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Ask Chuck: What Can I Do About Christmas Debt?

by Chuck Bentley December 13, 2019

Dear Chuck,

I have credit card debt from last Christmas and don’t see any way out of adding to it this year. I am depressed about it but can’t bring myself to deny my children a great Christmas. What can I do? 

Christmas Stress


Dear Christmas Stress, 

I have been in your shoes and understand the stress and the pain that you are in. 

Where Does the Pressure Come From? 

It’s fascinating how the world tries to convince us of the need to do more, to have more, to buy more. And yet, we’re never told those things in the Bible. 

We feel guilt and unable to measure up if we don’t do what “others” are doing. But, the fact is, many of the “others” are living paycheck-to-paycheck or are on the brink of bankruptcy. reports that 9% of Americans are still paying off holiday debt from last year. That is  sad to me because it’s just not necessary. 

Can I encourage you to ignore what the world is doing? Adding to last year’s debt is only going to compound your depression! And that won’t help you or your children! 

A Change of Perspective and Plans 

The solution is resting in your identity and finding peace in Christ. The apostle Paul wrote:

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated

at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on

earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:1-3 ESV)

You do not have to deny your children a “great Christmas.” Just do it differently than what you might see on TV, Instagram, Facebook, friends, family and neighbors, or even the past! 

Spend only what you can afford while still paying your bills. That might be $20. And that’s OK!

True gifts are an expression of the heart – not the wallet. Emphasize what’s important. Don’t complain, and don’t feel sorry for yourself. Don’t apologize for what you give. Instead, be grateful and look for God’s grace in your situation. 

Make your situation known. My wife, Ann, was at a dinner last week and a woman said she was going to order a special toy for her son. Another mom said, I’ve got one in my garage that you can have. It’s still in the box! Our neighborhood has united in helping one another. It took one person expressing her need for help when she was overwhelmed with a sick husband. 

My Christmas Blues Story

The year I was right where you are, my wife and I decided together that we were not going to go into debt for Christmas. We also began to pray that the Lord would give us peace to put into practice many of the tips we share below. We gave thanks for our circumstances and realized much of the stress we felt was coming from my own expectations of what I wanted to give my family. The pressure was not coming from them.  

At the company Christmas party, my boss pulled me aside and said he was sorry we would not be getting a bonus that year; however, he said he had some personal outdoor gear items that he would like to pass on to me and my sons for Christmas. To my shock, he gave us four items that together were valued near $4,000.  Little did he know that my sons would have never asked for these items for themselves but were on their dream list! God provided beyond anything I could have ever imagined. 

Gifts that Only Cost Time

Ann helped me with many of these tips and ideas: 

  • Children crave personal attention. Use the holidays to fill their love tanks. Money can’t do that.
  • Research shows that experiences rather than things often give greater satisfaction. 
  • Know your children and what THEY like. If they love dogs, watch dog shows, read dog books, go to dog shows. If they like tinkering, teach them how to use tools and do repairs. Get on their level and sacrifice your time for them. They will love and remember it!
  • Read scripture aloud together every night. We’re reading through the book of Luke this month.
  • Make cards to put in their lunches or on their pillows. You can make gift certificates for something special to do together (and it doesn’t have to cost a penny!)
  • Decorate with nature, with items found at thrift shops, or from friends. Wrap your presents with paper shopping bags and write a special message on it. 
  • Make the days special. Bake cookies together. Cook meals together giving the children special tasks that express your need and appreciation for their help. Affirm them verbally.  
  • Read Christmas stories together or watch a holiday movie. Enjoy a bowl of popcorn, hot chocolate and marshmallows. 
  • Work a puzzle while listening to holiday music or a Christmas book. 
  • Play board games. Color together. My mother used to do this for hours with our boys. 
  • Go for walks, bike rides, or hikes. Drive through holiday lights. Pack special snacks. 
  • Go to the museums, the zoo, or state parks. Invite friends or family to join you. Carry snacks.
  • Give a jar with spare change or roll your change together and open a bank account for the child. 
  • In our family, we draw names among the adults and have a spending limit of $25. We do it through a site online so people can post what they want and names are kept secret. 

The Ghost of Christmas Debt Past

Rather than create more debt this year, I want you to create a plan to eliminate that old debt you are carrying around like a ball and chain. If you’re a visual person, make a sign to show your progress. Involve the family. When you get it paid, transfer those monthly payments into an Emergency Fund. That will give you some margin. 

Prepare for next year by planning early

My prayers are that you can be thankful for your circumstances, have a wonderful, debt-free

Christmas celebration with your family, and begin the New Year with a plan to avoid this stress in 2020. 


Originally posted on the Christian Post, December 13th, 2019.

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