Haunting from the Ghost of Christmas Past
It is easy to get into the retailer’s shopping rhythm: buy, buy, buy. Frequently “last minute,” or “perfect” gifts are put on credit cards. Most people who put Christmas purchases on credit cards have every intention of paying off the balance within two to three months, but the American Bankers Association says it doesn’t work out that way.
It usually takes over six months for Americans to pay for holiday purchases. Financial experts call it a “holiday hangover.” When January rolls around, you are left with a messy dead tree and a pile of bills. The tree will go out with the trash, but the Ghost of Christmas Past, dressed by your Gold Card, will be marching in the Fourth of July parade.
This ghost doesn’t need to be part of your summer. Do Christmas with no credit cards, especially store cards. Department store cards will haunt your credit report for years. They will entice you with deals like $20 store credit or 10% off your first purchase, but even at 10% off you are still paying a whopping 18 to 21% on the remaining 90% of your purchase for the next seven or eight months. Remember, the point is not to spend Christmas, but to keep Christmas by keeping the Spirit of Christ.
Making a Plan
Planning makes all the difference in any situation. Retailers plan. Retailers plan on your lack of planning. They know that on the day after Thanksgiving you will buy presents for everyone from Aunt Maude and your loving spouse to your little sister and her son. They also plan that you will be back.
A week later when you stop at the Super-Mart to get diapers and milk, you will forget amid all the rest of the hustle and bustle that you already have something for you sister. You find a great sweater; it’s her favorite shade of yellow. You buy it. Commercial Christmas just scored a point on you.
Retailers also plan on your procrastination. They plan that you won’t have time to make brownies for your office Christmas party, so you will buy two-dozen cupcakes with plastic snowmen on top. They plan that on the morning of your extended family Christmas party, you will have nothing for Uncle Jack. You go to the bookstore and buy a great book, but spend 25% more than you would have had you bought it online three weeks ago. Plan, plan, and plan.
Make friends with the Ghost of Christmas Future
If simplifying the Christmas season is your goal, you should avoid the Ghost of Christmas Past, but spend a great deal of time developing a relationship with the Ghost of Christmas Future. Planning for next year’s Christmas should begin four to six months before December even becomes the calendar page.
Some shopping can even be done when Christmas is still 364 days away. Decorations, wrapping paper, and cards are reduced significantly after Christmas: 50%, 75%, and even 90% less than they were a mere forty-eight hours earlier. But be careful; don’t buy and then forget what you already have. Make a big note on next December’s page, “Wrapping paper and cards are in the box in the basement!”
As soon as Christmas is over, start saving for next year. Just think, if you had $100 direct deposited out of your paycheck and into a separate “Christmas” account every month, by the time Christmas shopping is at its peak you would have saved over $1,000. Additionally, if you buy with cash, when it’s gone it’s gone. Shopping with cash puts you in a different frame of mind than the “I’ll think about it tomorrow” attitude that goes along with credit card buying.
Managing Your Money
Plan a Christmas budget. Look at what you spent last year (resolve to keep meticulous records this year if you haven’t before). How much did you spend on cards, decorations, wrapping paper, the tree, parties, postage, phone calls, the new dress, hostess gifts, teacher gifts, and neighbor gifts? Look at what you bought and use your creativity to see how you could reduce your expenses in each category.
To simplify the gift giving practice, make a list of everyone you need to buy for, then follow Santa’s advice and check it twice. Evaluate the list. How much are you going to spend on each person? Write it down and add it up. Decide if there are gifts that can be homemade or “give-of-yourself” service. Do not buy anything without checking your list.
A Peaceful Gift from the Ghost of Christmas Present
Christmas Present represents how you spend your time. By the time you go to the office party, your daughter’s dance program, the school’s Christmas choir concert, your aunt’s party, the ward party, the neighbor’s party, and then complete all the baking and buying, time becomes as rare and valuable as money. Every second counts, so create some traditions with family and friends that will fill a need and endorse joyful celebration.
Instead of buying gifts for your friends, host a Christmas card brunch party. Everyone brings a dish to share as well as their cards and stamps. You can eat, visit, and stuff envelopes at the same time. We have found Christmas Eve is a very long day, so we invite several neighbor families over for brunch and have the children put on a nativity program for the adults. It is a fun way to kill a few hours in an otherwise anxious day and we all have great memories and pictures.
Making Christmas for Family
To me the most important task of Christmas Present is to make it meaningful for the children. They should understand the true meaning and reason for the celebration. Teach them, as Paul taught, the joy of giving: “So let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).
Empower children with the ability to give. There is a deep pleasure in having something of worth to give. Give your child or grandchild a budget and take them shopping, or have them make gifts. Most of all, spend time together. Make Christmas s’mores or drink hot chocolate outside while you watch the stars. Go ice skating, sledding, or hiking, or just get cozy at home. Turn off the phone, build a fire, pop some corn, and tell them stories about when they were babies. Pray as a family each night and recount the blessings offered by our Savior’s love.
It takes a vast amount of backbone and pluck to dismantle the Christmas customs compiled by retailers, but gird up your loins; you can do this! The payoff will be worth it. Christmas Present will be peaceful and pleasant, January to July will be much merrier without the haunting from the Ghost of Christmas Past, and your family’s future Christmas seasons will be all the better. God bless us everyone!