways to Spend Less at Christmas; DIY Christmas Gifts that Save You a Bundle; How to Pay off Debt and Give at Christmas. I’m finding so much good advice oppressive.
Mistakes of Christmas Past
Last year when I wrote about Christmas, I gushed. I’m slightly embarrassed by it now. After proclaiming my love for all things excess – gift-buying, rich food, decorating, and serial socializing – I said, “I don’t want to be a debt-ridden dupe of the commercialized sentiment of Christmas.” Hmmm . . . I’m pretty sure I was just that. The Hallmark cards had me figured out.
DH and I did prepare a budget last year, but we blew it. At the time I didn’t know we had blown it – I was still several degrees removed from the actual numbers of our finances last year – and I’m not sure I would have minded too much if I had known. I was willing to sacrifice a great deal at the altar of Christmas. I remember at this time last year listening to a radio segment about the holidays on my way to work. It was about the fact that parents want to see their children’s eyes light up in wonder as they open presents December 25th. That’s mission accomplished. The problem was, the threshold for wonder was steadily rising, and the cost of lighting up those eyes was rising along with it. I definitely fit in with that phenomenon.
Goals for Christmas Present (pun not intended)
This year, I’m not gushing. And I’m resisting that eye-shining mission. Although I put it off for weeks – because part of me still wants to let go at this time of year and give my wallet complete reign – I did sit down with DH last week-end to prepare a Christmas budget. We want to do better than we did last year when so much money escaped us without our consent, so we’re addressing the matter of holiday money leakage. We started with the effort to be completely aware and real about all areas of expense. No dramatic cut-backs. Just complete transparency and accountability. This year, I won’t be in the dark about “blowing the budget” if that’s what we do. It will be clear as soon as it happens.
Here are some broad-stroke details of our budget:
$300 worth of gifts for each of our three daughters – including stocking stuffers.
$15 per gift for each child under eighteen in our extended families. (There are seven.)
$50 for my mom’s gift.
$25 extra per week in December for our grocery budget.
$80 for a tree. (Don’t judge us!)
$50 for wrapping paper, cards, candles.
$250 for skiing/snowboarding.
$150 for social expenses.
Any expenses that fall outside of our detailed Christmas budget will come from our respective discretionary funds. I believe we’ve got it covered. When I look at those numbers, I think, That’s a pretty fine Christmas! But I promise you, we used to spend way more – without knowing where it all went. I’m very curious to know how others manage Christmas. Do you have a budget? Do you find your money floats into the ether at this time of year? Do you pay for Christmas upfront, or do you pay it off in the first half of the New Year?
Last night, I went Christmas shopping with a friend. “Know what you are going to buy before you go shopping,” is a piece of advice I have recently read. And I did. I kept careful track of my receipts, and later at home, I would tally them up in their proper categories according to our budget. There was a lot of practical intent going on. But at one point, I found myself swaying to some catchy Christmas music playing in a store. And in a nearby mirror, I caught a glimpse of a decidedly cheerful looking woman – me! My fear of losing something precious by approaching Christmas in a practical, itemized, budgeted way is apparently unfounded. I’ve disengaged somewhat from the gush, but I can still enjoy music and the company of a good friend. The less fabricated pleasures are the most genuine. And they will be at the top of my Christmas list this year.