Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Avoiding the Santa Bill


When you're a child, the magic of Christmas is all-encompassing.  Sugar plum fairies, lights, cookies, kindness, and, of course, the grand anticipation of all those presents under the tree.

As parents, there's a lot of pressure to make sure this is the best Christmas ever.  And that pressure's on every year.  While you want to create memories for you child, sometimes doing so can put your financial stability  in peril.

The Santa Bill

When my husband was a child, his Christmases were just as magical as anyone else's.  Toys overflowed under the tree, and Santa was always generous.

And then January would roll around.  Anytime he or his siblings asked to do anything during the months following the holidays, his parents would always say no, however minute the request.  "We're still paying the Santa bill.  Do you think he delivers all those presents for free?"

Of course, as a child, you do.  And you can say whatever you want about ruining the magic after the fact, but my in-laws aren't the only ones who ever financed Christmas and then struggled in the post-holiday months.

Santa Doesn't Want You to Go Into Debt

The desire to create that Christmas magic isn't unique, but there are ways to create it without going into debt to put all those presents under the tree.

1.  Give Your Kids Options

Starting young, let your child know that Santa can do one of two things:  he can bring one big thing or he can bring many small presents.  This allows your child to weigh their options, and empowers them with the decision.  Whether they know it or not, they're learning something about responsible financial choices in the process:  there are only so many resources (presents,) and you can use those resources for one huge thing or a bunch of smaller items.  In this case, neither choice is wrong, but it lets your child know what to expect on the big day while still building that anticipation.  Starting this practice young prevents the disappointment of any established precedent.

2.  Create Traditions

While a lot of the magic of Christmas as a small child is the anticipation of a magical man leaving presents under the tree, there's still a lot more magic created by family and community traditions.  Going to see light displays, watching Carols by Candlelight, sharing some carols of your own with the neighborhood, going to holiday parties, or even just sitting down for a big holiday family meal are all ways to create these memories.  Your family may even have some of your own, unique traditions.  Play these up, and the anticipation every December won't just be about the gifts, but about the time you spend together.

3.  Help Your Child Become Santa

With older children, try to encourage them to become a Santa in their own right.  Many organizations have lists of children or families that are in need, along with their wishlist for Christmas.  Encourage your child to participate in these opportunities by donating the money that would be spent on one of their gifts to someone else, or encourage them to use their own money to do so.  Really go through the process with them, explaining how lucky they are to be able to have any presents under the tree at all, and that what they're doing is going to be so deeply appreciated by those they are giving to.

On Christmas morning, rather than being disappointed that there aren't tens of boxes under the tree with their name one them, they're more likely to be grateful for what they do receive, having a better perspective on this consumerism-driven holiday.  Perhaps they'll even think about the family opening their present that same morning, and be able to experience the joy that comes along with giving through "sacrifice."

  Have you ever had a Santa bill?  What are you doing this year to prevent it?

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