Occupy Christmas: Finding meaning within your means

This post was sponsored by Suntrust Bank.

Well, folks, here I am again.  At your service, poised and ready to take the fun out of another holiday!
(Just kidding.  Mostly.)

No matter your political persuasion, I think we could all agree that our country is suffering from a heavy dose of overspending and materialism, both at the corporate and the individual level.  I’ve seen some murmurings of an Occupy Christmas meme, and I really like the concept, because it’s putting responsibility back on the individual.  I compiled a list of ways that consumers can make a difference this holiday season.

I like the idea of taking small steps towards change.  I don’t think that anyone needs to forego Christmas, but in our current economic climate and with the fuzzy ethics of so many big corporations and banks, I do like the idea of wise spending.  I saw this video recently encouraging people to make just one fair-trade purchase this holiday season.  I really like seeing churches getting involved in fair-trade.  I truly believe that our willingness to pay a fair wage for goods is one of the best ways to address the disparity between those of us who “have” and those who “have not”.   And I’m not talking about the oft-referenced 99% right now.  Because regardless of what financial disparities we experience here in the US, 99% of us are still wealthier than most people living in third world countries, amIright?

We are trying hard to cultivate a holiday season that is less about spending and more about making memories. We are trying to give our kids Christmas traditions to remember that aren't necessarily based on spending money or getting presents. Here are a few of our traditions:

Every year after Thanksgiving we host a potluck to kick-off the Christmas season. We put up the tree, play Christmas music, and invite our friends to bring their leftovers. It costs little money and always gets us in the holiday spirit.

In addition to setting up our own tree, we let the kids decorate the "kids tree." They have a lot of fun with this - we let them decorate it exactly how they want, and it includes all of the ornaments they've made over the years.

Every year we go to the Peanuts Christmas House, which is the most Orange County of any Christmas tradition. It's an annual display near our local town hall. Think "It's a Small World" but with animatronic Charlie Brown and Snoopy and Christmas songs. The kids look forward to this all year.

In a related adventure, we also make sure to spend at least one evening before Christmas driving around and looking at Christmas lights. We sing along to Christmas carols in the car while we do this. I'm refraining from any links to video or audio of this annual Howerton family extravaganza. You're welcome.

Every year, our church hosts a family pajama party for Christmas. My kids think dressing in their pajamas outside the house is still an adventure of epic proportion. We'll see how long this lasts.
Next weekend we're inviting friends over to our house to watch "Elf" and drink hot chocolate. It's become a tradition. There's something about that movie that always makes me happy.

And on Christmas Eve every year, we've gone out to breakfast/brunch with same four couples and their families for the past 15 years—that's right: 15 years—and our kids look forward to it as the start of our Christmas festivities. I can't believe it's been that long! Of all the traditions listed here, however, this is the only one that costs anything. We usually keep it pretty simple.

What about you? What kinds of inexpensive experiences/traditions do you enjoy around Christmas or the holidays?

At SunTrust Bank their purpose is lighting the way to financial well-being. They want to help you reduce holiday stress through tools, advice, and inspiration that encourages you to make your holidays meaningful by spending within your means and focusing on meaningful experiences. They have a great online holiday planning guide, and a budgeting guide to help you stay within your means. 

The holidays are for focusing on moments that matter. But for many Americans, financial stress can get in the way. This year, you can make small changes that make a big difference for your financial well-being.

In this holiday planning guide, you’ll find tips for getting organized and making a plan for holiday spending so you can feel confident in your ability to stay on track with your budget. You’ll see how other Americans are shopping, traveling, celebrating and giving in ways that make the holidays cost less, but mean more.
Download Guide

For more holiday planning advice visit  holiday resources

Meaningful spending made easy with a budgeting tool to help you make a plan and stay on track with your holiday spending.  Download here.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of SunTrust. The opinions and text are all mine.

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