Help! I Can’t Afford Christmas!

Sarah Ritchie |

First, no, you DON’T have to put Christmas on a credit card!  It might be tempting when you see all of the shiny new things in the stores, but you don’t want to still be paying for Christmas in March.  I’m not saying don’t buy presents.  But I am saying Christmas should fit into your budget.  You absolutely don’t have to go overboard.  

When we first found Dave Ramsey and began budgeting, we had to make some hard decisions.  Gifting was one of them.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t gift.  You just have to gift within your means.  If you are $80k in debt, your kids aren’t each going get new laptops or gaming systems unless you’ve planned and saved for them all year.  You’re going to have to set a budget and stick to it.

To be honest, I’m not a natural saver.  I guess I’ve always had the YOLO (You only live once) attitude.  I’ve had to become a saver through my Dave journey.  Even so, Christmas presents are usually a line item in my December budget.  If you make it a line item in your monthly budget, I’d suggest putting it into October or November’s budget.  That way you start early, and you have the money set aside for those Black Friday deals.  I learned this the hard way.  In fact, this year, I put Christmas in my December budget and kicked myself on Thanksgiving that I couldn’t take advantage of the deals.  There was NO WAY I was going to charge anything.

Most of us are already struggling just to make ends meet with basic needs.  Maybe there’s been a loss of income or maybe it’s because inflation has really hit you hard.  We can still give gifts; we may just have to cut back.  When we started this journey, we had three teenagers and everything they wanted cost a lot.  We had to explain to them that we had $400 to spend on each of them and that was it.  I told them to keep that in mind when making their Christmas lists.  That might sound like a lot of money to some and hardly any to others.  That’s what worked for us.  Like I said, Christmas has to fit into your budget. 

Now our kids are in their twenties, and we still set a gift limit for each of them including other family members.  They can choose gifts or cash and I literally keep track of each of my purchases (including stocking gifts) to ensure that each has the exact same amount of money spent on them.  That might sound a little extreme, but they don’t question me when they start opening gifts.  They know I have the receipts…. literally. 

If you find yourself not having enough to buy gifts, remember that there are other things you can give that don’t cost a lot.  Personally, I love homemade gifts.  I love getting baked goods or Christmas crafts.  I’ve also heard of people giving the gift of their time to help clean your house or do laundry or even walk your dog.  If you’re handy, maybe you can give a gift of fixing something around a family member’s house.  This all may sound corny, but it might help you get through a tough financial time.  Remember, it won’t always be like this. One day, you’ll have the ability to buy everyone a nice gift if that’s what you want to do.  Even those of us who have families that wouldn’t understand cutting back, it’s not about making everyone happy or keeping up some illusion that you aren’t struggling.  You have to do what is best for you.  If someone can’t be supportive of that, oh well.  It’s probably time to buy them “The Total Money Makeover”.  😊

If you have to, you might need to find a way to earn some extra money at Christmas.  This could be a part-time job or creating your own side business wrapping presents, running errands for busy families or older neighbors or babysitting.  Where there is a will, there is a way. 

Most of all, relax and find time to spend with the people you love.  Go bowling or ice skating together or head to the park for a game of football.  Make cookies together or have a holiday movie night.  Kids will remember those activities more likely than what material gift they received and it will put the focus on what really matters so that they can carry on those traditions after you’re gone.