3 Steps When You and Your Spouse Don’t Agree on Christmas Spending

Around this time last year, I remember receiving several questions from spouses about their “holiday budgets”. One woman in particular explained that her husband was more of an “Ebenezer Scrooge” when it came to Christmas spending, while she loved the experience of shopping for others and giving big gifts.

I would have to imagine that this scenario is not unusual. My wife and I are pretty much polar opposites when it comes to our spending habits! We’ve had to work through our own differences over the years as to how we prefer to spend money on Christmas. So if this explains your situation, take heart, because you are not alone.

Just because you and your spouse share an appreciation of Christmas doesn’t mean that you naturally agree on how to mark this occasion (or other celebrations for that matter). But I have found that identifying things you can agree on, instead of focusing on what you disagree on, is the key to having marital harmony around the holidays. Here’s my advice on how to do that.

1. Make a Goal

In order to find some peace in Christmas, during which we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, first sit down together and agree that your goal is to put Christ first in your celebration.

Agree that a tug of war over how big a celebration is not where you want to go. It is, by the way, the greatest birthday celebration the world has ever known and should be focused on worshipping and adoring the Christ child. That is a good place to start to find your common ground.

The reality is that in most marriages one person is a spender and one is a saver. Consider that God’s design for checks and balances, ensuring that the family benefits from both perspectives.

As with all financial decisions made as a team, agree that you will listen respectfully…and then do it! A good place to begin is to talk about what your childhood Christmases were like and what you would you like to replicate or never experience again in your own home.

What to do when you and your spouse don't agree on christmas spending

In counseling hundreds of couples around the world, I’ve learned that people are often reacting to their life experiences when they make financial decisions – trying to recreate good memories or avoid bad ones. So seek to understand your spouse’s point of view, hopes, dreams and fears.

In our case, I liked the over-blown decorations and treasure trove of gifts under the tree because that was the way I grew up. My wife appreciates simplicity, fewer gifts with more meaning and a focus on worship. We have migrated her direction and it has been a blessing on many levels.

2. Make a Decision

Second, decide together on one thing you both really want to enjoy as a family. Perhaps one of the problems in your Christmas celebration is that too much of your conflict comes from fighting over individual goals and not the shared goals of a man and woman.

This does not need to be about money. Low cost options could be enjoying free Christmas concerts, going caroling or ice skating. Agree together on memories you want to create and make that your first priority. Last year Ann and I decided to enjoy Christmas Day serving food at a homeless shelter with our two youngest sons. It was a first for our family and we all enjoyed it!

3. Make a Plan

Third, make a plan for how much you want to spend. Some people truly have the gift of giving, but that still requires a budget.

The spouse who does not want to tax a family’s resources provides an important point of view at a time of year when we are all encouraged to go into credit card debt in every TV ad for things we don’t really need or want. I think it is wise to agree to a debt-free Christmas budget and work from there.

Consider your gift giving in creative ways, with baked treats, or a homemade treasure, or a family heirloom that can be passed along, or with your time. The goal is to show your love, not your checkbook.

When it gets stressful, take a break and find something to laugh about. As Charles Dickens wrote, “It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.” Remember, “joy to the world, the Lord has come!”