’Tis the Season to Be Thrifty

Some things just seem to go together. Santa and the elves. Holly and ivy. Christmas and debt. Much as we hate to admit it and as many times as we vow it won’t happen next year, most of us get stuck time and time again with the idea that we have to spend a lot if we want to create a memorable Christmas. But are there ways we can stop paying for the holiday well into June of the following year? Absolutely! Here are a few ideas:

Adjust your expectations. Oftentimes we become so caught up in gift-giving that we lose sight of the real reason for celebrating. One young woman remembers a year when several family members contracted a severe strain of flu in the weeks before Christmas, which kept them from their normal flurry of shopping and preparations. Though each person had several gifts to open on Christmas morning, none were extravagant. “That is one of the best Christmases we’ve had,” the young woman says. “Instead of being caught up in what we received or feeling disappointed about what we were missing, we spent the day talking and playing games with each other. That brought the Christmas spirit to our home in abundance.”

The best way to save money is for parents to agree that Christmas is not a time to give children every gift they ask for—and to follow through on that agreement. Then they can begin teaching their children. One family does this by letting each child choose the gift that he wants most—within a stated price limit. If the child wants to make an extended list, the parents make it clear that this is only a suggestion list and that not every gift will be possible.

Plan your spending. Before you begin your shopping, determine how much money you have to spend, then decide how you want to divide it among the people to whom you want to give gifts. Make a list of the items you plan to buy, then stick to it. If you do purchase an item that is not on your list, cross off another item instead of buying both.

To help her control her spending, whenever one mother goes shopping, she takes along a notebook in which she keeps a list of gifts she has purchased for each child and a running total of the amount of money she has spent on each.

Just before Christmas, another couple sets aside one gift from among the gifts they have purchased for each child to save for that child’s birthday.

Look for sales. One way to save money is to do your shopping a little at a time throughout the year rather than doing it all at the last minute. This allows you to buy when things are on sale. An added bonus is that it gives you time to enjoy the holidays rather than coping with the crowds in the stores.

Many stores have sales on toys in the summer. Sporting goods and clothes are reduced in price at the end of each season. Watch newspapers for sales on items you want, and take advantage of special promotions, coupons, manufacturers’ closeouts, and store clearances. Ask salespeople if the item you want will be going on sale. (Be sure to estimate how much children will have grown and to consider how their interests might change by Christmas!)

One mother has her teenage children track prices on items that they want for Christmas. She doesn’t tell them what she buys, so there is still an element of mystery on Christmas morning. But having them check the ads saves her time and teaches them about being wise consumers.

Before you buy, learn about product performance, price, safety, and quality through consumer or government publications. A better quality item that costs more may be the better value because it will last longer.

Give of yourself. Make clothes, toys, and games. Give friends and relatives simple, inexpensive remembrances such as baked goods, family photographs, or handmade Christmas decorations. Along with saving money, you can create gifts of yourself that your loved ones will treasure. But be sure to start these projects early. There is no better way to lose the Christmas spirit than feeling the frustration of rushing to finish a handmade Christmas project.

Ask for the Lord’s help. Although Christmas shopping may seem an unusual thing to pray about, remember that to God all things are spiritual. One father remembers a Christmas when unexpected expenses left him and his wife little money to buy gifts for their five children and for each other. So they made up their budget, then asked the Lord to help them find gifts that would be useful as well as fun for their children. They were amazed at the results: the clothes they chose turned out to be less expensive than others on the rack, and they found low-priced, quality toys that matched their children’s interests. Their funds stretched further than they ever believed they could.

Don’t give up. Changing habits takes time. So if you don’t do as well as you’d like the first time, keep trying. After Christmas, evaluate your spending and set new goals for the future. With persistence and commitment, you’ll find yourself becoming more disciplined every year.

Sending Our Gifts on a Mission

When David—now my husband—was on his mission, I wanted to send him a Christmas package that was different and fun, yet appropriate for a missionary. So I made a Christmas stocking and filled it with small gifts, each individually wrapped, numbered, and labeled with a scripture reference. Twelve days before Christmas, David started opening one package each day, first looking up the scripture reference written on it. I saved the nicest gift for him to open on Christmas morning.

Years later, David still had fond memories of that package—so our family decided to make a similar one for my missionary sister. During a home evening, we brainstormed possible gifts, then used the Topical Guide in the LDS edition of the Bible to come up with accompanying scripture references. Here are some of our ideas:

D&C 89:20 —“run and not be weary”: nylons

1 Cor. 13:11 —“I put away childish things”: yoyo

Job 14:5 —“his days are determined”: calendar

Ps. 23:4 —“thy rod and thy staff”: candy cane

Ps. 24:4 —“clean hands”: soap

Matt. 15:11 —“cometh out of the mouth”: mouthwash

1 Sam. 2:9 —“keep the feet”: socks

Prov. 10:7 —“memory of the just”: writing tablet

D&C 89:16 —“grain is good … also the fruit of the vine”: granola bar and fruit rolls

Amos 4:6 —“cleanness of teeth”: toothbrush

Planning and assembling the package was a fun family project. And as a bonus, our children learned to use the Topical Guide and became more familiar with the scriptures.Cristy Cole Crump, Bonney Lake, Washington

“Letters from Home” Evening

The year was coming to an end, and many members of our college branch were leaving the area for various reasons. I was serving as a family home evening group leader at the time, and I had grown to love the members of my group. I wanted our last meeting together to be memorable, so I pondered and prayed about what to teach. I felt inspired to base my lesson on our importance as members of heavenly and earthly families. As I prepared, I came up with an idea: Why not have each person’s parents write a letter to him or her?

Because time was short, I quickly gathered the home addresses of the members of our group, wrote letters to each person’s parents, and asked them to send me a baby photo of their son or daughter and a letter expressing their feelings about him or her.

At our final home evening, I posted baby pictures of the group members and asked everyone to guess who was who. Then we discussed our importance as members of our heavenly family and how much our heavenly parents loved and missed us and wanted us to so live that we could return to them.

Next we discussed our importance as members of an earthly family and how our earthly families are similar to our heavenly family. I gave each group member the letter I had received from his or her parents. Puzzled looks changed to smiles and tears as everyone silently read his or her letter. We closed the lesson by singing “I Am a Child of God.”

Afterward, many of the group members expressed their gratitude for the lesson. One girl embraced me and, with tears in her eyes, related that she and her parents had had a misunderstanding and had not spoken for some time. The letter was the first communication she and her parents had had in more than a year. Her parents had expressed their sorrow about the misunderstanding and their desire to become close to her again.

Others in the group expressed their joy at being reminded that they were not alone in their trials, but had two sets of loving parents—one earthly and one heavenly. Still others told of how they would record in their journals their thoughts and feelings, and some mentioned that they would always keep their letters to remind them of their heavenly and earthly birthrights.

It was a memorable night for everyone.Paula Berensen, Price, Utah

Ed. note: Paula was killed in an automobile accident while this article was being prepared for publication.

[photos] Photography by Philip S. Shurtleff; props by Luann Walkenhorst