Sam wakes slowly as the sun breaks through the window. It is a Saturday morning in January. Sam smiles, remembering that he doesn’t have to bundle up against the cold and go to the office today. He smells the beckoning aroma of coffee from the gourmet grind-and-brew system (a Christmas gift to themselves). He slides carefully out of bed to avoid waking Susi, his wife, and heads towards the smell, already tasting the coffee in his mind.
As he tiptoes down the hall and steps over the remote-controlled monster truck in the hallway, Sam notices that the truck is missing a wheel and the windshield is cracked, as if it had been in a pileup on I-70. Shaking his head, he remembers how much this Christmas gift had cost, and feels a twinge of frustration at how quickly it had been rendered ready for the junkyard.
After the anticipated sip of coffee and taking a moment to put on his new sheepskin slippers, Sam ventures outside into the brisk winter air, his breath immediately visible in the cold. As he navigates down the icy driveway past the shiny black SUV, he has to pause to admire the sleek lines. He still enjoys looking at it six months off the showroom floor. Life is good, he thought. Thank God for home equity loans and zero percent financing!
As he approaches the mailbox, Sam notices a red package teetering halfway out of the mailbox, the newspaper carefully balanced on top as a counterweight. He smiles, wondering who might be sending a late Christmas gift.
Looking closer, he realizes that although the package is Christmas related, it is not what he expected. It is a professionally wrapped box of chocolates sent by the credit-card company in appreciation for his being an exceptional customer. Cleverly nestled under the bright wrapping paper is his monthly statement, with the $300 minimum monthly payment printed boldly at the top.
“Welcome to the new year,” Sam mumbles to himself, feeling the fun of Christmas gift-buying drain from his body into the ice under his feet. He opens the newspaper and stares in disbelief at the headline, his mind stumbling to comprehend it. Finally, it registers. His employer will be eliminating 2,000 employees starting next week. His body seems to go numb. He glances back at the credit-card bill and suddenly wonders what the new minimum payment on his other credit cards will be. A knot of anxiety begins to form somewhere in his chest and radiate down into his stomach.
The real joy of Christmas
Sam is fictional. But his story is all too familiar. He learned the hard way that Christmas isn’t about credit-card debt.
Here’s something to remember: The second-best gift that your family can enjoy this holiday season is a debt-free January.
The best gift, of course, is the awe-inspiring reality of God’s love for us in sending Jesus (John 3:16).
The best thing about Christmas — Jesus — doesn’t add a lingering burden of debt to our lives; he paid the debt for all our sin once and for all. We can celebrate and share this love-filled, debt-free life in him without racking up credit-card bills that will dog us month after frustrating month, long after the lights and tree come down.
Why not give your family a debt-free Christmas this year?
Practical ways to avoid Christmas debt:
- Focus on celebrating the real meaning of Christmas, not expensive gift-giving.
- Budget for any gifts that you buy, and spend only what you budget. Start putting away a little money from each check starting in January, and then spend only what you have set aside.
- Shop early, so you don’t overspend in desperation just before Christmas. Consider shopping on the Internet, where competition tends to drive prices down and where you don’t have to spend money and time driving to a busy mall.
- Be creative. Remember that a gift does not have to be expensive to be meaningful. How about giving a loved one a coupon to spend meaningful time with him or her? A day at the beach, a bike ride together, a hike with dad or tea with mom can be meaningful and inexpensive.
- A special photo album containing pictures of memory-filled events or a handmade gift certificate for a service to be provided to a family member (breakfast in bed, a free car wash, doing the dishes or vacuuming without being asked, free babysitting, etc.) can also be inexpensive alternatives.