Americans will spend over $700 billion on Christmas this year. That’s a lot of Hatchimals. And many won’t be paying for their purchases with cash. According to MoneyMagnify, Americans averaged an increase of over $1,000 in credit card debt during last year’s holiday season. Unfortunately, there’s no reason to think that this year will be any different.

‘Tis the season for debt?

Certainly, there is nothing wrong with purchasing gifts for others. Gift-giving reflects the incomprehensible generosity of our God. But veering into debt for these gifts may indicate something else—being consumed by consumerism rather than consumed by the celebration of Immanuel.

So how do we get control of our finances during the holidays? How do we celebrate the birth of our Savior without creating debt payments for January, February, and March?

1. Review your giving for 2018. Are you happy with it? Do you wish you could have been more generous? Generosity is the foundation upon which real biblical financial health is founded. And consider this—debt is a generosity killer. Debt will limit your ability to give by obligating your money to future debt payments. So before you dive into the holiday season, consider how your spending will impact future generosity.

2. Create a spending plan. There are two different spending plans to consider—your annual and holiday plans. Your annual spending plan should include the total amount you can spend this year. The amount should not impact your ability to give generously and save wisely. Your holiday spending plan details how you will use the amount allotted in your annual plan. One way to ensure that you do not overspend (and go into debt)—stick to the plan.  

Not sure where to start on that spending plan? Learn more about brightpeak’s budgeting app Illuminate, here. 

3. Don’t forget about the other big holiday expense—travel. Gifts are not the only costs of the holidays. If you are one of the 100 million holiday travelers, you need to include travel expenses in your holiday spending plan. Depending on the distances traveled, those gas, food, and hotel expenses can really add up.

4. When possible, agree to do something else instead of exchanging gifts. Let’s be honest—sometimes you buy someone a gift because you know they are going to get you a gift. When you can, consider asking them to forgo the gift exchange in return for something else, like coffee and a conversation. Or if you can get a large enough group together, host a white elephant exchange party. This reduces the number of gifts you, and everyone else, must purchase. Remember, many of your family and friends are in the same financial situation as you. Providing alternatives to exchanging gifts may come as a big relief to them.

5. Think meaningfulness over costliness.  Think back on the gifts that meant the most to you. I bet that they were not the most expensive gifts you ever received. Meaningfulness and costliness do not have to go hand-in-hand. Be thoughtful in your gift-giving.

6. Be aware of retailers’ strategies. While you are developing a strategy to reduce your holiday spending, retailers are working hard developing strategies to increase your holiday spending. As you view their advertisements and pursue their websites and stores, be cognizant that their goal is to get you to purchase an item from them. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with retailers wanting to make a profit; it’s how they stay in business. But don’t let their financial goals supersede your financial goals.

7. Remember the least of these. Matthew 25:40 says “…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” As you celebrate the arrival of Jesus, remember his words. Gift-giving reflects the generosity of our God. An even more accurate reflection of his generosity occurs when we give to those who cannot give us anything in return. As you spend your time and money this holiday season, remember the least of these. God gave to you so that you can give to others.

The holiday season can be a time filled with memories and laughter. I hope this is true for you. But don’t let your spending during these days result in subsequent months filled with regret and groaning. Plan well. Give well. And have a very Merry Christmas.

For more tips on how you can thrive during this season of spending, check out brightpeak’s Holiday Survival Guide here. 

Love & Money content is created in partnership with brightpeak Financial