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.

Budgets, Charity, Giving, and #GivingTuesday

We begin a new month today, December. Over the weekend, those of us in liturgical Christian traditions began a new season and church year as well, with the beginning of Advent. Today also happens to be #GivingTuesday, a day that follows Thanksgiving and the likes of “Black Friday,” “Small Business Saturday,” and “Cyber Monday,” days that are focused on spending and supposed deals with potential for savings.

Hands holding a gift box isolated on black background

Giving- what does it mean to give? 

In this spirit, the COMPASS blog is sharing reflections and insights about budgets, charity, and giving during December. We’ll ponder about how to give on a budget. Among the reflections and perspectives you will hear from in the weeks ahead, are from people working in philanthropy for congregations, churches, and nonprofits.

For today though, this #GivingTuesday, I want us to reflect on what it means to give?

Paul writes to the Corinthians, “And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8, NRSV). As I have written before, I believe that God has entrusted us with all that we have, and what we do with this is our joyful response. For me, this means intentionally budgeting to give, being generous, and helping be a part of God’s work in the world.

My wife Allison and I started having budget breakfasts a few years ago, where at least once a month, and lately usually twice a month, we check in and see how things are going. At these meetings, we strive to always take at least 10% of what we have earned or been given over the previous month, and direct that to giving, usually in our congregational offering. Believing that all that we have has been entrusted to us by God, what we have is not ours then, rather it’s God’s. Thus, we return to God a portion of what God has entrusted to us (kind of like the “Parable of the Talents” in Matthew 25).

Allison and I give both because we see needs in the world and know that we have an ability to partner and respond, but also because we are so grateful for everyone near and far who have (and continue to) supported us thus far.

Allison and I give both because we see needs in the world and know that we have an ability to partner and respond, but also because we are so grateful for everyone near and far who have (and continue to) supported us thus far.

We also try and give a little each year to at least one of our alma maters as a way of paying it forward. We have been blessed with great scholarship support over our years of study from people who believe that education matters. We agree, and likewise want to help others in their pursuit of it.

Additionally, in our budget we leave some for potential usage or giving to respond to particular needs that may come up, or organizations doing good work that connect with our passions.

As today is #GivingTuesday, I want to invite you to consider giving some to an organization or group that you have heard about or seen in action that does good work responding to some of the needs of the world or local community. If you need some added motivation, there might even be incentives to give today like prizes or matching gifts. Of course, there is also the fact that your gifts are likely tax deductible and with it being December, the tax year will end at the end of the month.

What does it mean to you to give? Why do you give?

Are you participating in #GivingTuesday? If so, what types of causes or organizations are you supporting today and why?

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 Credit: Giving.