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Christmas time is a very special time for my family as I am sure it is yours as well. With 5 children at home, and 2 of them still young enough to be caught up by the imagination of reindeer, it is always very fun to watch their little faces light up on Christmas morning. There is something about seeing the sparkle in the eyes of little ones on Christmas morning that makes it a very fun time. Unfortunately this magical time, can become a time of stress and financial strain on many family budgets. While no parent wants to see their child disappointed on Christmas morning, the measures that some parents go can create more financial stress than warm smiles can cover.
My wife and I used lay-away at our local Wal-Mart this season, and went today to pick everything up. What we witnessed was horrific, sad, and I am ashamed to say entertaining. I’m ashamed to say it’s entertaining in the same way I’d be ashamed to be caught slowing down to rubber neck while passing a train wreck. The customers were frustrated (some irate), and the employees were flustered, overwhelmed, and seemingly unprepared. When we arrived at 11:00am in the morning we were welcomed to a scene I could only describe as what you would see on one of these day time TV shows where everyone is screaming at each other. The lady making the most noise looked like she came out of central casting for the Jerry Springer Show.
So from what we could put together from all the back and forth the lady making all the noise was upset because the toy castle she had laid away for her daughter was unable to be found by the Wal-Mart staff. Understanding the frustration many were sympathetic, but as she continued her tirade the sympathy of the room quickly turned to annoyance. Yes it was frustrating for everyone to have to wait so long, and yes the lost toy is understandably frustrating, but was the response justified. It made me think very quickly how we all can allow the pressure of the Christmas season to create unreasonable demands on ourselves, family, and finances. Here are 3 ways to avoid the financial pressures that the season can bring if gone unchecked.
1. Keep your focus on the true reason for the celebration
One of the best things you can do for yourself, finances, and family is to remember what the season is all about. First and foremost Christmas is about debt cancelation. Yes that is right, debt cancelation. The most powerful words in the Christmas story is in the first 5 words that open the entire story, “And it came to pass”. A great debt was accumulated by all of humanity, and the only one who could forgive the debt sent payment for the debt as promised. For hundreds of years humanity was told that your debt has been noticed, but the one who is owed is promising to settle this debt by paying for it Himself. Hence the Christmas story begins with 5 powerful words, “and it came to pass” to let those who believed that their debt would one day be paid off, could now celebrate. Joy To The World!
Because the story for this time of year is a celebration of a debt being canceled it makes no sense to celebrate it in a way that would create debt. Therefore when you are thinking about shopping for Christmas make a budget, and stick to it. Yes the greatest gift given to all of mankind during this time was an expensive one, but a debt wasn’t created but canceled in the giving. I can tell you after 17 years of having little pattering feet around the tree on Christmas morning I can’t really remember what the gifts were, but I can remember the time with each other. I can remember the faces, the smiles, the excitement, the love, the time with one another. Keeping your focus on the reason to celebrate will go a long way in avoiding financial stress.
2. Get creative where you can
With 5 children, several friends and family, and all of the expenses of travel money can run thin real quick when trying to purchase everyone gifts. One year we decided instead of purchasing all of our family members gifts we would record a song, and make our own CD. This took several hours to do, but it was a way more meaningful gift than trying to buy 6o gifts that would have had to be less than $5 ea to stay within budget. With a budget of $5 we asked ourselves, “can we make something that would be a little more personal and higher value”? Turns out the CD’s were a hit with our family. We’re not professional musicians and singers, but we enjoyed doing it, and the family enjoyed receiving something more personal than what would otherwise been given.
A few years ago when I first was pivoting from being in the music business and going into the insurance and financial planning business money was tight. I was just starting in the new business, and we couldn’t afford to spend a whole lot on gifts for the children that year. That is when we discovered Craigslist.org. We found gifts like electric toy cars that would’ve been $250 – $400 for only $45. Yes it was used, but you’d be amazed what $10 worth of paint and decals can do. That year our kids had gifts that would’ve appeared to cost hundreds of dollars, but for 5 children less than $200 was spent. This is the year I truly discovered the meaning of the cliche’, “necessity is the mother of all inventions”.
3. Communicate and manage expectations
Pride cost way too much, but is worth so very little. No one wants to be the one in the family that brings up budgets on the gifts to be exchanged, but I guarantee everyone is grateful to the one who brings it up. This gets really into the root of most financial problems, but it is absolutely the truth. Most financial problems are due to the what your believe. If you ask many people why financial problems exist they will tell you because of opportunity, education, or skill set. The truth of that matter is none of those things are the main reason why people struggle.
People struggle in business, and in their finances because of their belief system. What you think about yourself, your life, your purpose, your value, your calling, even your world has more to do with your finances than any of the other stuff. Education is important, skills are important, and the opportunities given can definitely help, but without first knowing your own value you will never earn your potential, operate in your purpose, or manage with a sense of priority. Knowing those things are what creates financial wealth. Discover yourself, and you’ll discover your financial success. So don’t be too worried about what others think. Be the one that communicates to the family about expectations on gift exchanges.