by Andrea Bulen
Christmas is a time for overspending, overeating and general overindulging. Presents. Parties. Trips. Calories. Headaches. It all adds up. And it’s exhausting (your energy and your wallet).
As I take a step back and look at my own haphazard Christmas spending, I’m wondering how much more happiness I’ve brought about with all that added spending. Money does buy some happiness. Presents under the tree bring my kids much happiness (which, in turn makes us happy). But, does the cost of the morning excitement incrementally add to our family's happiness, or is the cost irrelevant?
My family has struggled for years with what to do about a gift exchange on Christmas Eve. We’ve tried a variety of approaches: exchange of names, bring a boy (or girl) gift, white elephant, etc. We all spend $40 - $50 and too much time and stress over finding a gift for someone we see but twice a year. Why is it that Christmas gatherings don’t feel complete without the exchange of gifts? Why does the exchange of gifts translate into family bonding and stronger relationships? Last year my 21 year-old cousin ended up with a specialized cutting board and knife sharpener (though I’m pretty sure his meals consist of ramen noodles and pizza). $40 spent on the cutting board and knife sharpener was not useful to him (could have thrown it out the car window on the way to the party) -- and to top it all off, he may not have even had a chance to talk to the person who gave it to him. (Ahem! That would be me.)
My aunt came up with a great idea this year. What if, instead of exchanging gifts, we each took a turn sharing something interesting about ourselves? Anything we want to share. We will have inspirational questions available for those of us who are a little more challenged to come up with a topic.
- Where is the furthest place you’ve ever traveled and why did you go there?
- Tell us a memory of your grandfather or grandmother?
- What was the best job you’ve ever had? What was the worst?
- Where did you meet your significant other?
- Where were you when John Kennedy was killed?
- What were your Christmas traditions as a child?
The ages of my cousins range from 21 to 54. While my 54 year-old cousins have spent time with our grandparents, my 20-something cousins have never met them. I'm certain that my 20-somethings would love to hear stories about the grandparents they’ve never met.
How much would you pay for those memories? (Record them for safekeeping and a fun family history).
Another idea would be for each person to choose a charity to make a donation to in the name of your family. At your get together you could share why you chose the organization you did.
How valuable would it be to demonstrate generosity and show your family what causes are important to you?
Our new goal is to deepen relationships with those around us, to eliminate some of the shopping craziness, and to be intentional with our spending. This is easier said than done. It requires planning and sometimes difficult family conversations.
If you’d like to step back from the extravagance of Christmas, make your Christmas meaningful to you, and enhance the relationships around you, it is possible with intentional spending (of time and money).
Decide what type of Christmas you want for your family. What do you want to experience? What do you want your house to feel like? Who do you want to spend your time with? Why are you buying each present? Are new decorations really necessary? Which important family traditions do you want to continue?
Intentional spending is often undermined by unplanned trips to the mall, emails
for LAST CHANCE, ONE DAY ONLY sales with FREE SHIPPING, and sudden impulses to become a master chef and throw random gourmet ingredients into your grocery cart (which may, or more likely may not, turn into anything edible).
Before you head out to the mall or do your online shopping, figure out how much money you have available to spend on Christmas. This includes experiences, decorations and events. Make a spending plan. Keep yourself in check. Before you over-fill your calendar, prioritize how you want to spend your time and with whom. Make a plan and check it twice. You may have to learn how to say, "No, thank you."
“Intentional spending” sounds cold, but it’s easy to warm up to when enjoying quality time with those that matter most to you.
May your Holidays be filled with all the good stuff (and people)!
Share your favorite family traditions with us!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!