The Joy of Christmas Giving (Within Your Means)

Nothing beats Christmas. For kids and parents alike, the season of giving (and receiving) delivers to us on so many levels: family, faith, traditions, generosity, and memories that last a lifetime.

The past couple years have given my wife and me some very special times as we experienced our first Christmases from the “other side.”  Now, as parents, we are starting to realize that there is a whole new aspect to the joy of Christmas as we get to witness and help create some wonderful feelings and experiences for our kids.  Along with this terrific privilege comes new responsibility, a responsibility that is easy to lose sight of amid all the Christmas ads and marketing that bombards all our senses starting in October.  Be careful not to get caught up in the crazy side of Christmas.

Many of us spend far too much on Christmas. Keeping two things in mind will help us set responsible limits: 1) Kids don’t require that much to get them amped up; and 2) If the decisions you make with your Christmas spending will affect your finances in the beginning months of the new year, then you are irresponsibly overspending.

To the first point above, keep it simple for your kids at Christmas. Kids usually only remember one gift six months down the road any way.  For me, one year it was an “Alf” tent that went over my bed, a different year it was some real Texas longhorns to hang in my room, and another year it was my own fishing tackle box with some pink plastic worms and a blue fishing net. Life was good! All the other Christmas traditions that my family put in place for us and those few special gifts gave me amazing joy as a young boy. As parents we need to remember that showering our kids with mountains of gifts is not necessary for them to experience the magic of the Christmas holiday season.

To the second point above, regarding families going hog wild on Christmas and consequently crunching their budget for months down the road, keep in mind that there is no such thing as justifiable overspending for a “good cause.” The pressure of the Christmas hubbub can be very dangerous. Build a budget before you head out to the mall to start shopping and determine exactly how much you will allocate to each loved one.  And stick to it. Doing so will encourage you to put more effort into your purchases and will likely result in a happy camper. (Tip: Most 8-year-old Nebraska boys would go nuts for set of Texas longhorns to mount above their bedroom door. Or better yet, a Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock J.  Just ask Ralphie.)

Putting items on lay away or taking out new special offer credit cards to “save a few bucks” now and pay them off over the next few months are bad ideas. It’s not worth it. If you have kids old enough to notice that this Christmas might be a little different or more scaled back than past years, then take the opportunity to teach them about the importance of living within your means and not getting caught up in the habit of overspending. This will be a very influential experience for your kids and just might be the best gift you give them this Christmas.

Either way, let’s agree to keep our wits about us this Christmas and do our best to stay focused on all the important aspects of this wonderful season that are merely complemented by our gift-giving traditions. Remember, a great financial foundation for 2014 starts with a wise wrap up to 2013. Merry Christmas and God bless!

Matt Atchison is a Financial Advisor with Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC.  He can be reached at (402) 505-7700   13321 California Street, Suite 320 Omaha, NE 68154.  Any opinions are those of Matt Atchison and not necessarily those of Raymond James.


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