Christmas is an Emergency

Many Christians have been greatly helped by Dave Ramsey and his teaching on how to get out of debt, and I’m very grateful for the impact he has had.  However, sometimes sincere Christian people can turn the weirdest things into a new super-law, and I’ve seen this come from an over-application of his principles. For example, somewhere  he says that Christmas is not an emergency. Come on! Are you kidding me? Of course it is!

This is what I mean. In a zeal to get out of debt, to get the emergency fund set up, and to get the savings account up to the equivalent of several months’ salary, some folks have ceased to see what money is for. It really can start controlling their lives, this program of not spending. Sometimes they end up  short-changing their kids (or themselves) and adopt a poverty-stricken persona, and constantly refer to the fact that they have no money. But the truth is, they do have money, but they are shoveling most of it into the debt payback and the savings account. They elevate thrift-shopping and driving a beater car into a virtue, right up there with humility and patience. And there is a dangerous self-righteousness that can set in. But God did not list saving for college in the list of virtues. And just to be clear, I’m all for savings and all for getting out of debt. Three cheers! The thing that concerns me is when sweet Christian people get all worked up about saving every nickel and think they are being godly.

The Bible says that the love of money is the root of all evil. But there are subtle ways to love money that we might not notice right off the bat. For example, deciding that you can’t get the kids new toys or new clothes,  you can’t afford a car, you can’t afford to fly out to see your nephew’s wedding, and you probably can’t even afford a Christmas tree because it will get you off the financial plan is what I would call bogus.

Money is a tool. It is to be used to bestow on our loved ones, particularly our children. The principle of getting out of debt and having an emergency fund does not trump all other principles. Christmas is an emergency! Get a thousand bucks out of your savings and whoop it up with your kids. God sent His Son to us, to save us from the horrible plight we were in. He lavishes us with His generosity, His kindness, His love and mercy.

So, of course, if you have no money to spend at Christmas (and I’ve been there myself), then you must get creative and hit the thrift stores by all means. But if you really do have the money, but it is earmarked for your emergency fund, then get into it. I remember hearing about a man who went to his church for help because he was in a financial crisis. When one of the Christian gentlemen went to help him, he found out that the man actually had lots of money, but he didn’t want to take a penalty for cashing in his cd early. It is pretty bad when Christian people pretend they have no money, leading others to think they are suitable objects for their charity, when in fact, they have plenty of money. They just don’t want to use it; they want someone else to pay their way. This is frugality gone amok.

So please keep working to get out of debt. Work on that savings account. But don’t get stingy and greedy about it, and don’t start thinking that you are being super-righteous for doing so. The Bible says to “Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth” (Ecc. 11:1-2). You don’t know the future.  How many more Christmases will you be here? Make a dent in this one!

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42 thoughts on “Christmas is an Emergency

  1. I don’t agree that Christmas is an emergency (granted I know you are probably using some hyperbole). It is a planned event that you know is coming and shouldn’t be a surprise that you would have to dip into a fund set aside only for emergencies. Dave Ramsey does not say don’t buy your kids Christmas presents, he says pay cash for them and put it in your budget and don’t go into debt to do so. Dave is all about giving. The ability to lavishly give is one of the main reasons he tells people to get out of debt. A common theme on his show is “Live like no one else now, so you can give like no one else later.”

    I just think it is foolish and sinful to be defaulting on your loans on one hand, and leasing a new car and buying your kids an x-box for Christmas on the other hand. That example is not uncommon in my world.

  2. Love it. Really truly love it. My husband and I have had our times where we’ve scraped by and God has been so gracious. It can be really easy to get in a habit of saving each and every penny because those pennies are few and far between. Then, when things are good, that habit is hard to beak. But when you think about the incredible gift that God sent us for Christmas, the life of His one and only Son, we better be willing to pull out the stops for the kids. They need to see how special the advent is.

  3. Golly, we feel very appreciative of Dave Ramsey’s help in these parts. I see the vast majority of people living in project housing and on government aid purchasing high-ticket items for Christmas and so forth. (Is something not amiss when you’re buying a 40″ plasma screen when you can’t afford health care?) Priorities are clearly out of whack there. Sadly, I think you’ve dragged Dave Ramsey through the mud along with the people who wrongly interpret his views on debt and finances. I listen to him often and he would totally yell at that man you mentioned who was looking for money while biting his nails over whether or not he should suffer the penalty of cashing out his CD too early. That’s nonsense. He doesn’t tell people to be misers but admonishes them to stop being stupid with their money and get their priorities in order. Pay cash for things, don’t get into debt, etc. I think it’s ironic, too, that right now he is giving away a bunch of prizes when you head on over to his website. What a lovely Advent calendar. :)

  4. I need to hear this, too! Merry Christmas Emergencies!!! Praise God that he did not spare his one and only son for us but lavished his love on us so that he could save us! I pray that generosity is reflected in my heart and giving this Christmas…Thanks!

  5. I agree with Evan. It pains me to see you suggest that people “get into the emergency fund” for Christmas shopping. In Dave Ramsey-speak, the emergency fund is your last (or first!) $1000 that you don’t touch unless disaster strikes. It’s the insulation between you and the true emergencies that must be addressed without delay (transmission goes out, dad gets laid off, etc).

    Your point is well-taken, but I always wonder at the need to overstate in making a point.

  6. Thank you the post, not only is it timely but an encouragement towards joy. Wonderful thoughts as we head into the Advent.

  7. Excellent! I just finished rereading Jane Austen’s Persuasion, and your post immediately brought to mind the opening scenes in which the aristocratic Elliot family is falling into debt, and the eldest daughter sees the need to eliminate some of the family expenses:

    “Elizabeth…set seriously to think what could be done, and had finally proposed these two branches of economy, to cut off some unnecessary charities, and to refrain from new furnishing the drawing-room; to which expedients she afterwards added the happy thought of their taking no present down to [her sister,] Anne, as had been the usual yearly custom.”

    Funny how generosity seems to be one of the easiest things to cut from the budget when finances get tight.

  8. Love it! Thank you for posting this with such great holiday timing! I remember in your husband’s sermons where he talks about that man who gives and gives, and yet gets richer; and the man who hoards and ends up with less and less. The math doesn’t work, but thankfully God’s bounty doesn’t add up!

  9. Thanks. I needed the reminder that some things are worth a little fuss and expense. The way this week has gone I was beginning to question my sanity 😛

  10. Thank you, thank you, thank you . . . :) We had a lot of repairs at the beginning of the year, but we don’t want to skimp on Christmas. We’d rather skimp on other things. However we’ve run into the problem of nosey people thinking Christmas isn’t worth the splurge. Thank you again!

  11. Amen to this post!

    We respect Dave Ramsey very much, and are following his principles for getting out of debt. He certainly does much good!

    At the same time, I have friends that are much as you describe in this post. One particular family comes to mind…their vehicle is dilapidated and constantly breaking down, they had no washer and dryer at their roach-infested apartment where she homeschools their 3 girls. They were constantly stressed and panicked about things, though he has an excellent government job and they had more than $10,000 in savings. After a relative died and left them an inheritance, they had even more savings and yet refused to shell out the money to move out of their crummy digs to find a more sanitary place to live, because they still had a small debt to pay off and did not yet have the amount of savings Dave advocated before looking to buy a house.

    I made your same argument to her, that money is a wonderful servant but a terrible master, and that it was possible to fall off one end of the the horse as well as the other. I respect that God gives each family the freedom to make their own decisions about such matters, but it is refreshing to see someone else put in print what my own mind has thought many times: money is meant to be used not only for the expenses, but also for bringing pleasure and joy to life. We must learn to do this as good stewards, and many DO need Dave’s counsel to “reign it in” and wait so as to realize the larger goal, but it is easy to take it too far and lose our humanity in the midst of it.

    Thanks for the excellent reminder!

  12. Mrs. Wilson, what a lovely post! I couldn’t agree more! There is such a delight and joy in the willingness to “whoop it up” when we have the means to!

    Hannah, I don’t laugh out loud very often at cartoons, but that just made my day. I did indeed LOL!!!

  13. Great post. Just what I needed to hear at just the right time. After spending money today on some books for Advent, some music for Advent, and some things for our homeschool, I was feeling a little guilty wondering if I made the right purchases. Forget you guilt.

    I linked to this on Facebook, and said this with my link…

    A friend of mine graciously sent this my way, obviously because I needed to hear it. Not that she’d ever be so rude as to tell me that, but hey, that’s the truth. We do have to spend carefully to live the way we do, however, instead of hearing them ask if me if we can afford something, I’d rather raise them to ask, “Is this something we should spend money on?” And sometimes, even if it seems a little lavish, I want to say, “YES!”

  14. First of all, Nancy, this is an excellent post. I’m all for reigning in and not being a spendthrift, on the other hand, even paying off debt can become a god. For crying out loud, is there anything that we humans can’t manage to turn into an idol?! :-)

    Second, that cartoon is SO funny! I love it!! Thank you for sharing that Hannah. :-)

  15. I love this post! This is my Dad to the letter. We’ve always come into the living room Christmas morning to find our 10-15 foot tree half-buried under the gifts. You’re risking life and limb to try and climb through there to plug that thing in!

  16. Thanks heaps and heaps for sharing your thoughts! This post reminds me of one you wrote several years ago regarding the celebration of Advent. We decided to switch around our gift giving a bit and give gifts each Sunday of Advent. This tradition has become a source of joy, deep joy, for my whole family. Thanks for teaching us how to live the good life.

  17. Earlier today my husband ran an errand with the kids. Since I was home alone and there was no reason to “waste” the electricity, I switched off the living room lights. It left the place looking a little gloomy and cheerless. Then I thought WWND? and switched them back on. :-)

    Thanks for the reminder that Christian frugality shouldn’t look like Ebeneezer Scrooge!

  18. This is such an interesting post and the comments are all so thought-provoking for me. In one sense, I love the “excess” of Christmas. I grew up in a family where we couldn’t see the tree on Christmas morning b/c of the presents. Very fun. As a married woman with three children, Christmas looks different for our family now. My husband grew up in a family where each member got one or two special gifts and that was it. It seemed meager to me. But with our family budget, meager is the way we go.

    I think the amazing thing about a budget is that it helps a husband and wife put their treasure where there heart needs to be. So I agree that chintzing on generosity in order to pad the bank account is no good path to follow. But, plodding a path that will provide stability and longterm provision is important. A budget ought to balance both the day-to-day joy of spending money in order to give and show love with the long-range goals of taking care of our loved ones and others.

    That said, in regards to Christmas, I had a few thoughts–

    Does a $1,000 gift-giving budget directly demonstrate the glories of advent? Advent is the glorious anticipation of the Christ-child. The Savior of our personal souls and the world. There is a longing aspect to Advent, almost an aching aspect. And then when the Christ-child is born, when we celebrate His birth, there is a fulfillment, but also that longing and ache. lt is not all done yet. He is not on the throne yet. What is Advent but the anticipation of the gospel? The celebration of a Savior. For us, it is the statement that He has come and He is with us and He will come again. So there is joy, peace and also that ache, that longing.

    What will communicate the joys of the gospel best to my children? Is it consumerism? All the toys they have always wanted? All the good food they can eat? Or is it denial? Giving to another, forgoing some joys so another can have joys? Is it pointing out the homeless? Those who have broken families or lives?

    I think, like the gospel, it is a balance. It is the joy of a Savoir come. It is the longing for a Savior to ultimately set it all right, for all people. I want to choose the BEST way to communicate the gospel at Christmas. What that might be?

    If I had 1K to spend, it might involve that, but only if I had 1K to spend on others as well. With most of our budgets though, I think Christmas, like year round, ought to reflect that our family cares for itself and it cares for others. We have been so richly blessed by the gospel. We were never meant to just hold that in our own midst. Let us spread that blessing beyond our doors.

    Just a thoughts.

  19. As a hug Dave Ramsey fan, I can only say “right on”.

    Dave Ramsey has helped so many people, myself included but I see this mindset so often, and especially the self-righteousness of false virtues. Just last night I was talking to a Christian family who live (LIVE!)in their kitchen with their woodstove (the rest of the house partitioned off with plastic) all winter long, and if they get cold-they PUT ON THEIR SNOWSUITS. IN THE HOUSE. Because they don’t want to waste money on heat, or energy on splitting wood, or grow to be too discontent. ?!?!

    Anyway. Ramble. (I am so good at those.)

  20. Oh just a thought for those out there who maybe read the article and went, “*GULP!* But things are really, REALLy tight. What do we do?”

    Why not go gangbusters on the stockings? Load up all the littles in your house with lots of little treats to dig and dig and then dig some more out of their stockings? I know several families that have done this (ours included) on tight years and it is really fun! Get creative. Make it a silly, fun, and festive time. If you are joyful about it the kids will be too. :-)

  21. I’ve experienced the excoriating conversations with Ramsey fans, who just don’t give up trying to convince everyone to follow their model. Good for them! But not necessarily good for me — or necessary! I so much appreciate your view here — that money is to be used to bless our families and others. It can be a brutal master in either extreme. Thanks.

  22. Ha! Thank you for this encouragement. I will no longer bemoan the $25 that I paid for the wooden train set for our three-year-old. It is so worth it to remember the lavish abundance that the Father spent on us!

  23. An elderly friend told me about a meager Christmas, early in her marriage, when she and her husband could barely make ends meet. Despite this, they were still able to lavish Christmas joy on their 4 children — in the form of balloons. She and her husband stayed up late on Christmas Eve blowing up many, many balloons and filled the house with them. Needless to say, the children were ecstatic and have always remembered that Christmas. :-)

  24. Three cheers for this post, Nancy! It is just great, and my feelings exactly. Enjoy all of your Holiday festivities this season.

  25. My in-laws have a wonderful tradition. Whenever they host Christmas the entire room is waist-high in gifts! I always assumed that they just went into debt and tried to pay it off–but no! They have a special “Christmas Savings Account” that they pay into every month, beginning in January. When December hits, the ENTIRE THING gets emptied out and spent on their 7 children, 5 children-in-law, 7 grandchildren, and 3 grandparents! What an awesome idea!

  26. Wow. Mrs. Nancy, what a neat post. I absolutely love Dave Ramsey and the idea of being financially responsible. However, I am one of those foolish, confused gals who struggles with legalism and often has trouble deciphering the spirit of the law.

    My kids always want more lights and my husband wants a fun party and we were just discussing whether or not we should go for it in light of the Dave Ramsey advice. Thank you for your input on this subject!!! :) And thank you for your leadership in the feminine pursuit of Christ; I feel SO blessed to be a Femina reader! :)

  27. Mrs. Wilson,

    I LOVE reading your books and blog and am so thankful for all the Wilson wisdom that helps so many (myself very much included there). That being said, the Wilsons do have a very strong (and very fun!) FAMILY TRADITION (that is not biblical prescription) in the prominence they give to celebrating the “season of Christmas”. Readers could take these views and preach them as hard as the Ramsey folks do his.

    Just a gentle reminder to loyal blog followers like me. . . always look first to Scripture and don’t feel “false guilt” if you don’t or can’t do things the way other families say you should.

  28. This post brought the biggest smile to my face. I am so happy not to feel irresponsible for buying presents for my children and family! :) (We do have money but are coming out of some months of living off our emergency fund, so I am definitely thankful to God for positive cash flow again and appreciate the help “unbending” from that no-spending mode.)

  29. Thank you Nancy! I was just beginning to fear that I was (gasp) spoiling my children with too much Playmobil for Christmas (can you really have too much of that?)and started to think do we really need stocking’s with silly little toys? but, YES, we do because those little toys matter to my little kid’s!
    (Carissa Tharp Person)
    mom to Carter-Lillian age 7 and Theo age 3

    nice to see your blog, I bog at carissalayla.blogspot.com

  30. Nancy, You spure me on to “love and good deed”!!! You are so right it is a mindset not what you spend (better yet it is a heart condition). Every family’s budget looks different. I see the nay-sayers much more clearly now in the Christian community. Just because you give and celebrate at Christmas doesn’t mean you are neglecting the “reason for the season”. We can be greedy all year but no one says anything then. Or we can be giving all year.
    Thanks you again. God bless your family as they live an open life that others may see Christ’s love.

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