This time of year things can get very stressful for those of us who live paycheck to paycheck or with very little discretionary income. All year we manage to squeak by each month by with lots of prayers and various thrifty methods, but then along comes the expensive months. Higher electric bills, sick kids, winter clothes, unexpected repairs and lots of things can make it very difficult to buy Christmas gifts and pay for the many related costs of celebrating the holiday season. Some years may be better or worse, but for some of us, being poor is just the way it is. We don’t usually complain about it, we accept it, and we make it work, but this time of year can cause guilt, shame, embarrassment and depression for those who wish they could provide more for their families. More than one person has committed suicide for this very reason, feeling like a failure during the holidays, which is a terrible, terrible thing! So many are working so hard to provide for their families and yet inflation and taxes and stagnant wages and other uncontrollable factors keep them from improving the bottom line. Let’s get to the tips. Here’s some music to listen to while you read.
If we make it through December by Merle Haggard 1974
1.) For the married couples. In most couples, one person is a spender and one is thrifty, even if they are on a very tight budget. It is of utmost importance at this time of year that the couple come together and communicate. Is there any money AT ALL that is not budgeted for bills and living expenses? If so, how much? Then, being careful not to cast blame for the situation, discuss where the money could be spent so that everyone can be happy. This means you may have to be willing to compromise! Remember that at THANKSGIVING, we are to be thankful. And at Christmas, we celebrate Jesus, not presents or fancy decorations or fancy meals. If you really love your spouse, you will not burden them with guilt in these thankful, joyous occasions. You can also put your heads together and get creative with ways to celebrate and have fun. If you are Christians, this is a great time to PRAY together.
2.) Avoid using credit. Trust me on this one. You will regret it later. Better to save credit cards for real emergencies. I understand the temptation. Payday loans, title loans, high interest credit cards are a TRAP. If you don’t have the money now, how will you have it later to make these payments? Something else will probably eat up that money you think you might get later. Then you will be in worse condition than before. Pay day loans are the worst and should be illegal. Instead, consider selling things you don’t need or things you make to sell, or maybe get a second or third job. I think that’s way easier said than done for most of us. But first see the next tip.
3.) Don’t buy it. This is my number one tip. If you don’t have the money, don’t spend it. I should probably put it first in the list! How can you achieve this? Turn off the TV and radio and throw away all advertisements and catalogs! Stay far away from the mall or department store or craft fair (unless you’re selling and making money) or other places that call ‘Buy me! Buy me!”. Don’t even walk down those special aisles in Walmart! In a few weeks, all that stuff will be on sale, if you REALLY need it, or it will be dropped off at Goodwill by people who didn’t like their gifts or got newer models. That’s part two of this one, wait until after the holidays and then go buy a few carefully selected items if you have the money. But don’t buy stuff just because it’s on clearance!
4.)Do not equate your self worth or showing love with giving the perfect gift. We all know that person who is so good at choosing, or even making, gifts that light up the face of the person receiving them. We want to do that, too! Those are the creative, crafty, and usually, more spendy, type of people. Good for them! They are important. But so are you. You have other good qualities! Share your sense of humor, your handiness, your listening ear, your musical talent, your cooking expertise, or just your friendly personality with those around you. Everyone appreciates a fun person, a good storyteller, a helpful person, a good cook, someone who makes them laugh. Some of my favorite people live very simply.
5.)If you do have a little money to spend, consider the following non-traditional places to shop. Goodwill or other thrift stores. Garage sales. Ebay and other online auctions. Craft shows. Facebook marketplace. Just be careful to check the price and make sure you are getting a good deal, including shipping. Dollar General and Family Dollar often have some low priced gift items if you don’t mind a lesser quality. The modern tradition and belief that we must give store-bought , new items was created by people that sell those items! Be independent. Give whatever you want to give. It can be fruit from your trees or flowers from your garden or pecans from the trees in the park (I would love that!).
6.) If you have NO money and are barely making the rent and having gas to get to work, consider checking with some local charities or churches for toys for the little kids. Or, maybe barter with someone whose kids have extra toys. Wrap it up, they don’t need to know it’s used. For adults, most of us are fine without getting anything and especially do not want anyone to spend their bill money buying us things. I know I’d rather hang out and eat a festive meal with my family than anything else! Another idea is to look around and see if there might be something in your own house that you would like to pass on to someone, in other words, re-gifting. It’s okay! In fact, some things are really nice to give, like books, movies, CDs, household goods, nice clothes.
7.) You don’t need to spend a lot, but it’s more festive to at least have a wreath or tree and a few lights or some candles. Thrift shops always have holiday decorations. Garage sales are great for that, too, but it might be too late in the year for that if you are reading this in November. If you have school aged kids, ask them to draw some pictures and hang them up. Or maybe they will bring home some artwork they made in school that you can display. Pick up some pine cones and coat them in glitter glue. Make paper snowflakes. One year we made a snowman out of bags of plastic bags! Another time we made long chains of construction paper rings.
8.) You have to eat anyway, so take advantage of the annual buy a ham and get a free turkey deal or whatever your store offers . One of our stores offers a bunch of free items with the ham. It’s worth the price of the ham. Buy two if you can and freeze one. Now is the time to do some pie and cookie baking and other treats and consider that part of your holiday celebration by letting the family in on the fun, even if they do make a mess! Rice krispy cereal treats are cheap and you can add red and green sprinkles or use the colored cereal if they have it. Be careful not to overspend on recipes that have expensive ingredients. Sometimes you can substitute cheaper ingredients or just leave things out. Home cooking is USUALLY cheaper but not always , so count the costs. But if the cooking is the entertainment, it might be worth spending a few bucks more than the bakery pie.
9.) Don’t buy gifts. Just get together with friends or family as much as possible during this time of year. Enjoy food, music, whatever you like to do. It is enough. Be thankful. Count your blessings! Love your family! Some will not be alive the next holiday season. Do not sit at home because you can’t bring gifts to the party! Go to church and community events, like parades and Santa visits. Choirs and nativities. Look on Facebook or in your local newspaper to see what is happening and just do it, even if you have to go alone.
10.)Remember the reason for the season. Jesus! https://www.crosswalk.com/special-coverage/christmas-and-advent/what-is-christmas-understanding-the-history-and-origin.html
Some of you probably have better suggestions than these. I did some internet searches before writing and I felt like many of the articles suggested spending a lot rather than saving a lot. My goal was to encourage those who might be feeling paralyzed with anxiety or depressed over not having a lot of spending money. It’s easy to assume that everyone else is spending more than you, but remember there are millions of us barely making ends meet. In fact, many of us on tight budgets are actually doing way better than a lot of people. Let’s encourage each other, take away the pressure to exchange gifts at family gatherings and be thankful for our many blessings.