Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Simple Gifts

It is indeed more blessed to give than to receive, but if we’re not careful, our wallets may suffer at Christmas time. So, how can we bless others with gifts without busting our bank accounts? Let’s take a look at the financial, practical, and attitudinal aspects of gift giving.

Financially, it makes sense to plan ahead so that we have enough money set aside to buy presents not only at Christmas, but also throughout the year for birthdays and other events. Here are some ideas to get you started:
ü  Start saving in January 
ü  Make a list of who you purchase gifts for and the amount you spend on each person 
ü  Add 10 percent to the total amount to have a little cushion for anyone you might have forgotten, then start putting away an amount each month so you have it by the time sales come along.
ü  ING accounts (online) are great for this as they will take out a predetermined amount each month if set up to do so.
ü  Buy a little bit at a time (gifts and special food items) instead of having one huge spending spree, unless you’ve saved up for it
ü  Resist over accumulation of presents or décor just because it’s on sale, or it’s cute, or whatever. Before you purchase anything, pause and ask yourself, “Do I (or the person on my gift list) REALLY NEED this?”
ü  Purchase Christmas-themed items (decorations, cards, cookie containers, etc.) the day or week after Christmas when they’re on sale.
ü  Don’t overspend. I know, that’s a duh statement, but it seems to be the hardest to implement (at least for me).

It is possible to simplify the actual gifts and the gift-giving process without losing the blessing of giving to others. Here are some simple gift ideas to get you started:
ü  Make gifts, ex. baked goods, photo gifts, and customized playlists
ü  Give experiences (ex. dancing lessons, glider rides, etc.)
ü  Do the same or similar things for everyone on your list, that way you don't have to think of a new thing for each person (ex., purses, scarves/hats, board games).
ü  Some families, especially those with many members, choose names out of a hat and only purchase one nicer gift instead of many smaller gifts.
ü  Some families choose to buy gifts only for the children.
ü  Some families set a dollar limit for each gift they purchase for each other.
ü  If you love the Black Friday sales, but not the craziness of getting up in the middle of the night and waiting in line for three hours, join websites such as blackfriday.com. and put everything you think you want in the shopping cart and the online shopping starts for you automatically

In order to fully appreciate the simple gifts, perhaps our hearts need an attitude check. Do we really need to go into debt just so our kids can have the latest and greatest version of X-Box or Wii or iPad? How do we adjust our attitudes so that we can focus on the Greatest Gift of all this Christmas season? Here are a few thoughts to point us in the right direction:
ü  Get rid of stuff you no longer need or use (give away, throw away, sell)
ü  Have the kids go through their toys and donate some to needy children and throw away broken items
ü  Focus on people, not stuff
ü  Volunteer as a family at a homeless shelter, veterans’ hospital, or nursing home
ü  Sponsor a family through social services
ü  Participate in Operation Christmas Child or Angel Tree
ü  Be a bell ringer and/or a donator for the Salvation Army

By adjusting our finances, our gift expectations, and our attitudes, we can enjoy the simple gifts of Christ’s birth and the blessings we already have. Remember, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17, NKJV).

This article is also over at Heart of the Matter Online today.