Give Generously Without Overspending

How to celebrate Christmas without going overboard — or over budget. From our Dec. 4 issue.

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How can I celebrate Christmas without going overboard — or over budget?

Our society is especially good at focusing on the externals of Christmas. Some stores have their Christmas aisles all ready to go after Labor Day. You can hear Christmas music non-stop right after Thanksgiving. While no doubt these contribute to a “festive” atmosphere, it’s important for us to remember that the Advent season is a gift from the Church to help us prepare our interior for Christ’s coming.

As the Catechism says, “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah; for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming” (524). If we use this time well to recommit ourselves in our relationship with the Lord, we will also be prepared to better appreciate the “externals” of the Christmas season.

Christmas spending is a major issue for many families. In some cultures, it is customary for gifts to be given throughout the family, down to second cousins. Many families succumb to this pressure and find their credit-card balances ballooning because of it. Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to share in a spirit of generosity during the Christmas season. It’s just that we need to re-examine what it means to be truly generous.

I encourage you to sit down now, and think through your gift plans for this Christmas. First, you’ll want to develop your overall Christmas budget. Then you can determine how that spending can best be allocated. It’s also a time you can think about creative ways you can show your love in ways that won’t break the bank.

Consider making homemade cards, baked goods or jam for your family and friends. Each fall we make an annual outing to go apple picking. Some of the apples are for eating, but most go toward making apple butter, which is given to family and friends as Christmas gifts. Another favorite is to share the gift of time. Many couples in the midst of raising families find it very difficult to go on a “date” due to the lack of a babysitter. “Coupons” for periodic babysitting help from a trusted source would be a much appreciated gift.

What better way to celebrate the real meaning of Christmas than by helping those who have fallen on hard times? You can participate directly by volunteering for one of the local outreaches provided by your parish or broader community, whether it is a soup kitchen or other type of ministry. Many communities offer programs where you can “adopt” a needy family for Christmas by providing food and gifts. Allow your children to participate financially by sharing some of their allowance for this purpose. What a marvelous way for your children to learn about the joy of giving. God love you!

Phil Lenahan is president of Veritas Financial Ministries (

and author of 7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free: A Catholic Small Group Study (OSV).