Holiday spending, Catholic style

As we move closer to winter, we anticipate the holidays and the fact that 2011 is just around the corner. When it comes to our responsibility as a steward of Providence during this special time, two important themes come to mind: preparing well for the coming of our Savior at Christmas, and setting the stage for a financially successful 2011. 

Prepare well for Christmas 

Our society is especially good at focusing on the externals of Christmas. Some stores have their Christmas aisles all ready to go after Labor Day. You can hear Christmas music non-stop right after Thanksgiving. While no doubt these contribute to a “festive” atmosphere, it’s important for us to remember that the Advent season is a gift from the Church to help us prepare our interior for Christ’s coming. 

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming” (No. 524). If we use this time well to recommit ourselves in our relationship with the Lord, we will also be prepared to better appreciate the “externals” of the Christmas season. 

Christmas spending is a major issue for many families. In some cultures it is customary that gifts will be given throughout the family, down to second cousins. Many families succumb to this pressure and find their credit card balances ballooning because of it. Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to share in a spirit of generosity during the Christmas season. It’s just that we need to re-examine what it means to be truly generous. 

I encourage you to sit down now and think through your gift plan for this Christmas. First, you’ll want to develop your overall budget, and then you can determine how that spending can best be allocated. It’s also a time you can think about creative ways you can show your love in ways that won’t break the bank. 

Consider making homemade cards and baked goods or jam for your family and friends. Each fall we make an annual outing to go apple picking. Some of the apples are for eating, but most go toward making apple butter, which is given to family and friends as Christmas gifts. Many couples in the midst of raising families find it very difficult to go on a “date” due to the lack of a baby sitter. Coupons for periodic baby-sitting help from a trusted source would be a much appreciated gift! 

What better way to celebrate the real meaning of Christmas than by helping those who have fallen on hard times? You can participate directly by volunteering for one of the local outreaches in your area, whether it is a soup kitchen or other type of ministry. Many communities offer programs where you can “adopt” a needy family for Christmas by providing food and gifts. Allow your children to participate financially by sharing some of their allowance for this purpose. What a marvelous way for your children to learn about the joy of giving! 

Anticipate the new year 

For those who have operated on a budget and tracked their activity during 2010, it’s a time to put that information to good use as you look ahead to 2011. Use your 2010 information as a starting point for your 2011 budget, and then tweak your 2011 budget for changes you can see on the horizon. If you don’t yet have a budget, the new year presents a great opportunity to get off to a good start. Unless you tell your money where you want it to go, you can count on the fact that it will control you! 

As you prepare for Christmas and the new year, emphasize preparing your interior spirit to welcome Christ each day. If you do that well, you’ll be a faithful steward of Providence and be in a position to set solid priorities for 2011. God love you! 

Phil Lenahan is the president of Veritas Financial Ministries  and the author of “7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free” (OSV, $19.95). Submit questions for columns to askphil@osv.com.