Hope you have a Debt-Free Christmas!

By Sandy Crozier
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Christmas is a time for giving. It is a time for thinking of others. A time for expressing the
joy and hope we have inside because of God’s perfect gift to us.

Gift giving, holiday parties and family gatherings are all good things–but when they become the focus of the season, many people experience stress, guilt, and pressure to spend what they do not have–as well as the debt that follows. With the Canadian Debt-to-Income ratio hitting 150% early this year, many people are still paying off last Christmas (if not the one before too).

Somehow, we have bought into the cultural lie that we have to spend a lot for Christmas gifts to be socially acceptable. There are now guidelines on who and how much to buy for everyone from your boss to your mailman.

Sadly, many feel that even if they are completely broke, they can still spend thousands of dollars on Christmas gifts—and believe it is not only their right to do so, but that they are chain-1027864_1280obligated to do it. For those living on tight budgets, who have been as careful as they know how to be, and have a Budget or Spending Plan–the pressure to overspend at Christmas is still there.

And it is not just money that we overspend. There is also the mounting pressure to attend every event, party, rehearsal, and gathering. Saying yes to these will surely over tax our time and emotions. At the very time of the year when relationships could and should be of highest priority, over-activity and overspending combine to become a toxic potion that effect our relationships with God and each other.

The Christmas story begs us to see it as far more than a peak event in December that is soon followed by the reality filled with bills we cannot pay. We should be celebrating the greatest gift of all–God with us. But it should not come with any more debt–other than the debt of love to God and each other.

Tips to having a Debt-Free Christmas

  1. Make a commitment to NO NEW DEBT at Christmas – Overspending increases stress, not joy, to the season.
  2. Set a budget for your holiday spending and stick to it! Make a list of everyone you are buying a gift for and what you can afford to spend–and don’t go shopping without the list. You will be far less likely to buy on impulse.
  3. Save BEFORE you Shop – Many people find it is necessary to open a completely separate account for this purpose. You can set yourself up to have an automatic transfer of funds to a savings account and come Christmas time you’ll have money ready for shopping.
  4. Pay Cash / Avoid Credit – One of the best ways to stick to a budget is to pay cash for everything. Take out the total dollars you can afford to spend over the holidays. Put the money in an envelope and pay for all your gifts from that single source.
  5. Shop Early – Last minute shopping can be expensive. Stores may be out of the items on your list. When you are tired and frustrated, it is easy to make costly impulse buys just to cross that name off your list.
  6. Be Creative – There are a lot of ways to give without spending any or very little thought-2123970_1280money. Handmade crafts, cookies or jars of preserves are always appreciated. You can give your time/service (babysitting, cleaning, home repair, etc.) Use reward points gift cards (movie pass or restaurant). For those hard to shop relatives who do not need anything – consider giving a gift in their name of a goat or cow through World Vision or Samaritan’s purse or another mission that is important to them.
  7. Get out of the house & enjoy the season. There are lots of lights, community events, carol sings and more that you can enjoy for free with your family that focus on the season and not your wallet.
  8. Model a sane schedule – Avoid overtaxing your health and relationships by limiting how many commitments you make. And when you do feel stressed and pressured to do more – stop and take a deep breath. Do what really needs to be done and then choose to take the second deep breath of God’s Spirit. Take this moment to reflect on your perspective and ask God’s Spirit to guard your heart and renew a right spirit in you. Bill Bright used to call this “Spiritual Breathing.” Remember – Christmas is not about the gifts, it is about “The Gift” to each one of us – one that costs us nothing but cost God everything.


About the Author

Sandy CrozierSandy Crozier is Stewardship Development Director of The Free Methodist Church in Canada.

Image credits: pixabay.com

Returning to “Why,” in Hopes of Getting Off the Consumer Escalator

By Timothy Siburgwhy-1432955_1280-red

Over the past three weeks we have pondered about the ups, downs, and challenges of riding and being on the consumer escalator. We have recounted many reasons why we might want to rethink our spending and the way we steward our time and resources around Christmas and Thanksgiving. In the previous November posts, Marcia, Matt, and John have done a beautiful job of offering alternatives and insight into positive ways to reconsider consumerism.

This week, I want us to dig into the question of “why?” What really matters this time of the year, and how might focusing on that question make for a more faithful response and richer holiday experience?

For a Christian, the why can be found in the heart of the Christmas gospel in Luke 2:1-20, often read every Christmas Eve. Within that rich text, we hear the proclamation from the angel of the Lord,

 nativity-scene-1807602_1280-crop“Do not be afraid, for see- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
– Luke 2:10-11, NRSV

 It might sound trite to say that this is the “reason for the season.” And I am not exactly trying to say that. But if we remember that this is at the heart of the celebrations, festivities, food, fellowship, and all of the gift giving this time of year; if we remember that it is the fulfillment of the promises of the prophets which guide our journey through the season of Advent to the manger; we might just have a chance to get off the consumer escalator.

I am one who loves to give gifts. My wife Allison and I see that as one of our love languages. We also love to say thank you, which is why Thanksgiving is one of our favorite holidays. But at the heart of our gift giving, joy, and gratitude, is a knowledge that we give gifts because it is one of our joyful responses to the pure gifts and good news of God who we know through Christ Jesus.

We don’t give gifts because we want to earn something in return. We give without the expectation of return. We give, because we can’t help but feel so overjoyed with the good news of a God who comes near, becomes incarnate, walks with us, is given for us, and loves us. In our joy, we can’t help but want to share our joy through the sharing of our stories, time, the giving of gifts, living fully in God’s abundance and love.

envelop-576252_1280 Of course, Allison and I don’t give without a plan. We always sit down and make our Christmas budget each year prior to Thanksgiving. We include plans for our annual Christmas letter and the costs associated with printing and mailing it, as well as our hopes for what we are willing to give to family and friends, our congregation, and other needs, nonprofits, and ministries we feel connected to and passionate about.

So, why do you give? Why do you do what you do this time of year- spending, wrapping, cooking, eating, decorating, gathering with friends, families, and colleagues? What part of the promises of God and the Christmas story motivate you and lead you into the way that you spend your days and evenings this time of year?

However you may answer these questions, I hope and pray that you have a meaningful journey to the manger, and are so caught up in the promises of the good news, that you can’t help but want to share it. And for those of you who feel like you are stuck on the consumer escalator, I hope that by thinking deeply about the “why,” you might feel comfortable and confident in your ability to get off it.

About the Author

timothy headshotTimothy Siburg is the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), a Deacon in the ELCA, and is a member of the COMPASS Steering Committee. His wife Allison serves as an ELCA pastor, and together with their cat Buddy, they reside in the greater Omaha area. Timothy can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, and on his blog.

Image credits: pixabay.com

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

Four Simple Financial New Year’s Resolutions: Share, Save, Spend, and Plan

Four Simple Financial New Year’s Resolutions: Share, Save, Spend, and Plan

During January the COMPASS blog is sharing space for financial new year’s resolutions. The series continues as Marcia Shetler, CEO of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center shares some thoughts about sharing, saving, spending, and planning.

happy new yearWith a grateful nod to my friend Nathan Dungan, I’d like to suggest four simple financial new year’s resolutions. Nathan is founder and president of Share Save Spend, and his website is full of great resources related to finances.

  1. Share!

Data about young adult giving in Canada and the US provides mixed reviews. The Globe and Mail reported last summer that less young Canadians are giving financially. In the US, though, CNBC reported that 84% of Millennials made a charitable donation in 2014, and 70% spent at least an hour volunteering.  But because their giving is strongly influenced by their peers, social media momentum, and current issues, it can tend to be sporadic.

While some Christians use the tithe (10 percent of income) as a giving measurement, it can also be a goal to aim for over a period of time. Do you know what percentage of your income you gave as charitable gifts in 2015? If you’d like to give more, set a “step goal” for yourself: an increase of a percentage or two. Now translate that into actual dollars and decide how you would like to give it. You can even include a category for unexpected or new opportunities you might encounter this year.

  1. Save!

It can be hard to save when you are faced with student debt and new expenses related to living on your own, but getting into the savings habit will reap benefits in both the short run and long-term. Sometimes adding to your savings is as easy as increasing your knowledge. For example, does your employer offer matching contributions to your retirement fund, and are you taking advantage of that opportunity? According to CNW, more than one third of Canadian Millennials can’t answer that question.

Even if you have a tight budget, you can develop a saving mindset. Pick a short-term goal. Save your loose change. Save by spending less, like on apps, eating out (including work lunches), and entertainment that costs money. Open a savings account and schedule automatic transfers from your checking account, perhaps synching it with your payday. Money you never “see” can be easier to save.

  1. Spend!

For most people, money is an integral and unavoidable part of life. So if we are going to spend, it’s important to do so wisely. Just this month, right after the traditional Christmas gift-buying binge, The Washington Post reported that one of the newest spending trends is choosing experiences over tangibles. “People are saying, I’ve got enough stuff. I want to pamper myself a bit and do something that makes me feel good,’” the article quotes Steven Kirn, executive director of the University of Florida’s retail education and research center, as saying. This kind of attitude toward spending can spiral out of control quickly.

In the COMPASS blog, we’ve encouraged looking for ways to live a fulfilled life without overspending. Here are a few previous posts that you might want to read for more ideas:

  1. Plan!

time to plan“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” is a familiar phrase. Whether you want to share more, save more, or spend more wisely in 2016, developing a plan to do so is essential. If you’re not sure how much money you have or where it goes, gaining that understanding is a necessary first step. For just one month, or even just one pay period, keep a detailed record of where all your money went. How much did you share? How much did you save? How much did you spend? How can you adjust so that you are sharing, saving, and spending to reflect the life that God is calling you to live?

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.

Image Credits: Happy New Year and Time to Plan