The “Opportunity Costs” of Christmas

When we were kids, Christmas morning was all about the excitement of waking up super early, running down the stairs, and gasping at all the presents that Santa would manage to get through a window (we didn’t have a fireplace) during the night without being heard. We would then run back upstairs, tug at my parents and almost drag them out of bed so they could watch us open our gifts.

The entire year led up to that moment with the countdown starting December first. Santa became a really big deal in December. We would be constantly asked what we wanted from Santa. We had to be “good for Santa” because he would be calling on Christmas Eve for a last minute check-in. And when the phone would ring (spoiler alert—years later we learned that my Uncle Steve used to make those “ho,ho,ho”calls), we had to truthfully answer whether we behaved enough all year to deserve the latest Barbie dolls and new games that were on our Christmas list. Talk about stress!

The self-righteous are wondering right now, didn’t we go to Church? Where was Christ in our Christmas growing up?

We were and are still a very Christ-centered family who are strong in our faith, so I can’t say that we were scarred for life because Santa was our focus for a few days. Thinking back, it was more a time of sacrifice. As kids, we had to wait all year to get what we wanted. My parents had to save all year to fulfill our Christmas wishes. And this is important to me now as a personal finance instructor and an Orthodox Christian.

The Value of Smart Spending

Although the “material” Christmas came once a year in our house, every day was a gift from my mother and father. For 364 days, they worked for us and sacrificed for us. On the 365th, their satisfaction was watching our happiness on Christmas morning. That was their goal.

To reach their goal, they had to put a dollar amount on it. How much are we willing to sacrifice for Christmas? In economic terms this is called an “Opportunity Cost.”

In simple terms, an opportunity cost is something good you’re willing to give up in order to do or get something else.

Jesus Christ’s message was all about sacrifice. What do we give up or sacrifice in order to reach our goals? Do our children understand the message of sacrifice these days? Or, as parents do we give in to their desires all year. We need to teach our children about sacrifice on many levels, including financial, so they understand concepts like budgeting, saving, and long-term investing as they grow older. They also need to understand the sacrifice their parents are making as they struggle to save for their college educations while trying to prepare for their own retirement.

Christ is in our Christmas because Christ taught us the importance of sacrifice. We must live it not only for our sakes, but for our children’s. The era of “instant gratification” needs to be replaced by working towards long-term goals. Life is expensive, and we should prepare for that. The lesson here is to say “no” often to ourselves and our family.

Are there exceptions? Of course! But make it special like a Christmas morning. And be good! After all these years, I continue to get butterflies when the phone rings on Christmas Eve. Who knows? Santa could still be watching!

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Presvytera Maria Antokas is a former banker who now teaches…
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