how my Christmas spending will be different this year

Fall is in the air, Halloween candy is on store shelves, and I'm procrastinating on working on both the kids' All Saints Day getups and their Halloween costumes.

So that means, LET'S TALK CHRISTMAS!

For as long as we've had kids who have been old enough to expect presents and a stocking from St. Nicholas on Christmas Day, we've had basically the same structure to our Christmas budget. Throughout the year we'd wait and see if a bonus commission check would come in, or if I'd earn a check through one of my side gigs, and then we'd get that amount out in cash and put it in a Christmas envelope. We'd have a mini-monthly-budget meeting for our Christmas budget, and we'd make a list of all gifts and Christmas expenses: the tree, Christmas stamps from the Post Office, teacher gifts, all that good stuff.

Last year, we did our usual planning, but then somewhere between Black Friday and Christmas morning... I went off the rails. It wasn't that I spend too much or blew our budget--no, just the opposite.

The budget became an obsessive focus point for me. Case in point: I found a great deal on Vtech smart watches for the boys, early in December. Two for $60, and free shipping, wahoo! But merely getting the great deal wasn't enough for me--I kept checking on various store websites for the rest of the month to see just how great my deal really was.

No other retailer ever beat the price I got them for. Yessssssss.

But. There's nothing like spending Advent by pouring over my phone, waiting for daily affirmation that yes, indeed, I was a TERRIFIC BUDGETER and SHOPPER EXTRAORDINAIRE.

And then Christmas day came, and those gifts were opened, with thank yous and hugs all around.

But I was left with a feeling of remorse over all the time I wasted--yes, wasted--pouring over sales and taking victory laps with price comparisons.

The boys did enjoy those toy smart watches. But did they change our lives? Am I still reveling over the great price? All that time I spent online--what was the long-term benefit?

I told myself that all the time I spent focusing on the gifts and the budget was time responsibly spent. I told myself that the joy on my kids' faces when they opened the *perfect* gifts (scored at the best prices) made it all time spent responsibly, instead of a time suck.

No. It was a time suck. I let myself be sucked into the vast world of Christmastime materialism, but even worse, I considered myself as better than the other "holiday" materialists, because I was doing it in the name of BUDGETING!

Gah. This year, I'm planning a different approach. (And to truly ready myself for it, I'm starting in September. Apparently.)

This year: I'm making every attempt to purchase gifts in-store from Costco, second-hand from thrift stores, or sparsely online. I've already deleted the Walmart app from my phone once I saw their new clothing line which collaborates with Ellen Degeneres. Enough already.

This year, my goal is to make sure that the buying of Christmas gifts, the checking of the budget and the frenzy of shopping all stand in service to the ultimate goal: preparing for the birth of Jesus.

 Anything that detracts from that needs to be tamed, or pruned. In my case, it's both. I need to tame my desire to ensure that I've gotten the best deal--and then prune back all the time I waste on that pursuit. 

Was our whole household consumed in this frenetic, add-to-card shopping spree last year?  No. We did a lot with the kids to make sure our family focus stayed on that journey to Bethlehem: Advent calendars, moving the wise men closer to the stable day by day until Epiphany, praying the O Antiphons together at night. All well and good.

This is by and large a personal discipline for me, and one that I need to put in place so that I, too, can move closer to that humble stable in Bethlehem, day by day this Advent.

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