KNOXVILLE, Tenn., Dec. 11, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas – at least it is in the malls and retail stores that pepper the country, and everyone with school age children knows that the count down is on, but do you have to go broke to be merry? NO, answers Crown CEO Chuck Bentley in a national column out today. More than 90 percent of Americans will celebrate a holiday this winter, gearing up to spend an average of $830 according to a recent Gallup poll. But before you spend the final days of 2015 in long lines creating oppressive credit card balances, take time to work through the 12 days of Christmas Prep, and start your holiday with a commitment to get more out of the season than debt, beginning with considering gifts that can make meaningful contribution to the people you love.
And have you every considered whether the IRS is holding your Christmas budget? In his weekly column at the Christian Post, Bentley asked: "Did you know that you could file your taxes usually within the second week of January making it possible to get your tax return very quickly? CNN reports that the average tax refund is $3,120 — more than enough to cover most people's Christmas plans. Leaving that money with Uncle Sam until after April means that the government is getting an interest free loan from you."
- Count Your Blessings: Begin the season by making a "Gifts from Jesus" Jar that you can put in a central place, to celebrate the things God has done for you, and that you can share as a family. Remember: "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadow," James 1:7.
- Make a List: Write down everyone you need to buy for or give a gift to, and make a plan for what you want to do for each. As you make your list pray for each individual.
- Downsize for Fun: So many of us exchange gifts with extended family, among a group of friends or even at work. Lead the way in suggesting that you draw names and buy for one. Make it fun by using a free online gift organizer, like Elfster, that draws names anonymously and allows everyone to create a wish list and even give to charities on behalf of someone. Consider thoughtful gifts from non-profits like Crown that are designed to make an investment in people, not just presents.
- Build a Budget: Money does not grow on trees – not even Christmas trees – so be honest with yourself about what you have to spend.
- Shop your House: "Re-gifting" isn't always a bad thing! You may already have something that someone would truly appreciate.
- Avoid Too Much Glitter: Pull out your Christmas decorations, throw away or donate what you no longer use and avoid costly additions to decorations. Save your spending money for the people in your life.
- Coupon Clippers Unite: Before shopping, check for coupons, sale dates and rebates on things you have identified. Whether buying on Cyber Monday or Black Friday, do your research to learn where the best prices are for what's on your list and buy purposefully. Check out the products available from ministries, charities or non-profits that you support that can expand someone's horizons. Consider giving a gift that can change someone's life, through education, career counseling or even music lessons.
- Craft Christmas Treasures: Consider what you might make for gifts and get busy! Your talent for cooking, sewing or woodworking would be more of a blessing to your friends and family than another gift card! Here's an idea for those who don't know how to knit: Most of us in the days of camera phones have a wealth of images that could make a lovely keepsake. Even a picture in a simple frame is a great gift in an age of photos locked in phones.
- Avoid Impulse Spending: Retail stores are brilliant at creative displays near the checkout counter, tempting you to stray from your list. If you feel that the checkout line deal is too good to be true then cross off something you've already planned for and replace with your new treasure.
- Out with the Old: Go through your closets, especially if you have young children, to really see what treasures you already own and donate your gently used items. Ministries focused on families really need toys during the holidays, and after you consider how much you have, maybe you'll find be able to buy less.
- Take Note. In the days of social media and texting, writing notes and cards is a lost art. Take the time to write a heart felt note of appreciation for those special people in your life.
- Make a Memory: Take time as a family to volunteer in the community, at your church or school or in your neighborhood. Money is not the only way to show that you care. Take time to show what love looks like and make sure that the people around you know why you care about them. 1 John 4:19-21, "We love because he first loved us." Show that you care about more than presents!
Chuck Bentley is the CEO of Crown Financial Ministies, the largest Christian financial ministry in the world, founded by the late, Larry Burkett. He is an author, host of My MoneyLife, a daily radio feature, and a columnist for the Christian Post and a frequent speaker. Follow him on Twitter @chuckbentley For interviews or speaking requests contact email@example.com