3 Ways to Holiday with Intention

Well, Christmas is now behind us! Every year, I worry not about how to afford Christmas gifts but about how to keep things reined in so that we are able to focus on the true meaning of the holiday. I feel fairly certain most people would love to be a bit more intentional with their holidays and to gain a little more meaning and purpose out of these celebrations. While I must admit that I am always a bit relieved after Christmas is over (like I successfully navigated an obstacle course or something), I am also aware that there are takeaways every year, things I can do to ease the stress of the season and derive more meaning from the various events.

Here are a few things I did this year that contributed to a slightly less stressful holiday.

1. Request items I actually need. One of my biggest stressors every year is the gift-giving expectation. Each year, I get a little annoyed that gifts are an expectation that simply won’t go away. I recognize that other people enjoy giving and receiving gifts (as do I!), but I’m also keenly aware that there is very little I actually need. I enjoy selecting gifts for others and especially love finding an item that I believe a particular person will use and enjoy, but I always feel a little guilty about the gifts I am given because, again, I know there’s not too much I need.

I feel overwhelmed already with what I have and deeply privileged that I can look at my household and my closet and say with confidence that I have more than enough. So, when people ask me what I want for a gift-giving occasion, I always seem to scramble around for something that seems gift-worthy or just say that there’s nothing in particular I want.

This year, I realized the folly of my ways and made mental note of things I did indeed desire to receive, knowing full well that my family members WANT to give me gifts. I am only doing a disservice by not giving any ideas. I took a lesson from the Frugalwoods who have posted several ideas for gifting “frugal weirdos.” I noticed that they weren’t ashamed or embarrassed to ask for things they truly needed or wanted, even in the household goods department. I finally realized it is most definitely OK to request items like stain-free plastic food storage containers and stainless steel kitchen prep tools to replace old ones that are past their prime. So, that’s what I did! I wasn’t specific on brands or colors, and my family members indulged my need-based requests. Quite frankly, the items I received are downright luxurious…the kitchen tools are certainly beyond anything I would have purchased for myself and will last forever. Frugal win!

2. Keep your gifts simple. Brandon and I opted not to exchange anything epic this year. We didn’t set a spending limit, but we discussed the fact that there was really nothing either of us needed. We’ve both been in a de-cluttering mood lately, anxious to do a better job of curating our wardrobes and home purchases. My wardrobe is a perfect example of this. I probably wear roughly one-third of the clothes in my closet. For now, I’m keeping some of the superfluous stuff knowing that I may get more use out of it as other items wear out.

We always receive some Christmas money, so instead of adding to the plethora of rarely-used items, we decided to put our Christmas gift money towards the purchase of a new camera, something we can both use and enjoy. It will get lots of use in the coming years, especially because it has an external microphone meaning I can use it for work. Another win.

I know a lot of folks who are very specific with their significant other about what they want. It seems to me that there’s an expectation of a quality or level of gift you are supposed to receive from a spouse, partner or significant other. Some folks do the big gift and then a few smaller items, which can be a good strategy. But, if you find yourself grasping for something you really need for that “special” gift, know that it is absolutely OK to request  sentimental gifts or none at all and instead to focus on quality time with the person.

We each did a couple small gifts for each other, but in a happy coincidence focused on the sentimental. With help from a friend, Brandon built end tables for our living room as a gift for me and also gave me a new pair of shoes purchased on clearance simply because he knows I like to have something to open. I gave him a piano book and two framed wedding photos because in seven years of marriage, we’ve framed exactly zero photos of just the two of us from our wedding. Our gifts to each other turned out to be perfect for the low-key, low-stress Christmas we sought this year. Next year, I hope we will continue the trend.

3. Give some away. We regularly tithe to our church, support a campus ministry and sponsor two children in Ecuador through Compassion International. We added a couple year-end gifts to the mix this year, specifically a to capital campaign at church and a larger than usual gift to the campus ministry. Additionally, we gave to Compassion in advance so that “our” kids could have Christmas gifts. Finally, we chose to give our old camera away. Because it was in great shape, we could have sold it and originally intended to, but upon learning of a need a friend had, it made sense to just give it away. It felt great to let go of that need to scrounge for every penny. When you are willing to live with less, you have the freedom to give a bit more. And during Christmas, when you know others are stressed and experiencing all kinds of life upheavals, it’s incredibly freeing to ease their burden a little bit.

Things I learned for next year:

1. I worried way too much about food contributions to family celebrations. Other people also worried about food contributions. This means that there is still way too much food in our various family refrigerators. Much of it will go uneaten, unfortunately. I always make two pies. Other folk then contribute other sweets resulting in an abundance of junk food that no one wants or needs but feels guilty throwing away. Next year, I’ll stand down.

2. I only have so much time. While I know that it’s not appropriate or compassionate to refuse to give of my time during the holidays, especially as it relates to spending time with family, I went through the past five days with almost no down time and stayed up until roughly 1 a.m. every night. We were constantly at someone’s house until late in the evening and back at it the next day. Next year, I’d like to take time to go home at a decent hour and get more rest during my days off work. If holidays are supposed to be restful, it makes no sense to exhaust myself and overdo the special family time. I’m more enjoyable to be around when I’m rested…and so are other people.

3. I can’t make other people relax. I didn’t necessarily try to, but I also know that we often bear other peoples’ stress without intending to. I learn more all the time that it’s not my responsibility to attempt to fix other people or their situations. That said, it’s difficult not to be impacted by the choices of those close to you, particularly during family events. It IS my responsibility to offer grace, spoken or not, to others. I can’t change their circumstances or choices, but I can respond to them with more grace, even if in the moment I don’t feel I receive it in return. Another lesson learned that probably makes all family interactions much more manageable.

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Fess Up: The neverending grocery cycle

It’s time for a confession.

I am the queen of deciding what I want to eat and shopping for ingredients with no thought whatsoever about cost and little to no consideration for what’s already in the pantry or the fridge. This has led to an annoying syndrome in our house: pantry bloat.

Pantry Bloat = a pantry full of food with nothing to eat. Right now, our pantry shelves are stuffed to the gills, the fridge crowded with bits of things, and I can’t think of a thing for dinner. It’s a vicious cycle and one I am determined to halt in its tracks.

What ends up happening is that we have plenty of groceries at home from which we could procure excellent and tasty meals for ourselves. It’s just that we’re fickle. We love to eat, and I LOVE to cook. And I like to cook what sounds good at the moment. So, if stuffed peppers are on the menu but chili sounds better because it’s remotely cool outside, I’ll go to the store (thereby making a separate, unplanned trip!) just to buy stuff to make one single solitary meal! The meal will be eaten and enjoyed by all, but it means other things will go to waste!

Today is basically the end of October. We have leftovers in the fridge for dinner tonight and meals tomorrow. I don’t think I have another trip to the store in the immediate forecast (which is good since there’s a 90 percent chance of more rain the rest of today and all night tonight). I set our grocery spending budget in Mint this month at $500. Sadly, I blew past it without much thought or notice. We spent $582 on groceries in October, but thinking about the currently well-stocked pantry and the above mentioned pantry bloat and the syndrome of needlessly running to the store on a whim has me convinced that I should try again to stay under the $500 budget in November. This weekend, I’ll meal plan by taking into account what we currently have that needs to get used up first. From there, I’ll shop for what’s truly needed, and the goal will be to get through what we have first. Ultimately, I think it’s reasonable that two people should be able to eat for far less than $500 per month, but we’re taking baby steps here. Stay tuned!

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The Supernatural Experience of Giving

In Matthew 26:11, Jesus makes a profound statement: “For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.” (ESV)

I have been thinking recently about the intent of his statement. Was it a guarantee that no matter what happens and no matter our good intentions, poverty would always exist? Was it simply an invitation to those present to hang out with Jesus instead of poor people? Or was it a description of the way things are and, digging deeper, a subtle invitation to help change it, to live in light of a greater reality?

I am having trouble finding anything written by frugality bloggers on the subject of giving. From a couple brief searches on a few well-read blogs, I found a couple bloggers who wrote about doing a bit of charitable giving during the holiday season. I saw one blog post that mentioned giving around $2,000 over the course of a year. I don’t think it’s that people don’t give … just that there isn’t as much written about making regular giving part of your monthly budget.

I don’t know where everyone stands in terms of faith, but our Christian faith compels us to give generously. The standard is about 10 percent of our income, a principle based on the Old Testament idea of tithing. The 10 percent figure denoted a sense of ownership, a sort of acknowledgement that one’s income (or harvest?) was the result of divine action.

I don’t think there is a hard and fast amount one should give, but I do believe that there is something completely supernatural about giving away that which you earned. I also think 10 percent is a good baseline, though I acknowledge that not everyone will reach it. It’s completely countercultural to not spend every dollar you earn, but to flat out give it away empowers you in a new way. It frees you from the hold money has on you, from the feeling that your funds control you rather than the other way around. Giving also calms the fear that arises when you think about your financial state of being, especially when you are in debt.

When we were first married and more than $30,000 in credit card debt, we still gave regularly to our church and sponsored a child in a less developed country. Some months, we may have neglected our tithing (especially if we didn’t make it to church that first week of the month), but on the whole, it has been a regular part of our financial lives since the beginning of life together.

There are certainly folks out there who feel like every dollar you have beyond the bare minimum you need to survive should be going toward debt or savings to keep you out of debt. Others seem to think that charitable giving should come in if and when you have met your own family’s needs and then that such giving seems to be sort of a logical means to an end (i.e. a tax write-off or perhaps some sort of emotional payoff, almost as if altruism is selfishly motivated).

I can’t speak to anyone else’s motivations, but I can share that for us giving is a necessary act that arises from living in light of a different and truer reality. Christianity is not only about personal redemption from a sinful state of being but also about redeeming a broken world. Generosity is part of living under the reign of Christ.

This year, I want to increase our charitable giving. We currently give 10 percent away. The majority of that money goes to our church, but we also sponsor a child through Compassion International (child sponsorship has a proven track record of effectiveness in changing a person’s life) and we support a friend who is a campus ministry leader at the University of Texas at Dallas where Brandon went to college. Those things are our baseline. Brandon got a raise and he’ll begin seeing that increased income this month, so I want us to adjust the baseline amount accordingly and then increase our monthly giving.

Posted in Jesus, Marriage, Personal Finance, Religion | 1 Comment