Christmas is cool, but very expensive.

Budgets are great in theory—but when you hit the local mall, your consumer DNA kicks in hard. The stuff you see is the stuff we want! But is it the stuff we can afford?

From the siren call of the credit card to the demands of travel and last-minute meals, the average family feels the pinch of our finances every Christmas. It's how you respond that makes the difference.

If you're like me, you can get very frustrated. After all, we mean well, doing our best to save money throughout the year. Unfortunately, life intervenes all too often. Braces, car repairs, broken washers, surprise school expenses—all conspire to suck up our cash before we even get to Black Friday.

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We (fathers) have the added struggle of giving our gang the best possible Christmas. We get hammered with hundreds of big-budget commercials showing well-groomed men of substance buying new cars and diamonds for their wives and offering massive piles of presents for their kids.

Mom's feeling the heat too, she's hustling to prepare her home for a Southern Living photo shoot, every towel and trinket in its place, the lights and candles all lined up the way they saw them on Pinterest. The pressure's on to perform, provide the "perfect" Christmas with the perfect meal in the perfect setting—after all, the in-laws are coming!

But what about the payoff in January and February? What happens when those bills come back to haunt us? Conflict, guilt, anger—we hide stuff from our spouses and hope we can pay it off in the year ahead.

Somewhere in all the pressure to get, we lose sight of giving.

The Christian parent feels all the secular stresses and is supposed to move past the pressures of this season to make it a holy thing. Some days, it simply feels impossible. Somehow, somewhere we must rein in all this distraction and focus our kids and our hearts on the amazing gift behind the cyber frenzy of e-commerce. As parents, we must push the distractions away—and battle to focus ourselves on the truth and the triumph of Christmas.

Parents, have a plan, budget your expenses and stick with it. Don't go to the mall unprepared. Arm yourself with a good Christian attitude and some Charles Dickens or "Little Drummer Boy" lyrics in your mind—push back—don't let our culture force its selfishness and materialism on your or your family.

Protect the sanctity of "contentment" in your home. Don't allow the season to be about stuff.

No matter your age or stage as a parent, there is always the temptation to overspend. To indulge and over-imbibe on the latest gadgets and gifts for those we love. But—at what price?

A few things to remember when you're in the 'fever' or caught up in a sudden shopping spree:

  1. Gifts are supposed to be special, attached to the intended recipient in a unique and personal way.
  2. Financial budgets are meant to help and protect your family. The boundaries you set with your spouse are not to be dismissed lightly.
  3. More is not always better. Take care to keep a healthy balance between getting and giving. What are you doing as a family to share and care for those less fortunate.
  4. Engage the spiritual with spiritual. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your gifting efforts. Recognize when your peace is gone, it's a signal that you may be out of balance in the moment. Lay whatever it is down. Restrain or discipline yourself. The peace of Christ will return.
  5. Be vigilant as a parent. Help your kids and yourself to develop a "critical" thinking filter. If shopping, ask the hard question: Is this actually going to help someone or hinder them in living a wholesome life?
  6. Grab the popcorn and DVR; Watch the classic movies and do the Christmas stuff, but be prepared to point out the fantasy vs. the reality. Christmas isn't supposed to be perfect, but it is supposed to be sincere. Help prepare your kids for adulthood—ask them how they view God for themselves? (Is he a "Santa Claus" figure to your kids?) Discuss—and enjoy!  

Christmas can be hard, a moment in time when we as parents want to "get it perfect." I can assure you no matter how hard you try, people in your family are going to struggle with some part of the Christmas season, and that's OK. Let God have some space to work. The season can knock you off-balance if you're not careful.

Christ is still in Christmas, but it may mean some difficult decision as a parent to keep Him there. It may mean your marriage and family could benefit from some healthier boundaries in your life to get the balance right.

Dr. Brad Mathias is the president of BEMA Media, co-host of the Brilliantly Brave Parenting Podcast, an author and the pastor of Four Winds Anglican Mission. He and his wife were survivors of a near-divorce and are now actively engaged in public ministry to families in crisis. Brad and his wife, Paige, have been married for over 26 years and are the parents of three adult children and one grandson.

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