Fa la-la-la-la… ‘Tis the season. And, really, who couldn’t look forward to the presents, the parties, and the goodies galore that Christmastime promises. And, at this early stage, we’re still able to ignore what we don’t look forward to — the snowball effect of Christmas “should-do’s” and its villainous sidekick — mounting credit card debt.

It’s easy for us to get buried because we typically don’t sit down and budget holiday spending. We never decide what we want to spend our money on and what we don’t. And, since holiday spending is mostly about “wants,” we can get lulled into thinking of it as a bottomless pit instead of a zero-sum game. Once we’ve got the go-ahead to make our dreams come true, we convince ourselves that the occasion simply warrants spending money we don’t even know if we have. It’s a free-for-all!

This isn’t about Scrooging-out. It’s about rethinking Christmas magic. If we stay stuck in the mindset that spending, spending, spending is the only answer, we may end up paying a huge price… and not just in credit card debt. By creating the expectation of over-indulgence, we fail to instill the “attitude of gratitude.” Then, nothing is ever really enough. We set ourselves up for continual disappointment and teach our kids all about unaccountability. This simply can’t be the recipe for magic.

So, what do we do? Create a Christmas budget we can afford. And, the earlier the better — like right when we figure out how much we spent on what seemed like a few pumpkins and some candy. Rethink our old ways of doing things and make deliberate choices. What are we spending time and money on that isn’t giving us that bang for the buck?

While it’s great fun to get lots and lots of Christmas cards, must we really send mass-produced, and (can I say it?) impersonal, Christmas letters to people we see every week? If we lowered our Christmas card load, perhaps we’d have the time to write personal notes to our distant dear ones who might truly relish a family photo. Our everyday friends might better enjoy a humorous email detailing our family antics. When we lower the bar, our over-loaded friends might even feel free to do the same. Now there’s a gift.

The frugal Dutch have an interesting tradition that insures against wasteful present-buying. Every package tag must include a poem written by the giver. Boy, that would slow us down at Target! Truthfully, though, isn’t it just this kind of ceremony that infuses magic into the tradition of gift-giving? Something that has perhaps been eroded in this age of gift cards?

If we can get control of our Christmas budget, maybe we’d even have the time and money to perform some real magic, like charity. The variety is endless, from Toys-for-Tots to micro-financing in developing countries. By saying “no” to that Santa singing Jingle Bells (which we won’t give a second thought in a few weeks!) we could help one African woman’s small business succeed so she can sustain her family and send her kids to school.

…la-la, la, la! 

What’s Up Next? Financial Planners. 

Berry is not a Certified Financial Planner. She is a cum laude graduate of Texas Tech Law School and the self-taught manager of her own family’s finances. Before making financial decisions, consider pertinent information carefully and consider consulting a financial professional.