Happier Holidays: Getting Off the Consumer Escalator

By Marcia Shetlerautumn-19672_1280

During the last week of October, I was running errands. At the grocery store, I noticed snowmen statues scattered among the baskets of fall mums. At the home improvement center, Halloween and Christmas decorations were competing for space on crowded shelves. The holiday shopping season seems to begin earlier and earlier each year, giving us more and more time to plan our shopping strategy to make ourselves and others happy—or so we think.

In North America, shopping has become enmeshed with celebrating the holidays. We can name when Black Friday, Cyber Monday—and in Canada, Boxing Day—take place as easily as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. And not only do we know these days, we participate. gift-1420830_1280In their online Holiday Headquarters, the US National Retail Federation’s recent survey found that US consumers plan to spend an average of $935.58 during the holiday shopping season this year. Nearly six in 10 plan to buy for themselves, spending an average $139.61, up 4 percent from last year and marking the second-highest level of personal spending in the survey’s 13-year history. The Royal Bank of Canada reports that the number of Canadians who are spending more than they expect to each holiday season continues to grow, reaching the highest point in five years in December 2015.

The title of this month’s COMPASS Initiative topic may feel a bit dated, as US consumers report a three-way tie for their holiday shopping destinations: department stores, online, and discount stores. And Statista reports that although in North America the United States is by far the largest national market for e-commerce, Canada is slowly but surely catching up, with online retail sales expected to reach almost 50 billion Canadian dollars by 2019. But the escalator imagery is a good one as we consider what happens, unfortunately, to many holiday shoppers, as their expenses and their debt go up and up. According to In Charge Debt Solutions, one survey after the 2015 holiday shopping season revealed that US consumers added nearly $1,000 to their credit card debt balances. While similar Canadian statistics are harder to find, HIBUSINESS reports that Canadian consumer debt reached an all-time high this spring.

So during November, we’ll explore how we can get off the stressful up escalator and on the down escalator toward a more meaningful holiday season. Each week new articles here on the COMPASS blog will provide practical ideas, personal reflections, and spiritual insights. Follow our Twitter feed and join us on Facebook all month long for great curated content on the topic. And learn about resources on the COMPASS web page that you can use for further in-depth study.

Finally, our monthly Live Chat on Wednesday, london-692137_1280-mallNovember 16, 8 p.m. Eastern, 7 p.m. Central, 6 p.m. Mountain, 5 p.m. Pacific, features Darryl Dahlhemier, Program Director for LSS Financial Counseling. During this Chat, expect to be inspired with examples of ways to capture the spirit and personal meaning of holiday celebrations. We’ll discuss ways to transform older traditions into new rituals that prioritize connection with family and friends, as well as “Talking Back to Advertising” and getting away from more and bigger material focus. Want to imagine the holidays with no extra financial stress and no “debt hangover” in the new year? Join us at the Chat!

The COMPASS Steering Committee and I look forward to journeying with you this month as we meet each other on Facebook, Twitter, and at our Live Chat, to gain new insights into having Happier Holidays!

About the Author

marcia shetlerMarcia Shetler became the Executive Director/CEO of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center in March 2011. She holds an MA in philanthropy and development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, a BS in business administration from Indiana Wesleyan University, and a Bible Certificate from Eastern Mennonite University. She formerly served as administrative staff in two middle judicatories of the Church of the Brethren, and as director of communications and public relations for Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Indiana, an administrative faculty position. Marcia’s vocational, spiritual, and family experiences have shaped her vision and passion for faithful stewardship ministry that recognizes and celebrates the diversity of Christ’s church and the common call to all disciples to the sacred practice of stewardship. She enjoys connecting, inspiring, and equipping Christian steward leaders to transform church communities.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page, follow us on Twitter, and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image credits: pixabay.com

Giving on a Budget

During December, the COMPASS blog is sharing reflections related to giving, since this is an especially gift giving time of year. Today, I share some more thoughts about how my wife Allison and I give on a budget, and offer some tips from our experience that might be helpful for you too.

Making our Christmas Budget

Making our Christmas Budget

My wife Allison and I are not master budgeters by any means. We are also not the most frugal people in the world. That being said, we do have a general budget that we check regularly to see how we are doing, and each year we also sit down and review our gift budget from the previous year and see if we can adjust it for the current and next year.

Allison and I recently had our pre-Christmas shopping budget conversation. It went well, as we went through reviewing last year’s spreadsheet, and creating this year’s. We listed out about how much we planned to spend on every present- for our families, ourselves, and loved ones, including shipping expense, and included costs related to preparing and mailing our annual Christmas letter. We also discussed our year-end giving as another part of our Christmas gifts. It’s always an adventure to go through this process. We want to share our love, but to do so without breaking the bank.

As has become our practice, after creating our spreadsheet, we then pored over our family’s Christmas gift wish lists. I don’t know about your house hold or family, but each year we invite people to put together a list of things that they either would like, want, or need for Christmas, or groups that they would like to support. Ideally the list has a variety of options on it, as well as a variety of costs for different people, families, and budget situations. Having lists like this is helpful. Though there isn’t an obligation to get anyone a present, let alone something on their wish list, it’s helpful for planning and for looking for bargains and deals and ways to save and stay under budget.

I have written quite a bit before on this blog about why we like to give. We do so as a response to the good news, and this time of the year particularly, the joy and good news of Christmas. As the prophet Isaiah proclaims,

“For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6, NRSV.

It’s rare when our spending comes out exactly as we budgeted on presents and giving. But we’re generally close, often because we took the time to budget and search for cost-effective solutions. When we have a little extra, we can either give to another cause or group we are passionate about, or add it to our savings account.

By budgeting, we’re also able to plan and save up for giving each year. It’s taken a few years to build this practice, but now it’s actually a fun part of our Christmas preparations during Advent.

Do you budget for gift giving? If so, how do you go about it? If not, what might it take to start budgeting this year and next year? What questions do you have about budgeting?

From our experience, here are a few extra helpful tips:

  1. Never talk about budgets with your loved ones on an empty stomach. That’s why we have these conversations often while we eat a meal like breakfast.
  1. Don’t forget that many people, who you might feel a desire to give to, may be just as equally honored and grateful (or more so) if you give a gift in their name to their favorite charity, cause, faith community, or nonprofit organization. It’s always fun to see friends and family’s lists include groups to donate to. If you are looking for a way to be more frugal around Christmas and not just give and acquire stuff, this is a great idea.
  1. You can save money by buying ahead, especially on Christmas wrapping materials when they go on clearance after Christmas Day. It requires a little preparation, but if you are willing to store things for the year ahead, you can often get great bargains.

    Our beautiful (and on a budget) Christmas Tree. Merry Christmas from Allison and me!

    Our beautiful (and on a budget) Christmas Tree. Merry Christmas from Allison and me!

  1. If you love to decorate your house for Christmas, the same principle applies as above. Allison and I found our Christmas Tree that has been ours since our first Christmas together, at a bargain rate of about $30. It’s not the biggest tree in the world, but it’s durable, and has helped warm our home each Christmas together.

What tips would you add from your experience? How do you give and stay on budget around Christmas?

From all of us at COMPASS and the Ecumenical Stewardship Center, thank you for being part of the conversation, and Merry Christmas! May this time of gathering and celebration also be a time of remembering God’s gifts for each one of us, a time of giving thanks for those gifts, and sharing the joy of them with all whom we meet.

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This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.