Q: How can we enjoy Christmas when we have to spend so much money on presents? We're stressed over our finances all year, but it gets worse during the holidays.
Jim: I understand your frustration. This is a common complaint and real challenge for many families. With Black Friday officially in the rearview mirror, hopefully these timely tips from my friend, financial guru Ron Blue, will still be helpful in making this Christmas more enjoyable and less financially stressful:
-- Don't spend more than you have. When cash is short, it's tempting to put it on the credit card and defer payment until next year. But January always shows up, and with it months of financial pain if you don't shop wisely and exercise restraint.
-- Give something of lasting value. Who hasn't bought the "perfect" gift for a child, only to find it tossed aside by the end of Christmas Day? Discuss this with your kids, reinforce a long-range perspective, and explain that you want them to have gifts they'll enjoy for a long time.
-- Do something meaningful for someone else. Make a family project of doing a good deed for a neighbor, a shut-in or a relative. You can fix a meal, rake leaves, clean out gutters or give a "service coupon book" that they can redeem whenever they want to.
-- Focus on the spiritual, not material. Find fun and creative ways to counteract the commercialism of Christmas, and find creative ways to emphasize the spiritual significance of the day.
-- Build memories. Spend meaningful time together during the weeks leading up to Christmas. In the process, you'll be doing more than stockpiling family memories -- you'll be building a legacy for generations to come.
Q: How do I deal with my mother-in-law's favoritism? Just recently, when I invited her to spend Christmas with our family, she said she "would have to let me know" after finding out what was going on with her daughter's family. She's always given preference to my husband's sister and her family, and I don't know what to do.
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: I can empathize with your dilemma. It's quite possible your mother-in-law's behavior won't change, but that doesn't mean you always have to dance to her tune.
Sometime soon, it's important that your husband have a chat with his mom and dad. Simple honesty requires that they know how the two of you have been feeling. This may be tough for him, especially if he's not comfortable confronting his parents. But it's largely his responsibility to respectfully take this up with them.
Meanwhile, you need to set some firm boundaries with his folks. When discussing future holiday plans, the two of you should say something like this: "Mom, we'd really love to spend Thanksgiving with you this year. We need to have our plans in place and confirmed by the first of September, so can you let us know by then?"
If she can't commit because she doesn't know what her daughter will be doing, calmly say, "Just let us know by the first of September, or we'll need to make other plans." Then stick to your guns. If she doesn't respond by the deadline, go ahead and arrange something else. It's critical that you remain unavailable and that you not back down if she acts hurt or upset. Tell her you're sorry and that you'd love to get together with her soon. It shouldn't take her long to get the message.
If she leaves your family hanging at holiday time, she'll simply lose out on seeing you and your kids.
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.