Ask Chuck: Christmas Shopping on a Budget

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Dear Chuck,

Christmas is right around the corner, and I'm having a little bit of trouble shopping for Christmas presents. I want to buy meaningful, useful gifts, but it can just get so expensive so fast. Beyond just having a budget, what advice can you give on how to prepare for holiday spending?

Thanks,

Making a List and Checking it Twice

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Chuck Bentley

Dear Making a List,

I hope your list checking includes shopping carefully for the best price! My wife, Ann, bought our grandchildren their Christmas pajamas weeks ago. She looked and looked in stores and online. When the price was right, she pounced! I consulted with her for some practical tips to offer you.

To avoid the pressure of last minute shopping and the world's materialism, take some time to pray and think through the meaning and purpose of the season. Center your celebration around Christ with a heart of gratitude. Treasure the words of John, the beloved disciple:

... the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)

Christmas is a time to share our love with others. We can do that without bringing undo stress upon ourselves. Simply plan and follow a few suggestions.

Plan

Make a list. Write (or type) out all the people you need to shop for, the amount of money you can spend on each, and the gift, or type of gift, you'd like to buy for them. This will prevent distractions and save you time. Of course, be sure to check it twice.

Set your budget. Decide on a reasonable amount of money to spend on all the gifts, meals, and supplies (wrapping paper, Christmas lights, etc.) that you need to buy. It doesn't need to be a big number for you to have a meaningful Christmas! Sticking strictly to your budget will allow you to enjoy the season without the stress of debt ... and start the New Year off right.

Crown Financial Ministries has an easy-to-use guide that can help you create a budget you love! Find it for free here.

Use cash. Research shows people spend less using cash. Use large bills. They're psychologically harder to break. (If you don't use actual cash, plan to pay all the items you charge to your card when or before your first bill arrives. DO NOT carry a balance into January!)

Some people prefer shopping by themselves because they can go faster with fewer temptations. They get their cash the day before, eat breakfast, pack a water bottle and lunch, and head out early in the morning with a list and mapped route.

Some love to shop with friends or family. Especially if you're shopping on big days, like Black Friday or November 1, there can be strength in numbers. If you can stay focused and on budget, organize a team to divide and conquer. Just go over the plan before you get to the stores!

Consider strategically shopping in smaller towns to avoid the mall crowds.

I've heard of some families buying their children three gifts, since Jesus received three from the wise men. Other families give their children four items: a want, a need, a wear, and a read. I like both ideas and both can save you money!

When

Many sales begin November 1st, but the biggest shopping day is Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. While you can find great deals on items, many stores increase their prices to make the discounts look more significant. Be careful to not fall into one of these traps by doing your homework beforehand!

Cyber Monday (the Monday after Thanksgiving) is also a major shopping day, with major discounts on online stores everywhere. Sign up with your favorite online merchants now for sale alerts and pre-sale deals. Then find more great deals from the comfort of your own home, with some Thanksgiving leftovers.

Wrapping Pointers

A beautifully presented gift speaks volumes. You can do this at very little cost. Save paper bags to cut and wrap in twine, yarn or recycled ribbon. Decorate with herbs or old Christmas cards. Have your children color the paper prior to wrapping to make it even more special.

Special Online Discounts

Ask live-chat associates for a discount. Never hurts to ask!

One of my favorite shopping tricks is to put items you want to buy in your shopping cart. (If you've shopped the site before, your email is in their system.) Then close the window or empty the cart (copy what you want for later). Within minutes or later that day you may get an email with a discount code. Simply reload your cart and buy!

Also be sure to check out Free Shipping Day or install Honey for automatic coupons.

Protect Yourself

Guard your credit cards, wallets, and purses when shopping. Park in protected areas when visiting stores. Only shop online with reputable merchants.

"Package pirating" is the theft of packages on porches. An estimated 23 million Americans have had packages stolen from their porch.

To keep your packages safe:

  • use delivery alert apps on your phone.
  • have packages delivered to a friend or neighbor's house who are home during the day.
  • when possible, select a delivery time when you will be home.
  • install a video surveillance system to answer the door remotely.

Alternatives to Shopping

I don't recommend giving gift cards for a variety of reasons. If you want to avoid spending money altogether, here are some ideas:

  • Make something.
  • Spend time together: cook, attend concerts, games, parades, play games, work puzzles.
  • Make your own gift cards: massage, housecleaning, garden prep, meals, babysitting, concert, zoo, arboretum outings, chauffeuring to sports, music, or school, tutoring, driving practice with teenager, teach a skill like knitting, sewing, gardening, woodworking, car maintenance or cooking. The ideas are endless.

Research shows that experiences rather than things often give greater satisfaction. Take in a local event or plan a trip together.

Another idea is to gather friends to make gifts together: dividing perennials, planting bulbs in pots, cooking, crafting, chopping and delivering firewood, or choosing heirlooms to give.

Budget for Holiday Meals

Preparing extra food for special events adds up! Shop sales, and stock up now. Divide the food items among guests when possible. We have friends who host special dinners in their home throughout December. They decorate beautifully and prepare meals they only eat at Christmas.

As you celebrate the birth of Christ this year, do it with intentionality and joy without going into debt. A little planning and creativity can make this holiday one you will long remember!

Thanks for your question! I hope this will help you have a stress free celebration of His birth.

Christians, awake! Salute the happy morn wheron the Savior of the world was born;

Rise to adore the mystery of love, which hosts of angels chanted from above;

With them the joyful tidings first begun.... (John Byrom, 1749)

Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, the largest Christian financial ministry in the world, founded by the late Larry Burkett. He is the host of a daily radio broadcast, My MoneyLife, featured on more than 1,000 Christian Music and Talk stations in the U.S., and author of his most recent book, Money Problems, Marriage Solutions. Be sure to follow Crown on Facebook.