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Ask Chuck: How to have a debt-free Christmas

Ask Chuck your money question

Dear Chuck,

Inflation has hurt our family. We have very little money to spend on Christmas gifts this year. I am tempted but decided to skip all the Black Friday madness this year. My husband and I discussed using our credit cards for Christmas gifts, but he said no way. Haven’t you offered tips for ways to celebrate without spending money?

Frugal Christmas This Year

iStock/Ridofranz
iStock/Ridofranz

Dear Frugal Christmas This Year,

Here we are again — another Black Friday that kicks off the shopping frenzy for 2023.

Some people really look forward to it every year and line up early to rush into stores for supposed bargain deals. Others, like me, tend to ignore it as mostly marketing hype.

If your finances are in need of some help, then read my Black Friday Survival Guide from 2017 or Christmas Shopping on a Budget from 2021. Like your husband, I want you to have a wonderful Christmas without debt! Don’t let Black Friday create a Red New Year! That is, avoid going into debt — period! Don’t spend money you don’t have. Don’t open retail credit cards or buy-now-pay-later accounts. Don’t give in to pressure to spend money you don’t have. Exercise self-control and track your spending to make sure you can cover the costs (in full!) when the bills come due. 

Celebrate with joy, not debt!

As always, I asked my wife, Ann, for her best advice on saving money. She is our resident expert! Here are some ways she suggests to celebrate the beauty of the season without partaking in a gift-buying frenzy:

  • Bake cookies or bread to deliver to neighbors, shut-ins, or the lonely.
  • Drive around and enjoy the holiday lights.
  • Listen to beautiful Christmas music. Attend free Christmas concerts or a live nativity.
  • Read an advent devotional together as a family. We did a Jesse Tree every year.
  • Read classic Christmas stories: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, The Gift of the Magi, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, The Family Under the Bridge, A Christmas Carol, and more wholesome holiday stories.
  • Watch It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, and other redeeming movies or holiday performances.
  • Make some holiday crafts to share with the elderly, lonely, hurt, or sick.
  • Organize a time for Christmas caroling to the shut-ins in your neighborhood.
  • Work holiday puzzles and play board games.
  • Host a holiday potluck.
  • Go on a walk/hike and come home to hot chocolate and treats.
  • Read the Christmas story (Luke 2:1–20), and have children, friends, or family act it out in costume.
  • Have a gift exchange in which gifts are handmade or already owned. No money is to be spent. Don’t have anything? Make your own gift cards—for a walk, a trip to a museum, a visit to the bookstore, a cup of coffee, etc. Think of a thoughtful gift you would be happy to receive.
  • Go to church. Invite people who have never been or may be too lonely, sad, or outcast to go on their own.
  • Write notes of affirmation for family, friends, and those who are important to you.
  • Give the gift of a future experience together or acts of service that will bless the ones you love. For friends, neighbors, or family, offer to clean a garage, rake the leaves, or shovel the snow, or have a general workday at their home. For the kids, make a card that surprises them with a choice of their favorite treats and an activity that they have always wanted to do together, like tickets to a concert, sporting event, or destination. Set a future date to deliver, and save enough cash to make it happen without debt. These experiences will be cherished for years.

Pray and focus on what He has done

Pray, and ask God to provide in ways that you could never plan. One of our friends raised seven children on a limited budget. He tells the story of when one of the young boys said they wanted a grand piano for Christmas. There was no way the family could ever afford it. But they prayed. Before Christmas arrived, a friend contacted them and said she no longer needed their grand piano after the death of her spouse and asked if they could use it in their home!

Change your mindset by focusing on the truth of Christmas: the arrival of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who came to give us new life. Nothing comes close to the wonder of this! Refuse to let your heart be gripped by the advertising and materialistic madness of the season. Note what the Apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 3:1–2 (ESV):

"If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth."

Renew your mind, give thanks in all things, and focus on the true meaning of Christmas. Listen to the words of Christmas carols and teach them to your family. They are rich in meaning and timeless. Memorize Luke 2:1–20 as a family. This way, you can enjoy the season without fearing bills arriving in January. Not only will you have a frugal Christmas but a fulfilling one as well!

For everyday inspiration, subscribe to the Crown God Is Faithful devotional. You will receive daily devotionals that will help transform your finances and provide much-needed encouragement. May it be a blessing!

Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, a global Christian ministry, 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, Economic Evidence for God?. Be sure to follow Crown on Facebook.

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