Saturday, November 24, 2012

Budgeting for Black Friday and Beyond

The weeks before Christmas pose challenges to most of us, no matter what beliefs we hold. Even the most balanced of us can lose our way during this time of frantic busyness and hectic schedules and our culture beaming messages at us that we must spend more. How can we as Christians best use our gift giving dollars?

Our first impulse might be to give our gift giving dollars to various charitable organizations. I’m fortunate enough to be able to buy all the material stuff I need. I am haunted by all the charities that are underfunded. I am haunted by the gaping needs in the world. I would prefer that people give money to the needy than to buy more stuff for me. Chances are good that lots of people on your gift list feel the same way. Then the hard part comes in choosing the charity.

Philosophers like Peter Singer would encourage us to send our charitable dollars to charities who serve the developing world, where our dollars go further. Organizations like Lutheran World Relief have long histories of delivering our donations efficiently to areas of the globe with great need. But we know that there’s plenty of need here in our home countries.

Some people who give money to charities in lieu of gifts have fun matching the charity to the personality of the gift recipient. Some families choose one charity and give all their gift budgets to the one charity. Some families support local churches.

But what about the people on our list who aren’t as charitably minded?

Maybe instead of a gift, we could give an experience. Why not give your loved ones a retreat at a church camp? Many church camps have shorter week-end retreats that are affordably priced. Why not give theatre tickets?

We could give the gift of time together. You could take your gift recipients out for dinner. Make a date for a museum or a movie.—in February, when life calms down, and we need a treat to make it through the rest of winter.

We could give magazine subscriptions, the gift that gives throughout the year. A book of devotions could do the same thing, while nourishing our gift recipients on a daily basis.

This year, we might want to give gifts that help support local businesses so that they survive. We could give any number of gift cards to local businesses: car mechanics, gym memberships, hair stylists, boutiques, bookstores, restaurants, move theatres. We could broaden our approach and choose gift cards that support our Christian vision. Instead of an Amazon gift card, we could support Augsburg Fortress. We could buy fair trade products from organizations that support people in developing nations.

But what about the people on our list who don’t want a gift card? What about the people who want an object specially chosen for them?

One year, my family had a lot of fun by giving handmade gifts. But most of us don’t have time between now and Christmas to give handmade gifts.

Luckily, other people have been preparing. Why not support a church craft fair? There we’ll find beautiful objects to suit all sorts of budgets—and we’ll support church ministries. We could support local artists. Even if you think you can’t afford art, you will likely find something in your budget, like a set of note cards or a beautiful pottery mug. We could buy our gifts from SERVV or other groups who support artisans in the developing world. We could buy books from local authors.

However we choose to approach our gift giving, we should create a budget before we begin shopping. It’s easy to get caught up in the good feelings that spending money can produce for many of us. It’s easy to whip out our credit cards and worry about how we’ll pay for it later. Unfortunately, when we do that, many of us will still be paying for those Christmas presents next summer. And when we do that, we don’t have that money available for other worthy causes.

And there are so many other worthy causes.

1 comment:

Rev. Daniel G. Johnson said...


I'm the "needy". I don't want there to be this us/them rhetoric that goes with "helping the needy".

Liberation is not being "helped", but having a cessation of people stopping one from access to basic life. So. If a person is being stopped from being employed because they are middle aged, that's not primarily an issue of that person needing "help". "Help" doesn't help in that situation all that much. What is "needed" by the needy is simply removal of unjust economic barriers. In the same way, health care access is not an issue of "help", but one of facts: that cost has risen exponentially to the point of barring even those who have full time jobs with some sort of health insurance...which includes co-pays they cannot afford.

The "needy" are often those who don't qualify as such in the public mind because they keep themselves hidden and silent. Things change week to week depending on what blows up, or breaks down, or wears out.

For us this week, it was the family dog. We didn't know what was suddenly wrong with him. We have no money to spare on dogs. But, you scrape through the last of your impossible resources today and deal with it. So, first it was $163 for tests, and we found out that he's diabetic. Then he got worse and went into a diabetic crisis. They told us it would be $500 to hospitalize him and potentially save him. Hmmm. What should "needy" people do? "It's for a freaking dog"...the critics would say..."you owe back money to the electric company, and you would consider spending $500 on a dog?" Well, we didn't have the $500, and wrote the check anyway...the check won't hit the bank til Monday. What should "needy" people do? Find charity over the weekend before the check bounces? Oh, but there is salvation in Craigslist. Did you know that you could sell a car in the $300-$600 range on Craigslist in about 1 to 3 hours? It's really rather fascinating. You post the ad and you generally start getting calls in 10 to 20 minutes. "The needy" need go to work in. Any kind of car that runs. The other think I notice when I do this is that the callers often ask me all the details of the car as if they had not read my ad. It's because they can't read or read well. But, I am no different than they because I can read. Now I need a car. The dog will need periodic vet checkups.