Let me guess, your to holiday to-do list is 427 feet long already. The quarantine calendar bleeds red seasonal markups with Zoom office parties, Zoom family gatherings, Zoom church obligations and maybe even Zoom school programs. There are celebrations to be had, gifts to be wrapped, traditions to be honored and of course food.
The Christmas season offers deep joy. However, without intentionality, January 1 will be marked by personal finance pain. If we’re honest, we’ve all fallen into one of the five traps below during the chaos of the holidays. But it is avoidable. Commit to avoiding making the same blunders again.
Forgetting to Budget
I could never lay down my little drummer boy beat loudly enough for all of us to exercise financial responsibility during the month of December. Yes, you should be generous, but a gift given with money that is not your own—borrowed or purchased on credit—is no gift at all.
Our resources are limited, and giving beyond what we have will not only cause pain in our personal finances but also limit our ability to be generous when an unseen need arises (and there will always be such opportunities). Set a budget for how much you’ll spend (you can find free budgeting forms here) and stick to it this year. This can be your year for a debt free Christmas.
Forging Unrealistic Expectations
Let’s face it, friends, no matter how hard you try, very few of us will have the type of Christmas commercials are made of. 2020 is making this clearer than ever. No man with tree trunk arms is going to dress up like Santa Claus while whipping out a ring box from behind his back. Your children won’t make you cry as they happily hand you a perfectly wrapped box to you containing your deepest desire. And your parents are not planning on putting a big red bow on top of your dream car while recording the whole scene for YouTube.
Before you fall into the trap, set some realistic expectations about both what you might receive and give this holiday season. You can only give what you can afford, and honestly you shouldn’t expect gifts from anyone. Gifts are just that—a blessing, not a requirement. Rein in your big dreams or even counting on Grandma’s typical annual check and revel in the joy contentment brings, even if it’s not exactly followed by a catchy jingle.
Going Financial Incommunicado
When you’re in a season of making more purchases than usual, it’s easy to lose track of receipts, to neglect recording transactions, and even worse, to completely blank on what you’ve even purchased or where it’s now located.
If you’re married, this financial forgetfulness multiplies by two and can have destructive consequences in your relationship. Make every attempt to over-communicate about money this holiday season. The adage “The death of communication is the birth of resentment” rings true every day of the year, but during one of the busiest retail months of the year, the words leap to a new level of urgency.
Falling into the Online Rabbit Hole & Frenzied Purchasing
It happens to even the most stalwart of shoppers. What feels like a mere three clicks turns into three hours. Before you know it, you’re on a page to order a pair of night vision binoculars and you don’t even know anyone who would want them.
Make sure your online shopping experience is targeted and focused so you don’t end up making rash purchases. Work those filters on the sidebar like a boss. Set the prices from low to high. Select the correct size, color and brand. You can’t overspend on what you can’t see, so allow technology to help you limit your vision.
One more word to the wise, when a retailer claims you should RUN to the deal of the century, measure your steps closely and do your research. Yes, prices are lower on some items during the Christmas season. But it never hurts to do price comparison research—or better yet, pause to ask if you really need said bargain, even if it is at a rock-bottom price.
Failing to Give the Greatest Gift
Perhaps at no other time of the year do people open their hearts toward the Divine than Christmas.
There’s more than enough B-reel footage of people knocking each other out for doorbusters and Reddit receipt posts of non-existent tips from those who claim the name of Jesus. You were made for much more than that.
From the mundane of the Amazon shopping cart to the sacred silence of the first snowfall, we each have been given the greatest gift and high calling of sharing the good news of Jesus this Christmas.
Stand out. Shine a light. Check in on your elder neighbors. Tip the delivery driver extra. You don’t have to be cliché or trite; Simple kindness will speak volumes. Don’t miss the opportunity to give your interactions in commerce eternal value.
When you do fail at any of the above (because even I do and I like to think of myself as a money saving ninja), course correct as quickly as possible. Make returns, amends and peace with God. Do whatever is necessary to right your course and begin again.
Cherie Lowe is an author, speaker and hope bringer. Her book Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After, details her family's quest to eliminate over $127K in debt. Find her on Twitter (or any other social media platform) @thequeenoffree for offbeat money saving tips and random slices of life.