We really love Christmas around here. The hustle, the bustle, the crispness to the air, the music, all of it. My kids would likely argue that the presents are the best, but as devout Christians, we absolutley delight in celebrating the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
My husband lost his job almost three months ago. We knew it was coming, so we started saving a little here and there for the purpose of providing a nice Christmas morning for our girls. We already had our emergency fund about halfway established, so we continued to contribute to that, as well, just in case.
Thanksgiving came and went, and still no job offers. But my part-time salary plus lots of sub shifts, a decent severance package from my husband's previous empoyer and a part-time job for him, kept us afloat, without dipping into our savings. We were determined to enjoy the holidays, even though we had to keep a tighter watch on finances and couldn't do as much as we usually do.
As frugal people, it wasn't as much of a challenge as you might think. We've been very intentional with how we spend and save. When we bought our house nine years ago, we chose a very modest 1200 square foot home and a mortgage under a $1000 per month. We made the very conscious and intentional decision to not buy the mini-mansion that so many of our friends, co-workers and acquaintances live in. We made it through one job layoff five years ago when I was pregnant with my younger daughter and managed to keep our home because of making the home choice we made.
Still, even when you're frugal, how do you manage the holidays when there's really no extra money to spend? Well, we chose to focus on the true meaning of Thanksgiving and Christmas. We made things like making cookies and decorating the tree Events. We sat as a family and watched more Christmas movies than ever, drinking hot cocoa and laughing at the same silly parts of Elf that we always do. We bundled up the girls and let them sled down the modest hill in our yard on a snowy Saturday just before Christmas.
Now, there are some better hills not too far way...we could have piled into the car and driven to those...but that might have meant stopping at Starbucks and spending $20 on hot chocolate, and why? The hot chocolate at home is just as good...maybe even better!
Things like going to church and worshipping as a family on Christmas Eve (and incidentally enjoying the free hot chocolate bar during fellowship) and wishing others a Merry Christmas, hearing the story of Jesus' birth, and singing "Silent Night" as the sanctuary grew dim--that one always brings tears of awe and joy to my eyes--became even more meaningful without so much other extranneous stuff going on.
I'll be really honest with everyone...our budget for Christmas gifts for our two girls was $280 total. I don't know if that's a lot or a little, in general, but I will admit that it's much lower than we usually have to work with. But you know what's funny? With a smaller budget, my husband and I were required to really listen, to pay attention to what was important to our kids. We spent one day shopping, very deliberately and intentionally spending our $280, buying items we knew they really wanted and would be excited to open on Christmas morning. And while it seemed like so much less under the tree, I feel like it was one of the happiest and most joyful Christmas mornings ever!
We began by singing Happy Birthday to Jesus, then while homemade cinnamon rolls were baking, the kids opened their gifts. I saw more smiles and heard more thank you's than I'm used to, and both kids are STILL enjoying their gifts!
I will not lie and say that I hope our budget is bigger next year...not necessarily for gifts but for experiences. It occurred to me how much more we all connected this year, and I really want to find more time to start new holiday traditions, including some family excursions!
My husband still hasn't found a job, but we're okay. He struggles staying positive sometimes, but at least we can keep going like this for a good while, without having to touch the emergency fund, and that's a blessing. We could have let this situation be our focus but chose not to.
But I think the moral here is simply this: If you celebrate Christmas, then really celebrate CHRISTmas! Remembering the why brings everything into perspective and reminds us that there but for the grace of God goes each of us. It's humbling, fulfilling and comforting to remember this, to trust in God, who gave us the ultimate gift--salvation through his only son, Jesus.
Blessingt to all!