A Zero-Budget Christmas
2: A little Christmas perspective
Mothers are amazing. Most healthy mothers, no matter their financial status, will do whatever it takes to meet their kids’ needs. They take extra jobs, learn how to stretch a budget, and give up their own personal comfort for the benefit of their children.
What is even more amazing is that most mothers really don’t mind doing any of this because it’s for their kids.
But at Christmas, the disparity between the families who have plenty and the ones who are just scraping by seems a little wider. Mothers who otherwise “make it work” and carry a sense of pride in how they manage to care for their children, suddenly feel the sharpness of lack.
As someone who has been there, allow me say this: there is a massive difference in knowing you are not rich and feeling poor. No one likes to feel poor.
Maybe you know that feeling too, and you are looking for a better way to make it through the season. Fortunately, this series is here to help. I’ve learned lots of tips and tricks over the years as my husband and I have raised five kids on a shoestring. The great news is, you can make Christmas magical on a zero-budget.
I introduced this series by telling you our Christmas story.
Now, before we do anything else, we’re going to put Christmas in perspective. Stick with me here–I am not trying to get out of giving you actual, practical advice on how to make Christmas work when money is limited. That’s coming.
But I would be negligent in my care of you if I did not start with some important fundamentals. I can tell you how to do more with less money, but nothing will change for you unless you understand your motivation for giving and learn how to protect your heart from manipulation.
If you do not get this, you will spend the rest of your Christmases running the same frantic race, no matter what your budget, because you will believe that if you don’t do it right, you will have failed.
That is not the better way.
Still, it’s the path many of us end up taking because we love our kids, and our heart’s desire is to make sure they feel that love every day. Usually, that means smiles and hugs and making pancakes once in a while, but at Christmas, the cultural expectation in our time in history is that we show love through lavish gift-giving.
This has not always been the case, of course. If you’ve ever read through Little House in the Big Woods, you might remember what Mary and Laura and the cousins received on Christmas morning: a peppermint stick and new, red mittens. Laura alone got a new, handmade doll that Ma made from fabric scraps, but Mary didn’t because she already had one.
Times have changed! Now, even our expectations have expectations: try giving any kid the same gifts Mary and Laura got and you’ll see what I mean. What has changed is marketing. We have it. They didn’t. Every single product sold in every single store is run through a fine-tuned system developed to capitalize on our human emotions of greed, pride, and guilt.
And it works. According to research, the average American plans to spend nearly $1000 on gifts in 2016! Parents are anticipating spending an average of $422 per child.
If you are on a limited or nearly zero-budget, those expectations sink you. You can feel like a failure because you cannot meet those expectations without endangering your family’s finances.
But you have to realize this: shame is one of the emotions the marketing industry loves best because it motivates you to spend more than you should to make it go away. That is manipulation, plain and simple, and once you call it out, it makes it easier to fight back.
We have to be smarter than the industry and secure enough in our financial choices to make decisions in December that won’t haunt us in January. We need to choose the better things, and I don’t mean higher-quality products.
One of the best ways to do that is to stay conscious of the higher goal. It’s easy to fall victim to the social pressure to give our kids a great Christmas (whatever we think that means) because it echoes our natural inclination. We delight in giving good gifts to our children. That is a fragment of God in us.
The trouble is, we take it to extremes. If we’re not careful, our desire to give our children good gifts can prevent them from receiving an even better gift: contentment.
We have to remind ourselves that our goal as parents should never be to give our kids everything they want, but rather, to help our kids be content with whatever they have.
We say we believe that, but when we begin to fear our children’s disappointment, find ourselves getting a sense of pride or identity in the gifts we give, become consumed with finding the “right” gift or giving “enough” presents, chances are, we’re pursuing happiness rather than fostering contentment in ourselves and in our children.
Don’t get me wrong-happiness is nice. I will not argue with that. But it’s like a cubic zirconium: lots of sparkle with little lasting value.
Contentment is the diamond.
Remember that when you’re standing in the toy aisle or adding items to your Amazon cart. You can completely blow your budget to give your kids happiness, but it will not last. Or, you can choose to stay within the budget that best fits the long-term goals of your family and work on fostering contentment instead.
One will begin to pay dividends in January. The other will leave you with a deficit. Either way, you choose.
Make the better choice, and no matter what your budget is, you will always have the best gift.
Next time, we’ll talk about ways to grow a zero-budget into some workable Christmas capital. If you’ve been wishing you had just a little more money to work with, you won’t want to miss it! You’ll be surprised at easy it is to do the very things you’re already doing but make money doing it!
*To begin A Zero-Budget Christmas series at the beginning, click here.
**During this series, affiliate links may be included for your convenience. Thank you for supporting this ministry!