National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is one of my favorite holiday movies. I have watched this movie since I was a kid, but as an adult I can now fully relate to it. Specifically because Clark was super bummed when he didn’t receive his much-anticipated Christmas bonus. He had high hopes of putting a swimming pool in with his bonus check (would’ve been a big bonus!). But unlike Clark, I work for the federal government and never receive a holiday bonus. And knowing I will never get extra funds for the holidays always leaves me stressed trying to figure out just how I will come up with the extra cash.
I don’t plan on ever robbing a bank, so coming up with creative ways always presents a conundrum. Like many others, most of the year my husband and I live paycheck-to-paycheck. With the cost of food, mortgage, daycare, utility and medical bills, extracurricular activities, entertainment expenses, etc., the money gets stretched thin. Very thin.
No matter how well we try to plan for this yearly holiday expense, it always creeps up on us like a bad dream. I try very hard to cut corners and stash money on the side, but as life goes there is always an unexpected expense at some point. And every fall, just as we get our financial groove back after the kids are in school, the months just fly by too quickly. Saving money for the holidays just never happens.
And then I get that horrid gut feeling that a bill or two will have to go unpaid for a month just so my kids can have a magical Christmas. I always want to surprise my girls and see their happy faces on Christmas morning, tearing open presents they so desperately wished for. So paying a late fee or two, as crappy as it is, is worth it to me.
Maybe because there were too many Christmases I can remember when there were no presents under our tree. I never want my children to be stripped from the joy of the holiday season – that feeling of excitement, just wondering what lies underneath that shiny wrapping paper is magical for a young child. And while the season goes beyond receiving gifts, for children, the magic lies in what Santa brings them.
This “magic” is what my husband and I can provide to our kids. Of course, I cannot grant them every wish (because some are outlandish), but we try our hardest to give them what they are hoping for. And my present is watching them open up their presents. Watching this is truly is a gift in itself.
So the vicious cycle continues. I freak out about not having enough money for Christmas and somehow we find a way around it. We do tighten our spending belt in October if possible, and in recent years I have not used any credit cards as I am trying to be as debt-free as possible. My husband and I have picked up side jobs along the way; I write on the side; he does commercial cleaning. We do what we have to – we figure it out. We pray and have faith… and in the end, it all works out.
It works out because we take action. Sure, I could charge it now and pay for it later. But I’ve been there and done that. Sure, I could limit my kids to one toy. But I don’t have the heart to do that. I have sacrificed for my kids in the past, and I will continue to do so. I also limit the spending to no more than $250 per kid. And on average, we usually spend about $500 on Christmas, give or take.
Maybe in the years to come, I can start saving monthly, but for this Christmas, I am just a little too late. Next year though, next year I am going to financially kill it.