Q: We're still a few weeks out from Christmas and (once again) we've already blown our budget. I sometimes wonder if it will take until next Christmas to get this Christmas paid off! I guess this year is kind of a wash, but next year I want to be more disciplined. Do you have any helpful suggestions?
Jim: It seems like this is a common refrain for many people. It's not necessarily "too late" this year -- but going forward, there are a few simple ideas to bear in mind that'll help keep debt from ruining your Christmas spirit.
First of all, guard against overindulgence. Sometimes we don't hold back on our spending because we look forward to our children's smiles on Christmas morning. But it's important to give our kids realistic expectations so they won't expect loads of presents under the tree. Set your Christmas budget at a reasonable level, and don't feel guilty about it. If you know you already overextended this year, it might be worth returning a few purchases for refunds now if you can.
Looking ahead, try this next year: Put aside a little bit of cash each month for a fixed Christmas budget. That way, when the shopping season rolls around, you'll have a good head start.
Another idea is to let your children know the family can't afford to do everything that everybody might want to. Then encourage them to think of fun activities everyone can do together. Maybe the kids can miss school one day and help bake cookies. Or make some hot chocolate and explore the neighborhood as a family to see how other homes are decorated. Your kids will have great ideas too, and it'll turn the entire season into a celebration.
So get creative. I can promise you a Christmas of family fun will be much more memorable than a pile of gifts everyone will soon forget.
Q: I'm looking for a simple, basic way to improve my relationship with my spouse. What would you suggest?
Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: Let's be honest: Like anything else worthwhile in life, a good marriage takes work. If you really want to improve your relationship, "simple and basic" is a decent start -- but don't just settle for "easy."
In that context, the spoken word is incredibly powerful in marriage. Our words can either strip our relationship of its life and vitality or help it blossom and thrive for years to come.
Many couples fall into an unhealthy pattern of speaking harsh and insensitive words. We all tend to get pent up with all the little irritations that accumulate throughout the day. Then we get home, and those frustrations spill over onto the easiest target -- usually our spouse.
If that sounds like your marriage, the good news is it doesn't have to be that way. With a little forethought and effort, you can use your words for an entirely different purpose. You can learn the art of affirming your mate.
Now, don't misunderstand. By "affirmation," I don't mean sweet talk or manipulative flattery. I'm suggesting that you make a concerted effort to look for the good in your spouse and nurture your husband or wife with your words.
Ladies: Does your husband like to work on projects around the house? Take a moment to commend him on his craftsmanship and attention to detail. Guys: Does your wife have a unique way of surprising the kids with special outings and fun games? Why not praise her for it? There are a million different ways you can do it. But whatever you do, build each other up instead of tearing each other down.
For more help building a stronger marriage, go to FocusOnTheFamily.com.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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