How To (Effectively) Save Money and Pay for Christmas

Christmas is just around the corner, and most people probably find themselves in somewhat of a panic. One group doesn't know how it will pay for Christmas, and the other group will quickly realize that they have overspent on Christmas. 

Both groups will be tempted to whip out a credit card in order to split the difference.

Don't be among them.

Instead, I would like to propose a simple method of paying for Christmas.  But you cannot embrace this method unless you realize the fundamental problem at the heart of it all:

You are your own worst enemy!!!

You are not as good with money as you think you are. If you've ever closely tracked your spending and made a budget, then you know what I am talking about.  The moment you start ignoring the constraints of your budget because you think you are "fine," is the very moment you will start to overspend, and will ultimately start coming up short financially.

The first thing you need to do is to make a budget.

Decide ahead of time how much money you are going to spend on Christmas every year.  As Dave Ramsey says, "Tell every dollar where to go instead of wondering where every dollar went!"  Your money needs to have a name. Assign it one on a spreadsheet, and use it to track your monthly spending.

The second thing you need to do is automatically save.

You will need to start saving a small amount of your monthly budget and setting aside funds for Christmas.  If you are going to drop a grand or two on Christmas this year for you and your entire family, it's a lot easier to figure out where to come up with the money for Christmas if you've been setting aside $100 or $200 a month throughout the year, than wondering where the money is going to come from five or six weeks out.

Christmas comes every year.  It's not an emergency, so don't treat it as one.  Plan for it through monthly budgeting. 

The third thing you need to do is to setup a separate checking account with a bank that is not your primary bank. 

Sure, such seems like a hassle, but ever since discovering that I am my own worst enemy when it comes to money, I've found another truth: 

You need to hide money from yourself!

In realizing I am my own worst enemy, I've also discovered if I mix my Christmas money with the same bank account I use to pay the bills with, or my "rainy day" emergency funds account, I've discovered that I either don't have as much money going into Christmas as I thought I did, or after Christmas, I've discovered that I've spent more than I intended on spending,  and now have less savings for other things that I was also saving for. 

So the best solution I've discovered is to automatically hide my monthly Christmas savings in another checking account at another bank.  That way I won't accidentally spend Christmas funds on other things, and likewise, I won't be able to easily spend more than what is in that account.  When the funds in that account hit zero, Christmas shopping is officially over. 

And since this Christmas account is at another bank, you don't have to worry about auto-drafting your account and taking money from other accounts you've already earmarked for other things.  The only way to spend more money at this point would be to fall into the temptation of using another card, or you would have to add more funds into your already depleted Christmas account. 

Of course, it is still possible to still fall into this temptation.  However, I've discovered that by having a separate Christmas account, you provide a "check" to yourself that hopefully keeps your spending under control.  If you over spend, your overspending will at least be slowed down by the slight trouble of having to get money from another account.  You won't be able to spend money on other things without thinking about it first.  You will be forced to recognize that you've reached your maximum spending budget. 

And even if you do decide you can afford to spend more money on Christmas than you originally budgeted for in your Christmas account, at least you will be forced to account instead of just wondering where all the money went.  Either way, this will help you keep your spending under control, and Christmas won't become an annual financial disaster.

Finally, this idea can be applied to multiple spending areas.

Don't just limit this idea to Christmas.  Apply it to birthdays, vacations, or saving money for a car or a new house.  Whatever your major financial goals are, I highly recommend opening an account for each one.  And in doing such, I believe over time you will discover that you are better off financially than you were when you had all your eggs in one basket.

And while it might be a little too late to start saving for Christmas this year, if you start today, you can start to plan for Christmas next year.   By removing the financial stress Christmas creates by simply budgeting every month and moving a little money into an account earmarked specifically for Christmas, just wait and see how much more enjoyment you will get out of the Christmas season when you know how it's all going to be paid for!

Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas!


The Apocalypse (a.k.a.. Election 2016!)

Jesus need not come back.  The apocalypse has already happened without Him.  And it happened via the presidential election cycle of 2016 in America. 

Well... not exactly.  But it sorta feels that way. 

Depending on who you voted for, there is a pretty good chance that you viewed Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton as the Devil incarnate.

"They" were the ultimately embodiment of evil, and in order to save our nation, they had to be stopped at all costs.  Because if the other candidate won, America would descend into unprecedented levels of darkness from which it cannot ever return. 

Facebook became the battlefield of America's second Civil War. The closest of family and friends became emotionally unglued, resulting not only in heated exchanges, but in a massive number of casualties.  Friends lists were purged, and people were uninvited from weddings and holiday get-togethers, all because a loved one supported the wrong presidential candidate.

The church has reflected this cultural division as well.  Voting for the wrong candidate resulted in many Christians smugly questioning the salvation of many other Christians who did not.  After all, it was abundantly clear which candidate God was backing.  And if it wasn't very clear to you, there were many prophetic voices in certain circles who were more than willing to tell you which candidate God favored, and to give that candidate a significance similar to that of some major well liked Old Testament figure.  For some, failure to vote for God's man (or woman) was a test of your commitment to Christian orthodoxy, and exposed how deeply compromised you were in your heart of hearts.

And now that the election is over, there are many who rejoice over Donald Trump winning the election, and likewise, there are many who are deeply fearful of the same.  And depending on which candidate you supported, there are as many news outlets that are willing to feed your feelings of triumph as there are those who are willing to feed your feelings of anger and insecurity.

I know I wrestled with my emotions over this election.  And there has been a time or two (or three) where I got caught up in wrestling other people who were also wrestling their emotions too.

Things ought not be this way.  While I think it is a great thing for people to be involved in politics, and to passionately champion important causes, and to hash out difficult topics, I can't help but feel that we are in danger of being too emotionally invested in this process. 

As Christians we have to remember that as much as we love our country, America isn't our religion, and we should stop treating it as such.  Our identity shouldn't be grounded in her, or a particular political philosophy or candidate.  We must avoid any language that would tempt others to see certain political leaders as some sort of mini-messiah.  God already gave the world a Messiah, and His name is Jesus!  And for heavens sake, we need to stop confusing America with Israel and/or the church.  America is neither.  And the degree we treat America as if it were either of these shows just how much we've made America into a religion.

So, instead of becoming unglued over politics, as Christians I believe we need to become increasingly unattached. 

And in saying unattached I don't mean being uninvolved.  On the contrary, I believe the church should be involved in politics, but in doing so, we need to realize in our heart of hearts that whatever our level of involvement is, we are ultimately serving this country as ambassadors of Jesus Christ, and as citizens of another kingdom. 

Such is like the ambassadors of our own country who serve overseas in other nations, representing the interests of the United States while abroad.  Where appropriate, they give their two cents on various issues that arise.  But does the American ambassador to France get bent out of shape when France elects somebody that ambassador perceives to be an idiot as the president of France?  Probably not.  Why?  Because even though they may have a great love for France, their loyalty is back home, in America. 

And I believe that's how we as Christians need to be when it comes with our attitude towards politics.  We are to be ambassadors of Jesus Christ, who while getting involved of the political life of the nation we are serving in, ultimately has a heart that longs for the things that are back home. 

Armed with the mindset, that we are ultimately ambassadors of Christ, will do much to safeguard our hearts from looking at this election (or the next one!) as if it were the apocalypse.  And maybe... just maybe, God will be able to use us as people of influence as a result, so we are able to further His will in this world.