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 countdown is on. 

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.

1. Count Your Blessings: Begin the season by making a Gifts from Jesus Jar that you can put in a central place, maybe in the kitchen, where you and your family can put notes that you write about the things God has done for you. Record answered prayers, special blessings, remember people you love, so that you can share these as a family, perhaps on Christmas Day, when we celebrate the greatest gift of all -- our Savior. 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.

2. Make a List: Write down everyone you need to 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. It is helpful to ask the Lord what He would have you do for each person on your list.

Money does not grow on trees – not even Christmas trees – so be honest with yourself about what you have to spend, and consider the names on your list. Buying something isn’t your only option, and going into debt won’t make your season bright.

3. 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. You’ve just helped every person in the group cut down on time and money spent, while still making a plan to enjoy the holiday together when the gifts are opened. 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.

4. Build a Budget: Money does not grow on trees – not even Christmas trees – so be honest with yourself about what you have to spend, and consider the names on your list. Buying something isn’t your only option, and going into debt won’t make your season bright.

5. Shop your House:  “Re-gifting” isn’t always a bad thing! You may have a duplicate item or something around your home that you don’t need that someone on your list would truly appreciate.

6. Avoid Too Much Glitter: Pull out your Christmas decorations, throw away or donate what you no longer use and avoid costly additions to decorations. Most of us love to see the house at Christmastime, decked with holly and tinsel. But save your spending money for the people in your life. Is it possible you have enough snowmen?

7. Coupon Clippers Unite: Before shopping, check for coupons, sale dates and rebates on things you have identified. 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.

8. Craft Christmas Treasures: Consider what you might make for gifts and get busy! Your talent for cooking, sewing or wood working 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. Every grandparent likes photo books for the coffee table or a photo calendar.

9.  Avoid Impulse Spending: Retail stores are brilliant at creative displays near the checkout counter, tempting you to stray from your list, but once you’ve made your purchasing decision, stick to the plan! If you feel that the checkout line deal, or some other item you come across, is too good to be true then cross off something you’ve already planned for and replace it with your new treasure.

10.  Out with the Old: Go through your closets, especially if you have young children, to really see what treasures you already own. Box up what you no longer use and donate your gently used items to a shelter or church. 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.

11. Take Note. In the days of social media and texting, writing notes and cards is a lost art. Take the time to write a heartfelt note of appreciation for those special people in your life. Include a scripture that reminds you of that person or a special Psalm you have prayed for them.

12. 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 CEO of Crown, a non-profit business and personal finance policy and educational organization, and author of "The S.A.L.T. Plan. How to Prepare for an Economic Crisis of Biblical Proportions" and "Root of Riches, What if everything you think about money is wrong?"