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Ask Chuck: Having a Meaningful Christmas on a Tight Budget

by Chuck Bentley November 30, 2018

Dear Chuck,

My parents moved in with us this year. We have two children in high school and a college student who has moved home to finish school. Our budget is tight but we want to be able to have a meaningful Christmas without going into debt. Your help is appreciated.

Dreaming of a Great Christmas

Dear Dreaming,

You’re one of a growing number of those who have children AND parents under your roof. The good news is, you CAN make Christmas meaningful for the whole family and avoid going into debt.

ask chuck meaningful christmas

In 1940, approximately one-fourth of Americans lived with three or more generations in one home. This declined after WWII, but a Pew Research report reveals that the number of multigenerational homes are increasing.

The key to celebrating well is to plan early and ignore the world’s take on Christmas. The example we, as parents, set for our children is enormous. Many of my sweetest memories cost nothing.

Budget-Friendly Christmas Tips

Love, affirmation, joy, and hope can be given without going into debt. So, gather the family and discuss everyone’s favorite traditions, record them for reference, and get to work. Be sure to shop without your credit card if you fear you will not be able to pay the balance in full when you get the statement in January!

I asked my wife, Ann, to help me with some of her best ideas for any family as she is the pro in our home at making Christmas meaningful without overspending. Here you go!

  1. Decorations

If you decorate, allow each generation to express themselves. Life is short – enjoy one another. Make this memorable with special food and music. Share the history of special ornaments and decorations. Your parents may have stories that are new to you!

  1. Food

Collect your recipes, make your menus, and plan your grocery shopping list. Shop sales and freeze ahead when possible. Bake cookies together. And, try mocha punch. It’s an unhealthy favorite at our house!

  1. Activities

December can be a flurry of activity with recitals, concerts, and parties. That’s why it’s important to plan family times. Include the lonely, sick or grieving in your planning to build compassion in the hearts of your young people.

Start a Christmas memory journal and encourage all to write or draw their contributions. Bring out photo albums and family movies of Christmases past.

Make an advent wreath or a paper chain to count down the days. Share Jesse Tree or Advent readings each evening. Sing Christmas Carols – the words are beautiful and timeless.

Host a Carol Sing or potluck Open House. A White Elephant Gift Exchange can be hilarious or deeply meaningful depending on your intent. Enjoy acting out the 12 days of Christmas. Attend community Christmas concerts, plays, and programs. Many are free!

Hold an affirmation night where you express words of appreciation over each family member. Allow time to prepare thoughtfully. Memorize Luke 2 together and recite it by candlelight on Christmas Eve.

Have Monopoly Marathons or play other board games. Read good books aloud. Teach the younger generation a skill or craft over the holidays.

Give adults personal time to exchange gifts or spend together. Remember family members who can’t be with you.

Plan a New Year’s Day Walk ending with a special brunch or breakfast. Bless the new babies and marriages. Pray for families who send you Christmas cards, focusing on one each day.

  1. Gifts

Pray blessings aloud over each person on Christmas Eve. Write a keepsake letter to each family member to give on Christmas morning. If you choose to exchange gifts, draw names to keep the costs down. Or make gift cards like lessons in a skill you can teach, a special outing, housework, yardwork or painting a room.

Pick a needy family or individual to bless anonymously. Pass down decorations and have your family collect money during the month to contribute to their financial needs.

Guidelines for Celebrating in a Multigenerational Home

Now you know why I asked Ann to help me with the Christmas ideas!  I personally believe the benefits of multigenerational families outweigh the costs. Even, if not especially, at Christmas. It’s the accepted way of life in many other nations and for many of our immigrants. It works when there’s a high level of mutual respect, open communication, flexibility, humor and love. Expectations of finances, chores, and space must be clearly expressed and understood.

There are many benefits to living with multiple generations under the same roof. Children blossom under the wisdom, attention and love of multiple adults in the home. The elderly are much less likely to experience loneliness when they have purpose, love, and needed care. Sharing the blessings of childcare, homework help, meal preparation, home and car maintenance skills is priceless. Building home equity rather than paying for retirement housing or assisted living is a great financial benefit. Expenses can be shared among the adults. And lastly, family values and traditions are strengthened in multigenerational homes.

The challenges in these situations may include caregiving stress, lack of privacy or quiet, and communication strife. Poor work ethics negatively impact the entire home. Young adults playing video games rather than participating in quality family time or fulfilling household responsibilities is just one example. Setting clear expectations from the start will help everyone to flourish under one roof.

I recommend regular meetings that all look forward to attending. This is especially important before Christmas. Concerns can be voiced, the budget analyzed, and goals set. Expenses can be discussed with the goal of teaching and redeeming. Accountability between loved ones is particularly important this time of year. Teens and young adults can benefit from advice when winsomely given. Many of them are blossoming later and struggling with issues we did not have to navigate.

This Christmas, I pray that everyone in your home celebrates the birth of our Lord. It’s an opportunity to live and share your faith, the most priceless gift. Guard the good deposit entrusted to you. (2 Timothy 1:14 ESV) and celebrate Christ’s birth, the one …who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. (Revelation 1:8 ESV)


Originally published on the Christian Post, November 30, 2018.

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