‘So, here it is, Merry Christmas! Everybody’s having fun. Look to the future now, it’s only just begun…!’ It is strange to see advertisements for Christmas, decorations and lights earlier and earlier in the calendar year these days. For me, the Christmas season starts to feel real as soon as I hear the dulcet tones of the English rock band, Slade, from Wolverhampton in the Black Country! In all seriousness, it is amazing how the birth of the Child, Jesus, who came and changes the world, has become peripheral to so much of what happens at this festive time of the year.
John 1:14 (New Living Translation) says: ‘So the Word became human and made His home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen His glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.’ In other words, the author John – a close disciple, writing between 50 to 85 years after Jesus was on earth – talks about the significance of the fact the Son of God came and lived among us. His love for every one of us enables us to have hope and a future. And yet, we have made Christmas out to be about something else altogether – with the pressure to make sure everyone is happy, Santa Claus, cheesy movies, and the huge pressure to spend money we very often just do not have.
Whether your Christmas is busy, with lots of food, friends or family, or quiet and more intimate, I have learned that the Christmas season can be a difficult time for some people. I discovered how much the suicide rate increases at this time of year; I learned that for some (often because of bereavement or isolation from their family), painful memories mean that Christmas cannot pass quickly enough and then, of course, there are the bills that land on the doormat in January, when the reality of the spending kicks in. I wonder if, for some of us, there is the pressure to spend to provide the kind of Christmas we couldn’t have as children…
For many families, the season of peace and goodwill is wrapped up with guilt, shame and money worries. The average family spends an estimated £800 to pay for the festive season. It would take enormous resilience to resist the message that you need a generous budget to provide a truly happy family Christmas. “Most of us find it difficult to disentangle our drive to make our children happy, with the need to spend, spend and overspend. The emptiness we feel on Boxing Day, surrounded by discarded wrapping, should be all the evidence we need that stuff doesn’t really matter.” (Melanie Whyatt, Wolverhampton City Credit Union)
So what do you do if you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of struggling households in the country? Stagnant wages, zero-hour jobs and slashed benefits (including those adversely affected by the switchover to Universal Credit)…
Before I am accused of being Ebenezer Scrooge (‘A Christmas Carol’ is a great movie, by the way), I am not proposing that we ban all fun at Christmas, but may I suggest some ideas to survive the season in a better financial position?
- Remember the Reason we have Christmas in the first place: Jesus Christ came to bring hope to us all
- Have a conversation with those closest to you about what is most important about the Christmas period
- Set a budget for overall spending – and stick to it
- Before spending on gifts, ask yourself whether this is something that is really going to be needed and used, or is it likely to be discarded or even ‘re-gifted’ online within a few weeks
- Share the load with Christmas dinner, so that the financial pressure is not on one person or family
- Why not gift time and prioritise the importance of connecting and spending time with people, rather than buying gifts?
- Talk to your children about the importance of saving and working towards something they would like, and the blessing of giving rather than receiving. Be honest about the budget for presents, teaching them to be grateful. You could consider opening a savings account for your child with your local credit union.
- Try to avoid taking out high interest loans, spending on credit cards, and illegal loan sharks
- If you are tempted to impulse-buy or get caught up in the hype, stop and consider whether you need to buy now, or can you wait for the January sales. Ask yourself ‘Will I worry about what I have spent this time next week?’ If so, don’t buy it.
- If you feel as if your debts are out of control, charities like National Debtline, Money Advice Service, Christians Against Poverty, Community Money Advice and local credit unions can help. You could also try JFF’s new Money First Aid Kit – https://www.justfinancefoundation.org.uk/moneyfirstaidkit/debt
If you have any more ideas, I would like to hear them, so please drop me an email at email@example.com. My day job is all about helping to create a fairer financial system, addressing the issues of financial exclusion, and the distress caused by unmanageable money worries and debt. The Just Finance Foundation exists to help address the needs and interests of low-income households, and we are working in schools to start savings clubs and educate about good financial management, as well as providing courses such as Cash Smart Credit Savvy, which is an introduction to budgeting skills and saving. But there is so much to do.
I pray that you experience amazing joy this Christmas season, and a blessed New Year when it comes!
Rev Cassius Francis is the Just Finance Development Worker for the Black Country (with Transforming Communities Together), and he is a minister with the Wesleyan Holiness Church. He is married to Vanessa, and they established a charitable project in Haiti following the devastating earthquake in 2010.