Ask Chuck: Avoiding the Christmas Spending Trap

Dear Chuck,

The commercialization of Christmas feels like a big financial trap! My husband and I want to show love to our kids and family but the pressure to spend and borrow just to put a bunch of packages under the tree seems ridiculous.

Any advice for stressed out parents like us?

Bah Humbug!

 

Dear Ebenezer’s Kin,  

Just kidding about being Ebenezer’s relation; here’s a high five for asking what so many others are probably thinking and feeling right now. I understand your pain and will offer some perspective and practical help.

I love Christmas – the lights, music, food and celebrations! They are reminders of how our world was changed by the most significant birth in history – the arrival of Jesus Christ.

Christmas provides opportunities for families and friends to reunite while offering a pleasant break from routine. Yet, many, in their desire to be generous and loving, have sacrificed all sense and good judgement.

I agree with your observation that the way Christmas is promoted and marketed is a gross commercialism of Christ’s birth. People indenture themselves to creditors for an entire year to buy “stuff” they think will bring happiness to others.

I did a little research to see if this was just our sentiment or real life events.

A 2017 Consumer Holiday Shopping Report revealed that more Americans are finding themselves in debt because of holiday shopping. Credit card debt rose 8% from 2015 to 2016 and not all of it has been repaid! (If you, or someone you know, is dealing with overwhelming credit card debt, get in touch with Christian Credit Counselors. They’ve been our trusted partners for years and can help you pay off your debt the right way.)

Last Christmas, 63% of Baby Boomers, 58% of Generation-Xers, and 40% of Millennials took on debt. The average person thinks the most they’ll spend this year is $660, with Baby Boomers at $802, Millennials $434, and Gen Xers at $679.

Many parents feel pressured to give their children whatever they request. They overextend by failing to plan. They want their children to fit in with their peers and attempt to eliminate feelings of guilt, so they overindulge.

But it’s not just parents! Our society has jumped on the “debt-wagon” at Christmas and are financing things our grandparents would not believe in their day. The list includes smartphones, televisions, furniture, computers, entertainment systems, appliances, engagement rings, cars, and……pets?

Yes! Pets!

Wags Lending is a new alternative for pet purchasing when cash is not available. The company’s mission is “to serve you with a lease purchase opportunity and fair pricing based on your unique lifestyle and your ability to pay, while increasing your credit.” They provide financing with no documentation with “low, fixed monthly payments.” They don’t offer “loans” just “lease payments”. Pet ownership occurs through an early buyout option or at the final payment.

I wonder, have their customers considered the cost of pet food, vet bills, boarding costs, or required rental deposits for pets? A puppy for Christmas is always a big hit since it offers so much fun and happiness, but the responsibility and true cost must be seriously considered. Sorry,….I digress. Now back to your question!

Let’s consider some possible solutions for avoiding the debt trap at Christmas: 

  1. Pray and seek guidance from the Lord
  2. Reset priorities and adjust lifestyle
  3. Renew your mind with truth
  4. Seek accountability with a trusted friend
  5. Plan ahead
  6. Budget
  7. Pay cash
  8. Avoid social media
  9. Take on extra job to avoid debt
  10. Sell some stuff
  11. Build savings now for next Christmas

I have recently written a post offering alternative gift ideas that will possibly be more meaningful and certainly less expensive. I hope you’ll find it very helpful.

Regardless of what we spend, there’s an enemy dedicated to destroying us. We must draw battle lines and reject the lie that debt will bring happiness. Or, that expensive gifts is the only way to bring joy to a loved one. Let’s set our hope on God, “who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” (1Timothy 6:17b ESV) He is trustworthy!

This truth eliminates the need to compete with others. It offers the freedom to develop God’s plan for your family without the pressure from the commercial world.

We must decide if we truly serve the God of the universe. If so, then our omniscient Father will meet our needs to show love to others, without our indebtedness at Christmas.

It requires believing that God’s plan is different from the world’s and is more fulfilling, not less.

And, the light, the sounds, the celebrations this year can be centered around the Savior who came into the world in a lowly manager, in an obscure city with no display of power or riches, yet, He gave us His best, abundant life – His life. (John 10:10b ESV) Oh come, let us adore Him!

 

Originally published on the Christian Post, December 8, 2017

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