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You’re looking at the month ahead and thinking how will we possibly afford to do it all? Or you’re remembering the stress of last January when the credit card bills rolled in. Or maybe you’ve already spent more than you intended this month. Whatever the reason, if you are approaching the holiday season stressed about money, that cloud will put a damper on your festive spirit.

As an expert avoider myself (I tend to ignore certain types of stress hoping they will disappear on their own), I have found facing the source of anxiety head-on is always the best approach in the long run. So figure out where your worry is centered and make a plan. Here are few tactics that can help move your holiday spirit from one of tension to relaxation.

1. Set a budget.

This may seem obvious, but often we don’t take the time to think through what we can truly afford before we pull out the credit cards. The important thing is to set an amount (with your spouse if you are married and share money) that you will be happy about in January and that pesky bill. Knowing you can afford what you are spending will allow you to more fully enjoy the season.

2. Limit gifts.

Easier said than done sometimes, right? Many families do a three gift limit per child after the three wise men giving gifts to baby Jesus. I mean if it’s good enough for Jesus it seems like a pretty good barometer.

Last year my husband and I adopted the 4 gifts rule for each family member: something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read. It gave some direction and diversity to the types of limited gifts to buy (and expect). And give yourself the freedom to opt out entirely of gift exchanges. From extended family to office groups it is okay to say “Thanks, but not this year” when given the chance to participate.

3. Homemade sometimes really is best.

It doesn’t take much forethought to buy someone a Starbucks gift card. But making their favorite cinnamon rolls and delivering them warm or frozen to cook on Christmas morning, requires time, a little talent, and some personal thought. From Christmas cards decorated by your three-year- old to yummies made by you, your friend or family member will feel appreciated knowing it took more than a stop at a drive-through to make the gift happen. And when preparing special food and drinks for holiday gatherings know you can often save half the cost by peeling, chopping, cooking, and assembling food at home rather than buying premade.

4. Find the free fun.

From main street Christmas tree lighting to carols on the radio enjoy all of the things the season brings that you don’t have to pay for. Host a cocoa party at your house, make paper snowflakes, decorate your tree with strings of popcorn and objects from outside.

Have people over in between meal times so a big spread isn’t expected. Get holiday books and movies from the library. Take a pajama bedtime ride through the neighborhood to see Christmas lights (you might even get home with kids already asleep.) The best memories often don’t involve spending money.

5. Remember “the reason for the season.”

That line has become a bit cliche in the last few years. Political even. But when we stop ourselves from running through the Christmas machine and remember this is a month to mark the gift of Jesus to the world, a whole lot of expectations disappear. Spend time each evening lighting a candle, playing some Christmas carols and pondering the miracle that this God as a baby born to a teenage mother in a barn. The wonder of it all can fill our hearts with something more valuable than money can buy. And it costs us nothing – but our willingness to be quiet and consider the gift of a baby.

Alexandra Kuykendall
As a mom to four girls, ages 3 to 12, Alexandra Kuykendall’s days are spent washing dishes, driving to and from different schools and trying to find a better solution to the laundry dilemma. She writes to capture the places where motherhood meets everyday life to remember the small, yet significant moments in the midst of the blur. She is the author of The Artist’s Daughter, A Memoir , a contributor to this year’s Be you, Bravely, An Experiment in Courage and acts as the Specialty Content Editor for MOPS International. A city girl at heart, she makes her home in the shadow of downtown Denver. You can read more of Alex’s everyday thoughts and connect with her at

What stresses you during the holiday season and how do you handle it?