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Christmas on a shoestring budget

This time of year can be hard on the pocketbook; but there are other ways of making the season memorable

It’s true, the holiday season of joy, peace and love is also accompanied by commercialism, a lengthy list of shopping and gift to do’s for a seemingly endless list of people, and a scheduling frenzy of social gatherings.  It is noted as one of the most stressful financial times for people, and rightfully so.  Christmas in our culture seems to carry with it a financial burden that can be hard to swallow.

Let’s face it, it’s hard to ignore the stores shelves lined with Christmas items months before Christmas, and the excitement in your kids eyes as they share their Christmas list filled with things they won’t be getting because it’s too expensive.  This makes you feel terrible, so, you start to reconsider, “Well, it’s more than I wanted to spend but it IS Christmas afterall so maybe we can make it work.”  We’ve all been there.  I get it.

Christmas goes by in a blur of adrenaline and excitement with all of the decorating, tree trimming, wrapping, unwrapping, egg nog, turkey, and cookies.  When the dust settles, you’ve gained five pounds as usual, made an appearance at every party you were supposed to be at, and purchased the perfect gift for everyone on your list – another successful holiday season.

Then January comes and reality hits.  Opening a maxed out Visa bill for the gifts of Christmas past with no money to pay for it is a crappy way to start the New Year.

Was it really worth it?  It’s not fun to be that person begrudging their purchases.  Overspending during the holiday season can wreak havoc with your financial situation and have you paying for Christmas gifts for many months to come.  It’s important to keep a level head and keep spending within your means. 

There are lots of benefits to giving experiences rather than material gifts and creating memories together rather than buying more stuff.  While I wholeheartedly love this idea, it's easy to go overboard with this one too.  A trip to Disney is a great experience but can definitely be hard on the budget.

If you're tight on money this holiday season, does this mean you need to be a Grinch?  Absolutely not!

Maybe we just need to step back and take a fresh perspective.  Maybe we need to revisit the spirit of the holiday season and take time to celebrate the joy, peace and love we want to, without the commercialism and financial pressures.  Is this possible?  I for one think it is.

There are so many creative things we can do to limit our material purchases and still share the spirit of Christmas with our loved ones because one day;

I will forget the black leather purse my kids bought me for Christmas, but I’ll treasure the clay handprints they made me forever.  I will smile for many years to come as I use the hand-made bookmarks they made me when I open my book at night.

My children will forget the iTunes or Fortnight gift certificates we gave them, but they’ll remember the Christmas when we went tobogganing,  made snowmen and had hot chocolate.  They will remember playing board games together, and having cousins for a sleepover and will speak of these memories for many years to come.

My husband will forget the designer tie we gave him, but he’ll remember singing Christmas carols and lighting candles as a family on Christmas Eve and the silly family Christmas photos we took together.

The teacher, dance instructor, or hockey coach will forget the box of Belgian chocolates and Timmies gift cards, but they’ll remember the sincerity of your card thanking them for their role in your child’s life.

Our children will learn appreciation and empathy as they remember our annual gift for the angel tree, however small.

We should all be empowered to define what’s important for the holidays by our own desires.  We should have the ability to feel good about our gifts and contributions however great or small as determined by our means at the time. 

Dr. Seuss says it best , “What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.  What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

It's time, not money, that equals love in the end.

Wishing you peace, love and joy this holiday season as you spend time with your loved ones making Christmas memories to be cherished for years to come.

Stephanie Farrow, BA., CFP., Stephanie has over 26 years' experience in the financial services industry, a diploma in Financial Planning from the Canadian Institute of Financial Planning and Certified Financial Planner designation.  Stephanie has been writing a financial column for local business magazine Elgin This Month/This Month in Elgin since 2010.  Stephanie and her husband own Farrow Financial Services Inc.  About our Farrow Financial Team.

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Column originally appeared in Elgin This Month in December 2011. Updated in December 2019.

Photo credit Pixabay