published Sunday, December 15th, 2013

Baumgardner: Less stressful, more fun — a plan for the holiday season

By Julie Baumgardner

Melissa and Bryan Laseter have been married eight years and have two small children. Early on in their marriage, they would agree to Christmas gift-giving limits for each other, and every year they would blow it. Christmas Day arrived and both of them had gone above and beyond the limit.

"Clearly our intentions were not working when it came to gift giving," said Melissa. "We never wanted Christmas to be all about the presents. We quickly realized there wasn't really anything we needed, so we stopped giving each other a gift. If there was something we really needed, we would purchase that instead. This year, we are getting tires for our van. It may not be romantic, but it works for us."

When the Laseters were expecting their first child, discussions began about how to handle Christmas gift giving with their children.

"While I was pregnant, I saw something online that I thought was wonderful," she said. "Each child receives four gifts -- something you want, something you need, something you wear and something you read. We decided to incorporate this into our Christmas tradition."

The Laseters now have two children, and believe this plan to purchase four gifts for each has relieved them of a lot of the stress and pressure many parents feel to indulge their children with lots of presents and which, in many instances, leads to a lot of financial stress.

"Many people believe that the size of the gift or the number of gifts given equates to how much you love that person," Melissa said. "My husband and I want to make sure we don't lose sight of the real meaning of Christmas. Our love for each other or for our children has nothing to do with the size or number of presents under the tree. Putting this plan in place now while our children are young will help keep expectations realistic as they grow older."

Time together, enjoying each other's company, attending Christmas Eve services, opening presents one at a time and meals together are all traditions that the Laseter family enjoys as they celebrate the season.

If your goal is to keep spending under control, take the emphasis off the stuff and place it on creating meaningful traditions and memories; you might even want to consider adopting the Laseter's gift-giving plan.

Here are a few additional suggestions to help you in your efforts to create a meaningful holiday season:

• Instead of exchanging gifts with extended family members, make your gift a special evening for the entire family. Plan fun activities like a game of Bunco, a talent contest, cookie decorating, caroling, holiday Pictionary, etc.

• Ask your family to come up with ways you as a family can give to others during this season. Now is a great time to clean out closets of clothing, stuffed animals, dolls, games and toys that need a new home.

• Buy a new game that the family can play together like Apples to Apples, Hedbanz, Chutes and Ladders, Uno or Scrabble.

There are so many ways to make the holidays special without breaking the bank. Take a cue from the Laseters, and remember that it is memories and traditions like these that matter most ... long after the holiday season is over.

Julie Baumgardner is President and CEO of First Things First. Contact at julieb@firstthings.org.

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