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Ask Chuck: Plan now to avoid ‘Debtmas’

Ask Chuck your money question

Dear Chuck,

My wife and I have two little ones. I love Christmas but always regret the financial stress it creates for our family. We finally paid off our Christmas debt from last year! Can you give me some ways to avoid doing it all over again?

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Debt-Free Christmas?

Unsplash/Towfiqu barbhuiya
Unsplash/Towfiqu barbhuiya

Dear Debt-Free Christmas?

Congratulations on getting your debt paid off! Your wish for a debt-free Christmas can come true, but it will take some planning and work — starting right now. 

Debtmas is coming!

Last October, a study on holiday spending was conducted on behalf of Credit Karma. Because so many were unable to afford the holidays, the article reported, “It’s beginning to look a lot like debt-mas.” You know that pain and should be extra motivated to prepare for the holidays long before they come. So, let’s get a plan started.

Here are some “who, what, where, when, and how’s” to get you started on prepping for next Christmas without debt.

WHY give without debt?

For six months, you have lived with self-inflicted stress. Proverbs 22:7: “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.” It is so fun to give gifts but much, much more joyful if you do so and avoid becoming a financial slave!  

WHO do you want to include?

Make a list and check it twice. Carefully narrowing who you include in gift-giving can keep you within your budget. Think back to former Christmases. To whom did you give? Family, friends, employees, neighbors, teachers, pastors, and more? Make a specific list; then add or delete as needed.

WHAT can you spend?

Do you have a rough idea of how much you spent last year? If not, look back over bank and credit card statements. Include Thanksgiving, especially if you host or if you carry food and hostess gifts for that holiday. Did you have travel expenses? Try to include anything that comes to mind. It is better to overestimate your costs than come up short. Be sure your budget will allow you to be generous and start the New Year without credit card debt.

WHERE will you celebrate?

Thinking this through will help you plan in a variety of ways. You may be able to reduce travel expenses, added costs of hosting, or eating out. Begin shopping now for airfares, Airbnbs/VRBOs, car rentals, etc., so you know what to expect.

WHEN can you start shopping?

Christmas is less than five months away. You can begin now and save on finding the best deals! Look at your list, and brainstorm gift ideas. Copy it and carry it with you. That way, when you spot items on sale or find things in garage sales or thrift stores, you can avoid the last-minute shopping frenzy. Many people completely blow their budget by not preparing wisely. Carrying cash is one way to limit credit card spending.

My wife added: If you need wrapping paper or ribbon, keep an eye out for anything that can pass for “Christmas” on clearance racks. You can buck traditional red, green, and white by using other colors, fabric, scarves, or newspaper with twine and herbs for beautiful wrapping.

Go through your home and determine if there are things you can give that will express your love to others. Family heirlooms accompanied with a note of history can be a priceless gift. A work of art, photographs, a piece of jewelry, china, and books are all possibilities. 

HOW creative can you be?

This is an opportunity for you to ask God for ways to stretch your dollars. He knows what you have and your earnest desires and can provide in unimaginable ways. When we ask and wait patiently, we often discover the beautiful means which He provides. On the other hand, when we step out ahead of Him with credit cards or other forms of debt, we miss experiencing answers to prayers. God can give you creativity. Ask Him for eyes to see potential in sale or used items and for ways to bless those you want to honor.

Come up with a theme, and try rallying your friends, family, and coworkers in this venture. Some ideas might include: “Nothing New Under the Tree,” “Stocking” gifts — things that will only fit in a stocking — or “Handmade” gifts. “White Elephant” gift exchanges can be fun. Gift cards for experiences with you can be especially delightful: trip to the zoo, arboretum, museum, art show, concert, sporting event, bookstore, coffee/tea, and so on. Look for special events and free or special prices to make this possible. Another idea is to give your time or talent: babysitting, cooking, art classes, music lessons, tutoring, carpool driving, etc. 

General budget help

If you read my articles or listen to my radio spots, you know that I preach a simple strategy:  spend less than you earn, set goals, get on a budget, and follow a financial plan. Try cutting back on non-essential spending to free up dollars, and deposit this regularly into a savings account dedicated to your Christmas budget. Making sacrifices now will reduce future stress. Plus, you may discover the joy in cutting back and find that it is really not so painful.

For additional support with credit card debt, Christian Credit Counselors is a trusted source of help to get on the road to financial freedom.

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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