Unplug the Christmas Machine

A Production of the Ultimate Homeschool Podcast Network.

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About 20 years ago, Carol Topp, host of the Dollars and Sense Show, read a book Unplug the Christmas Machine by Jo Robinson and Jean Staeheli that transformed the way she and her family celebrated Christmas. In her show Carol shares her plan for having a less stressful, more joyful, debt-free Christmas.

Listen to the show, Unplug the Christmas Machine, here (scroll to bottom of the page)

On the show Carol mentioned the four things children really want for Christmas:

Time with parents and the family

  • Kids spell love T-I-M-E.
  • Consider what you really enjoy about the Christmas season. What traditions, activities or occasions were particularly pleasurable to you? What brings you peace and joy?
  • Encourage time-related activities instead of stuff-giving.
  • Have a plan for Christmas day and the day after to ward off boredom.

Reliable traditions

  • Traditions can be simple such as the same decorations on the tree year after year, visiting a local nativity, watching the movie A Christmas Story, or doing a puzzle and drinking hot chocolate.
  • Consider asking your children to donate a nearly-new toy that they rarely play with to a homeless shelter or Toys for Tots campaign.

Realistic expectations about gifts

  • Talk to your children and spouse about realistic expectations and the real reason for the season.
  • Ask your children for ideas on how to make Christmas more Christ-centered. They may surprise you!
  • Teach your children to recognize advertising slogans that emphasize spending, consumerism and a false sense of perfection for the holidays.
  • Consider buying only for children and not adults.
  • Consider buying one gift for an entire family
  • Pay for gifts in cash. Studies have shown that we spend up to 20% more when we use debit or credit cards instead of cash.
  • Talk to your children about proper behavior before you enter a store. Explain that you are shopping for someone else (not them) or for necessities, not toys.

An even pace to the holiday season

  • Don’t start Christmas too early. Wait until after Thanksgiving or later to start activities.
  • Put aside count-down calendars or “letters to Santa” wish lists if they promote greed and over-emphasize the gift-aspect of the holiday.
  • Save some activities for the post-Christmas let-down such as playing games, baking cookies, watching a movie.
  • If your children receive an overabundance of toys (from grandparents or relatives), hide some away and pull them out in February or even as late as the summer.
  • Consider with holding some gifts until Epiphany (the 12th day after Christmas) which is traditionally when the Wise Men arrived with their gifts for the baby Jesus.

Four Things Children Really Want for Christmas handout. Feel free to share!

In the podcast, Carol also mentioned her plan for a debt-free Christmas Carol Topp’s Plan for a Debt-Free Christmas (click to download) mini-ebook. Feel free to share! In this 7 page mini ebook Carol includes a budget for the holidays, tips, a funny poem and a recipe that eliminates holiday baking.


Tune in for the next Dollars and Sense show on December 5, 2013 when Carol will discuss “Have you ever thought about starting a homeschool organization?”


Did you know you can subscribe to the Dollars and Sense show via iTunes? Or you can add your name to the Ultimate Homeschool Radio Network on the homepage and be emailed about upcoming shows every week.



  1. We always celebrated Advent all the way through to Epiphany. Definitely enriched our holidays and I cherish the traditions that we established.

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