Q: Our holiday budget looks grim this year. How can we enjoy the Christmas season without stressing about money?
Jim: Times are tough for many families! Here's some holiday budgeting advice adapted from financial guru Ron Blue:
-- Don't spend more on Christmas than you can afford. Ideally, you should start planning your spending early in the year, setting aside money for presents. Resist the urge to put big-ticket purchases on your credit card.
-- Give something of lasting value. Kids don't need big, flashy toys. Try to come up with gift ideas that truly align with their unique interests and personalities -- things they'll use repeatedly, such as books or board games, rather than those that will be cast aside by the end of Christmas Day.
-- Do something meaningful for someone else. Some of the best gifts involve a simple investment of time. Involve the entire family in doing a good deed for a neighbor or relative.
-- Focus on spiritual, not material, things. For many, Christmas has become an excuse to worship at the altar of materialism. Even if you don't embrace Christmas as a celebration of Christ's birth, you can use it to talk with your kids about the dangers of commercialism.
-- Give something to yourself. Make a commitment to pay off debt, start an emergency fund or live within your means in the coming year.
-- Build memories. Look for opportunities to spend meaningful time with your kids during this holiday season. They'll remember these moments for the rest of their lives, long after the toys and trinkets have journeyed to the landfill.
Q: We lost our home in a fire last month. My husband and I know we have a long road to recovery, but we're especially worried about our kids. Will the trauma of this experience impact them long-term?
Leon Wirth, executive director of Parenting and Youth: We're sorry for your loss. I personally know that trauma; our family lost a house in a fire five days before Christmas when I was 10 years old. Be prepared for an emotional roller coaster as your kids deal with the aftermath. Here are some suggestions to help them heal:
-- Keep them in a routine as much as possible. Create a predictable atmosphere of normalcy, perhaps by taking a daily walk or having a regular story time.
-- Encourage your kids to be honest with their emotions. Don't let them bury their pain and fear inside. Let them know it's OK to be sad.
-- Accept your kids' emotions for what they are. Whatever reaction they're experiencing is "normal" for them. For young kids, this often takes the form of acting out. For teens, it may mean becoming more withdrawn.
-- Don't avoid discussing the loss of your home, but don't obsess about it either. Help your kids explore nonverbal ways of processing the tragedy -- such as through drawing, painting or journaling.
-- Provide your kids with opportunities to meet other kids and families who have endured similar traumas.
-- Be mindful of the way you're processing your own emotions in their presence. They'll take a lot of cues from you. It's okay for them to know you're hurting, too, but be aware that your emotions can also be misread and cause a sense of panic or despair unnecessarily.
-- If your kids are having a particularly difficult time dealing with this loss in the form of persistent and extreme mood swings, nightmares or bad behavior, don't hesitate to seek the assistance of a qualified counselor. The same goes for you and your husband. Contact Focus on the Family (www.focusonthefamily.com) for a free consultation and referral.
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.