Christmas, Money, Family, and Love

I finally fiished my Christmas preparations this morning, wrapping up the final presents and placing them under the tree. The only other things to be done are food preparations and perhaps a stocking stuffer or two.

I’m very happy with the Christmas choices I’ve made this year. Some of them were really good ideas that the recipient will truly cherish. Others were astoundingly great bargains on quality items. Each one, I think, speaks directly to the person who’s receiving it in some way, which is really what I yearn for most in a Christmas gift.

Yet, somehow, with all of these presents and other items, I’m somehow left feeling empty. Even though I made some very frugal choices this year, I spent a lot of money. We tried to give a thoughtful Christmas gift to everyone who has value in our lives right now: my immediate family, my siblings and their families, my parents, my wife’s parents and siblings, and my current close circle of friends. No matter how carefully we select gifts, this adds up to a lot of money spent.

Does it really mean anything? When I look at all of the gifts under the tree, I simultaneously see both the joy of giving gifts as well as the expense that went into it. Is that gift really a worthwhile expense at all?

What I’m really trying to show with each gift is a way of saying “I love you.” To me, that’s the purpose of a Christmas gift – to tangibly say to someone that they’re important to you and that you care for them. Because of that desire, it’s often easy to fall right into the trap of giving an expensive gift to someone and not worrying about the dollar amount simply because you do care for them and you do love them.

That’s fine if you’re in good financial shape, but so many Americans are not. At least one person very close to me has taken out a home equity loan just to pay for Christmas this year. Another woman in line in front of me at a store recently had her credit card declined while making a $25 purchase.

If Christmas is about saying “I love you” to the important people in your life, say it directly instead of just showing it.

Write some heartfelt notes to people and include them with a more modest gift. I’m planning on doing this with at least a few Christmas gifts this year.

Promise to do something truly thoughtful for the person instead of buying another present. One of the best gifts I’ve received recently wasn’t an item at all. It was a gift of a bed to sleep in and an evening alone with my wife, courtesy of a caring aunt who invited us to spend a weekend at her home. She pledged to watch our children while we spent an evening like we used to before the kids were born. Does it cost her anything? No. Does it mean a lot to us? Undoubtedly. Does it reflect a lot of familial love? Of course.

Better yet, at some point during your holiday celebration, take the time to sit down with each person you care about and tell them that you love them and thank them for being a part of your life. That will mean far more than any tchotchke you can stick under the tree this year – and all it costs is a few minutes of your time. Talk about a bargain.

Christmas is about love, not about who can put the best material item under the tree. Keep that in mind and don’t spend yourself into a giant mountain of credit card debt this year.

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