In Debt & On A Christmas Budget

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.

Comments are welcome!

I would love to hear what you have to say. Feel free to share your thoughts, offer advice, disagree, or ask questions. (Disrespectful comments will be deleted.)

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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Well written! Once we are adequately fed, clothed and sheltered, the “stuff” of life is not what brings happiness. Experiencing the beauty of snow covered trees, savouring the flavor of an orange, truly connecting with our family and friends – there is the sustaining stuff of life. S.S.

  • I think the best time to set-up a budget for Christmas is on January 2nd and start saving right away. Just going by your numbers, it would be easier to put aside $150/month starting in January than trying to scrounge $1600 at the beginning of December (or, heaven fordid, put it on a credit card). If you have some money aside, you can track your recipent wants/desires throughout the year and pick up gifts when they go on sale. That’s how I do it. I also do the same for expected birthdays throughout the year. I don’t think I’ve ever gone over my prediction. Oh, and don’t forget snapping wrapping paper and cards starting on Boxing Day.

    • You are so far ahead of me! What you say makes perfect sense, and I’ll know I’ve achieved a state of solid financial wisdom if I ever manage to put your words into effect. We actually do buy wrapping paper and cards during Boxing Week, and I will hereby commit to buying at least a few gifts on sale through the year. In my view, you’re raising the bar pretty high! But I like a challenge. Thanks for your comment.

  • Great Attitude, Prudence. I know exactly what you mean about spending a LOT more previously. The amount we’re spending on each of our children is just a bit lower than yours…..but I cannot even fathom how much we used to spend. I can’t even articulate it with any accuracy because we didn’t keep track at all! Having a spending plan, and sticking it to it accomplishes a couple of goals: 1.) you don’t over spend 2.) you know exactly what you need to fund the holidays 3.) It reminds you just how expensive the holidays are. Looking at the gifts you buy your kids and being able to think ‘they just got $300 worth of stuff” and know that you’ve done enough. Well done!

    • I’m glad we aren’t the only ones who had no idea how much we used to spend at Christmas! I read your most recent post, and it’s very interesting that your children don’t remember a change in the value of their gifts from before your journey out of debt to now. They are just as delighted with the more modest expenditures you have been making for them recently. As parents, we can put so much unnecessary pressure on ourselves! Thanks for the comment, Travis.

  • Awesome post! It’s really easy to be caught up in the extravagance that is Christmas. I truly love watching my children’s faces light up too, so it’s hard to hold back when you’re in the store imagining the look on their face Christmas morning.

    For us, because we haven’t gone into debt since 2008 to buy Christmas, it has been especially easy to “bust the budget”. I love Christmas! My wife usually decide not to buy each other stuff so we can spend a little more on our kids. haha!

    We usually budget about $125 per kiddo and always break it. This year we are sticking to our budget! Our kids always end up with tons of stuff between grandparents and aunts and uncles. haha!

    I love that you have a ski trip budgeted in. I love skiing! Have a Merry Christmas! 😀

    • Thank you for commenting, Brad! When you say, “We usually budget about $125 per kiddo and always break it,” it makes me think you might be forcing the issue too much. Would you consider raising that number to $150 or $175? I know this doesn’t sound like debt-reduction advice – not that you have any debt to reduce now – but it’s good to set yourself up for success. On the other hand, you also say, “This year we are sticking to our budget!” So I hope you manage to do it – whether you raise that $125 or not. I wish you the satisfaction of seeing your kids’ eyes shine, the joy of skiing, and a very merry Christmas!

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