Most people aren’t like me. This isn’t a statement of me being particularly unique or “special”, or that I’ve figured things out and others haven’t. No, this is about something much more important. This is about Christmas shopping. Most people don’t shop for Christmas presents the way I do. As of right now it is Thursday, December 21 and most people have most if not all their Christmas shopping done.
Me? I haven’t even started. Before I continue I have to say; don’t be like me. Don’t wait until a few days before Christmas to start shopping. It is a foolish plan, or a foolish lack of planning.
It’s safe to say that this Christmas, for me, doesn’t feel like Christmas. It’s definitely the least festive holiday I’ve experienced. Between school and work there’s been so much tugging on my attention that my wife and I almost forgot it was Christmas. We only bought our tree a few days ago.
But the biggest thing that has kept this holiday from feeling like a holiday is that last week our car decided to make us regret buying it. It broke, and it’s not pretty. When you take your car to the mechanic you expect unwelcome news. You expect them to quote you something ridiculous, and a few did for us, but the worst was when a Valvoline mechanic, who I trust since I work for Valvoline, says they won’t even do it. Ouch. At least they were honest about how much the cost would skyrocket once they opened the engine. But now we need a new engine (which is not happening) or a new car and those things cost money, including Christmas present money.
We can’t avoid many emergencies, but I know there are things I could have done to lessen this one and save Christmas. I can think of three things specifically, and I want to share with you, that I’m going to do differently for next year that hopefully will save my holidays from financial despair, and save my finances from holiday despair.
We all have pet peeves. Actions, phrases, or sounds that didn’t do anything to us and yet we hate them with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. Sometimes I feel like everything is a pet peeve of mine, but this one stands out.
When I hear people refer to Christmas shopping as an emergency, I die a little inside. Here’s a question; what happened on December 25th last year? Christmas. The year before? Christmas. How about the one before that? Christmas. You see where I’m going with this? When the first of the month comes around you won’t hear me saying “Oh my goodness I have to pay rent! How unexpected! I am unprepared! Save me MasterCard!”. Yet why is that how Christmas works for so many people? We need to plan better.
However, I thought I did. I put Christmas shopping in my budget. My wife and I knew this holiday was coming and we set aside money from our November/December budget to buy presents. We didn’t put car woes in our budget, and that’s what got us. I learned that planning is more than just thinking about a thing in advance. It involves active preparation, which in this case looks like my next change for next Christmas.
It wasn’t enough that I had money set aside on paper in the form of a budget. Christmas came around and we didn’t have the money physically (or electronically) set aside to buy presents. We didn’t plan to spend much, but we could have physically had that money had we saved $50 a month for each of the ten months my wife gets paid (she’s an elementary school teacher). Could I have done that? Absolutely I could have. Why I didn’t is anybody’s guess, but I think it had to do with our mindset.
Perhaps we didn’t save because we had a misplaced sense of pride for budgeting for Christmas presents. Many people don’t budget or save, and we felt good about ourselves for budgeting. But just because it’s something doesn’t mean it’s enough. Our attitude about it is important, which brings me to my next idea.
Now you may be thinking, “why is your Christmas less joyous because you can’t buy everyone nice things? Don’t you know it’s about Jesus, family, and love?”. And to that I say, lovingly, shut up. Go to Walmart the week before Halloween and tell me the commercial aspect of Christmas doesn’t exist, or even isn’t important. Still disagree? Okay then, you’re right. And what better way to prove your point than to agree to not buy any present next year. That’ll show me. Don’t buy anyone anything and when they ask why you’re no fun anymore you can tell them it’s because Jesus is the reason for the season. That’s what I thought. You won’t do that!
I don’t think most Christians, myself included, would be able to celebrate the birth of our savior without giving and getting stuff, which is a problem. Our priorities are out of whack, and it’s dulling the religious impact of a sacred holiday as well as sharpening our stress.
Stress and Christmas shopping go hand-in-hand. We believe that our relationships with our loved ones will be irreparably damaged should we buy a bad present. We act as if everything is riding on how much money we spend on people. Last year the average American was expected to spend $785 on Christmas presents but actually spent $935.58!! let that sink in for a minute!
The world will not fall apart around me if I give a bad present. My family won’t hate me if they buy me three presents and I give them one. Jesus isn’t offended that my Christmas tree is too small for His birthday. Those are stresses I put on myself.
I’ve learned two things this Christmas. Mostly from making mistakes and having a crisis smack me across the face with my inadequacy. But from that I know that thought and action are not the same thing. First, I learned that planning is key, and saving is key to planning. Second, learned that my friends and family love me for reasons other than my gift-giving. People who love me for my gifts don’t really love me. I need to relax and let that knowledge sink in and wash away the holiday stress associated with gift-giving. Then these things won’t be a burden, but rather compliments to the wonderful celebration of the birth of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. Enjoy!
Alan Muise, a contributor to this blog, holds a Business Specialist technical degree, and is currently enrolled at the University of Central Florida’s College of Business. Alan is a former youth pastor and currently serves as the worship director at Aloma United Methodist Church in Winter Park, Florida. He is a wonderful husband, entrepreneur and risk taker.