One of the tenets of the Advent Conspiracy is to Spend Less. It is also the secret to not going into debt.
If anything demonstrates how distorted Christmas has become, it is the amassed credit card debt. According to an ABC Report, 60% of credit card holders do not pay their balances in full. From within this group, credit counseling agencies report a 25% post-Christmas up-tick in people experiencing credit debt assistance. The London Telegraph notes that 1.5 million Britons take out payday loans to pay for Christmas! Most folks are happy if they can clear the debt by April, often thinking a tax refund will cover the balance. It is the worst kind of financial management. It generates personal stress and weakens the family. It is indeed ironic how many Christians participate in this trend. I should know because there was a time in my life when I was a part of that “tradition.” Besides attempting to cover gift purchases for my immediate family, I had to cover gifts for the extended family. Add to that office mates, business contacts, neighbors, my close friends, special offerings, and January sales, the amount of money I expended in late November through the first week in January was staggering.
Yet it was Jesus, himself, who taught us that we either serve God or Mammon. Mammon is more than money. It is spiritual servitude. It consumes us and demands our devotion. It is the very essence of debt. Yet how was I celebrating Christmas? I went out and generated four months of debt! When that happens, you spend a part of your life recovering from that debt, not only changing how you spend your income in the coming months, but also how you shift your priorities and even the level of generosity in the months after Christmas.
The first financial step I took to recover Christmas was to switch to a cash-only basis. No credit cards. The first Christmas was, admittedly, a failed attempt. We did not have enough cash to cover such a noble principle. Our urge to purchase gifts was still well ahead of our means. And, as a family member, I had to have buy-in from my immediate family as well as other extended family members. Getting “buy-in” from a five-year-old is a bit of a trick. The Advent Conspiracy tenet of “Spend Less” was not exactly easy to implement without some “preparation” for others in the family. So don’t beat yourself if you find this takes a few years to achieve.
Eventually, however, cash-only became a reality. It took a couple of seasons before we figured out how to pull back on our spending and save ahead. Once I figured how much we spent for Christmas, I set aside a given amount each month. Come Christmas, I could say we had $600 to spend on Christmas gifts and we, generally, kept to that amount. You can’t imagine what a huge change that was for me as a bill-payer. In the space of about three years we evolved from paying off credit cards in monthly installments to having money in the bank come November 1st. What that made possible for me was the opportunity to “Worship Fully” (another tenet of the Advent Conspiracy). Don’t kid yourself. It is impossible, as a bill-payer, to truly worship fully when you and everyone around you are making demands that will have grave financial consequences. It was a huge blessing to go through Christmas without that hanging over my head.
Sticking to the budget made “spend less” automatic. As noted above, there is a lot more that goes on with “spending less” than cutting your credit cards and unilaterally buying fewer gifts. It is a cultural shift. Your children need to appreciate that it is not important that they each get three gifts. But it is also more imperative that you, as a parent, are more aware of what is truly meaningful to them. Personally, I had to stop buying small gift items for the office. But I found purchasing tasty food items a good substitute, or simply baking a loaf of bread or a batch of snicker doodles . My wife has been great at making small craft items.
So pray about this important challenge – to get through Christmas without a single credit card purchase. It will be the first step in your journey to recapture the true meaning of gift-giving. And eventually you will have a Christmas without a worry or unnecessary demands on your financial resources.
Sources: “Lingering Christmas Bills Can Lead to Debt Woes,” ABC News, March 6, 2001
“Why debt-fuelled spending on Christmas and weddings is humbug”, The Telegraph, by Andrew Lilico, November 18, 2014
“Here’s what the average American spends on holiday gifts,” Motley Fool, by Maurie Backman, December 1, 2016
© Copyright 2016 to Eric Niewoehner