Happy Thanksgiving! If you’re like me, the turkey is in the oven and you’ve got tons to do, so let’s just get right to it.

Tip Two: Set a Budget

Knowing your budget (aka spending limit) ahead of time will help you know when you’re fast approaching or have reached it. Black Friday is tomorrow, so let’s tackle this one today!

Here are some questions to help you determine what you have or want to spend this holiday season (I use holiday not to be politically correct – it is ALL ABOUT CHRISTmas – but to be inclusive of the entire season). If you’re married, do this with your husband.

  • What expenses do you anticipate and what is the total amount of money you have/want to spend on giving, gifts and activities?

A tradition my mother started when she was still living was taking us to the Nutcracker ballet when she was in town. When she passed, we decided to continue the tradition, so it’s an activity/expense for which I need to plan.

  • What are the most important expenses to you? Does giving come first or activities or gifts? Prioritize your values to help you prioritize your spending.

A tradition we started last year for Christmas that will need to be in our budget is family giving. On Christmas Eve, we gathered in our living room and “shopped” on Gospel for Asia’s website. We had a set amount we wanted to give as a family, and together we chose from all kinds of items, from chickens to goats to a portion of a dairy cow or a water well. Gospel for Asia then provides the items to families in impoverished areas as a way to provide for their family, and they give it in the name of Jesus with a presentation of the gospel. It is a way we feel the Lord showed us we can give to those in need while also giving them the gospel: the reason for the season!

  • What can you afford without going into debt? One of the lessons I’ve had to learn is that meaningful and memorable doesn’t have to be expensive.

One of my latest, inexpensive Thanksgiving ideas for today is a “Thankful Table” (inspired by an idea I saw on Pinterest, of course). I bought a $10 white tablecloth on Amazon.com and some fabric markers. I’ll be dressing my dessert table with the tablecloth, with desserts on one side and fabric markers on the other and a sign with instructions for everyone to sign their name, in one or two words record something for which they’re thankful and then date it. Each year, it will be a record of who we celebrated Thanksgiving with and God’s faithfulness!

If you are on a tight budget, special and memorable doesn’t have to cost anything extra at all! One of our favorite family traditions is sharing the Lord’s Supper on Christmas Eve and then giving Jesus a gift in His stocking. The Lord’s supper is juice and fresh bread. After taking time to remember what Jesus did for us when He died on the cross for our salvation, we do our Jesus stocking. Each of us writes down on a piece of paper what we feel He is asking of us for the coming year, not in a monetary sense, but of ourselves. We share our gift with each other, place the pieces of paper in the stocking and then pray. I bought our stocking on sale at Hobby Lobby and wrote Jesus on it in glitter glue, but you could use anything: a jar, a bag, whatever. It doesn’t have to cost a thing. In following years, it’s a blessing (or sometimes convicting) to look through previous notes for progress.

  • Are there other expenses around the holidays for which you need to account?

We have three birthdays, a daughter graduating from college and our annual family vacation all in immediate proximity to the holidays. We need to be mindful of all of these occasions when considering how much to budget for holiday expenses.

Take the answers to these questions and formulate a budget. Determine the total you have to spend, decide what is non-negotiable (those things you know you want to do and buy) and deduct these expenses from your total. This gives you the total you have for other expenses you’ve decided you’re willing to incur.

Here’s an example using $500 for the total holiday budget. Let’s say it’s a family of four. Only two grandparents are living, and the mom and dad have agreed with their friends not to exchange gifts among themselves or between their kids at Christmas. They might do an ornament gift exchange at a Christmas party, but nothing more. Instead, they spend time together.

Total available funds:     $500

– $15 gift exchange with friends (annual Christmas party)

– $25 church food drive (giving)

– $50 angel tree (giving)

– $50 gas and food for travel (activity/tradition)

– $25 ice skating with friends (tradition)

$165 subtotal

So we have $335 remaining. Here’s how I might set my budget for each gift:

$150 kids

$50 husband

$50 wife

$15 each for extended family

That leaves $55 in undesignated funds. If something comes up and you can cover it, great! Say yes. If not, then you already have your answer.

Or you might take your total funds for holiday spending, decide how much you’re willing to spend in each category, and then determine what, who and how much from there. Again, some funds are left available, but this time per category. If something comes up and it’s within your available budget, go for it! If it’s not, you have a predetermined no that helps you stay on track.

Total available funds: $500

Giving: $75

$20 church food drive

$45 angel tree giving

($10 remaining)

Gifts: $350

$75 each child

$40 each spouse

$30 extended family

$15 gift exchange with friends

$50 kids’ stockings

($25 remaining)

Activities/traditions: $75

$50 gas and food for travel

$25 ice skating with friends

($0 remaining)

In the same way your calendar shows you your free time and gives you guidelines for what’s a yes and what’s a no, so your budget shows you your disposable cash for holiday spending and gives you a guideline for saying yes and no.

I hope this helps you today and as you make financial decisions along the holiday way. Tomorrow, we’ll talk more about simplifying gift giving, which is definitely part of making a budget work.

This series of tips is filling in the framework of The 3 M’s of a Merry Christmas. If you’ve missed a few tips along the way, you’ll find all ten here: 10 Tips for Making Christmas Meaningful, Manageable & Memorable.

Now go. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!