Faith and Personal Finance: Crossing the Christmas Finish Line

Do the holidays make you feel like you’re running a marathon, and January 1st is the finish line? You approach it exhausted, spent, out of gas. Come January 2, do you look in the mirror and say, “Hey, I made it, but why doesn’t it feel like I won?” Could it be that you’re broke, fatter, and getting one year older?

Suggesting that the “holidays are like a marathon” and we should train better for them, I thought I would ask a few of my peeps (real people, not the marshmallows) whether they agreed.

Moms always know the right thing to say. “If each day in the year is like a mile of practice, then stay focused as you run the real race and remember that the Christmas season is all about goodwill, love, and hope in the new year.”

I called my sister in New York. I told her what Mom said.

“Yes, and it’s important to stay hydrated.”

My husband announced. “I fast and I pray.”

Well, okay. That’s what priests do.

I didn’t ask my sons. They wouldn’t get it. They don’t do anything. Boys.

If someone had asked me, I would tell them to train with a financial coach to avoid getting overtaken by the onslaught of consumerism. According to the American Research Group, consumers say that they are planning to spend an average of over $900 for gifts this year. The study doesn’t include other types of spending. For example, hosting Christmas parties—cha-ching; buying house gifts—cha-ching; travelling—cha-ching; a new velvet outfit or red sweater—cha ching; Christmas decorations—cha-ching. It’s endless.

Have you ever added up what the holidays cost you? It’s scary. After the holiday bills, you always wonder what you got out of it. Let’s take Christmas cards. Do I care if I receive a card from my neighbor who I see all the time taking out the garbage? Believe me, I won’t be upset if I don’t exchange cards with the people I’m online with all day. Then what if I do receive that odd card from someone who I haven’t talked to all year. Well, shame on me for being a bad friend, niece, or cousin for not staying in touch more often. I’ll remember to connect with them on Facebook some day.

Smarter Holiday Spending

As in any marathon, you have to pace yourself and that includes spending. Put a budget together of what you can reasonably afford. Hopefully, you put some money aside to cover your holiday expenses. If not, don’t be tempted to whip out your credit card. Pay for everything with cash. It’s harder to part with cash than to charge something.

It was found in a recent study by Avni Shah at the University of Toronto that when people pay for things using cash rather than a credit card or online, they feel more of a “sting” and assign more value to the purchase. According to the study, cash seems more “real” and the unreality of credit cards or electronic payments make people buy more. In other words, it just doesn’t feel like spending. But it will once you see that credit card bill. Reality check, it really happened. Bigger reality, you’re going to have to pay the piper.

But with cash, you feel the burn immediately. It hits even harder when you audit yourself daily. Check your balance every morning. Watch as your holiday spending digs in and erodes those hard-earned savings you accumulated during the year. That will slow you down so when you cross the finish line. You’ll be ready financially and spiritually to start the New Year.

Presvytera Maria Antokas’s book, Don’t Call It a Budget – Personal Money Planning in the Age of Stuff Overload

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Presvytera Maria Antokas is a former banker who now teaches…
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