Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Bad Company Corrupts Good Morals

Ever heard that saying?  It affects all areas of life.  We tend to become who we spend the most time around.  It is one of those basic human weaknesses that we desire to fit in, be influenced, and pick up attitudes, behaviors, and mannerisms of those we associate with regularly. 

When we are in kindergarten we call it socialization, as teens we call it peer pressure, and as adults we try to perceive ourselves as individuals and somehow immune.  Nonetheless the influence creeps in subtly by the jobs we work, families we are part of, social activities we engage, churches we attend, and media and music choices we make.  Yes, we pick our groups so we acknowledge we have choices in the matter but that in and of itself shows that we do recognize and participate in the process of submitting to the pressure of influence of the company we keep.  If it were not so than why would we not feel comfortable in expressing our individuality by being alone?  Why would we be discontent with what we refer to as loneliness?

Resumes and obituaries often list all the associations we have aligned ourselves with as well as our own descriptions of ourselves:
  • I'm a Republican (or Democrat)
  • I'm a member of the Baptist church
  • I'm a veteran
  • I'm a vegetarian

All these things indicate where our alliances are and those of like mind will be drawn to us and others will recognize them as our boundaries or areas where we are likely to disagree.  Even seemingly small questions like "do you drink?"  tells something about what we find acceptable or not and immediately let us know if we have something in common or not.

What does this have to do with money?  In the past two elections when one states themselves to be a Republican or a Democrat has often been a clear indication of not only their own monetary ideology but also what they believe the countries national policy should be.  Though they might disagree in measure they will probably agree in principle.

I love detective stories where the leading characters must follow the clues to find the culprit.  "Follow the money" which is one of the primary methods of tracking ones behaviors, motives, and activities.

Most of us try to think of our finances as a compartmentalized aspect of our lives, as if it is somehow separate from who we are.  The reality of it is that how we handle money from gaining it to managing it shows much about who we are and our own motives, ideals, and priorities.  We further tend to align ourselves with those we feel compatible with for shared encouragement, achievement of common goals, and shared lifestyles.

So for all of us who desire to be doing better it is a good idea to check ourselves to recognize and acknowledge what influences we are allowing to permeate our thinking and then align ourselves with the direction and people moving toward where we as individuals need to go. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Annual Forecasting

One of the most important budgeting strategies I learned in banking was annual forecasting.  Each year around this time we were required to submit a budget plan for the following year and in it we listed what salaries, supplies, and equipment expenses we expected to have.  After the preliminary numbers we would work it and work it to review each line item and devise ways of cutting expenses or maximizing usage of the resources we needed.  We had many industry buzz words that I no longer even remember to refer to each type of expense.  All contributed to what was ultimately "the bottom line" for our department. 

A typical example of this might be the lease term on our copy machine might be due to expire.  Reviewing that line item we would track our usage and needs for that product and then speak to multiple vendors and determine whether we would maintain, upgrade, consolidate, minimize, or eliminate that expense.

After years of reviewing budgets in this manner my mind instinctively continued the process even after finding myself outside the banking world and living on a small farm in need of repair and no upper management to make sure I had the funds to insure my ongoing operation and success.  It was definitely culture shock.

I consider the single most important tool I learned in the process was converting all expenses to an annual basis.  At first glance that may seem silly but let me provide a simple example to display the impact.  Let's say it is my habit to stop at the store after work to pick up my food supplies for the next couple of days.  While there I may add a few snacks or sales to my cart.  On the average I spend $50 for each trip.  On other days I find myself too tired to cook so I stop at a restaurant and get some take out or a pizza which is another $25 or more per stop.  I then go out to lunch with coworkers each work day costing an average of $8.  Even reading this it may sound excessive but I hear people taking about it each and every day at work. Last but not least is the $3 a day cup of coffee at the local drive through (this is an average from the 7/11 or Starbucks cups I see coming into the office). All of these are out of pocket expenses so a tally is rarely kept.

So what is our total?  I come up with roughly: 4 x $50 = $200, 2 x $25 = $50, 5 x $8 = $40, 5 x $3 = 15 for a grand total of $305 per week.  This equates to  $1,220 per month and a whopping $14,640 per year.   For some this may be extremely high and for others very low.  I have not even included what one is spending on the weekends and included it in the weekly groceries purchased.  Family size also factors in and my estimates are based on the people I see at work who have two adults and a child in the family.  Also missing are what the other adult might be spending and needs specific to babies.

It is no wonder then that many are out of money before they are out of month.  Though food might be the most obvious of expenses that can easily get out of control other expenses can be just as insidious when we look at the monthy expense which seems manageable compared to the annual expense that rocks our world. 

There are two ways this has been addressed in In The Trenches.  The first is through developing a Minimum Basic Budget which forecasts expenses by month and totals them by year and second is the Expense Reduction Chart.  Both are available to download and copy or use in excel and are at the right hand side of the blog.

One of the things I have found to be so helpful with this approach is that it not only helps to identify ways that expenses can be reduced is that it also helps to see that giving up some of our smaller expenses may create more unnessary misery than providing any worthwhile gain.  There is the old saying of "Stepping over the dollar to pick up a penny".  Though we do not want to waste anything we can be so penny concious that we miss the big ticket items that may not be so obvious.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My 50% Goal

The word goal immediately indicates that this is a concept I am working toward though not yet accomplished.  If one has already arrived why would one need to set a goal. 

Years ago after living extremely frugally for years it was time to seek employment. In the process I was offered not just one job but two.  The first was part time which I immediately began and a couple months later I was offered a full time position. Since the hours did not conflict I was able to keep them both. 

I found myself in a different situation than I was familiar with.  I was making far more money than I actually needed to maintain my lifestyle.  I needed half of what I made to fulfill my basic living expenses.  I admit that I went wild and spent more extravagantly than would have been prudent rather than saving.  Despite that I learned a very valuable lesson. 

Living under my means was a freedom that I had not yet experienced in my previous 20 years of adulthood.  And it was great fun.  I could go where I wanted, do what I wanted, and even though the amount I made was what many might consider a minimum wage I felt rich.  My bills were few, all I owned was paid for (with the exception of a small mortgage), and I could hang on to my paychecks for weeks before having to cash them.

The lesson I learned and took away from the experience was to always set my goal as living at 50% of my income.  This takes the focus from how much we make to how much we spend.  Ones first thought might be that this would be impossible on their current income. Just to make it more interesting I will share that at the time I set the goal I was making roughly $9.00 per hour on my full time job and $7 something on the part time job.  Not what most would consider as racking in the bucks. 

My 50% had a number of reasons first of all being the knowledge that no one is guaranteed a job.  Yes, that would come as a shock to some and a rude awakening to others who went through the economic impact in 2009 and are still waiting.  Second, I realized that if I was laid off the typical unemployment rate is half of what one might have made on the job.  Third, other factors such as health, desire to home school ones kids, or seasonal employment could come up.  Having lived in an economically challenged community for many years I fully realized that having a job was indeed a blessing but not one to be counted on.

Over the years I have had to manage, change, and adjust many times always mindful that a contract is the enemy of flexibility.  More than once just when the goal has been achieved something or someone happens that throws me off track so back to the spreadsheets I have to go.  In the old days it was pencil and paper but now mostly excel with which a quick click of some buttons I can see the annual impact of a change.  Often my major financial planning is done on the back of a receipt while riding the bus.

Financial planning is often like hitting a moving target and maybe that is exactly what is supposed to be in this drama we call LIFE.  If we approach it any other way maybe we are merely fooling ourselves.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Early Retirement Extreme and beyond

It is hard to believe that it has been two years since I first did a book review on Early Retirement Extreme.  It seemed time to mention it again.  Many have found themselves In The Trenches over the past few years and having a necessity to cut back, adjust, and rework their financial picture.  Some have made tremendous progress and many are still waiting for politicians to find a solution to their personal problems. 

Over the past couple of years I have had the opportunity to hear comments not only on my book but also have shared Jacob's book with others.  The most common comment from those that don't love it is that it is "Just too extreme".  So the title then was accurate and that is the best news about it.  By taking an extreme approach one can honestly reevaluate their own situation from a bare minimum standpoint and then add to the basics to the degree one best feels represents their own goals, choices, and desired lifestyle.

For me personally I still long for and maintain my piece of sod in the country despite tremendous obstacles faced over the last couple of years.  But I was inspired and encouraged by Jacob's book to take a hard look for my own need of a car and have used other available transportation options for almost 3 years.  And, no thanks on the cell phone even though I was twice offered the use of one free for a year. 

That is the beauty of being extreme.  It allows more imagination and analysis for personal choices and alerts us to the fact that we may be adopting the choices of others or even worse we might be influenced by the culture around us that are wholly designed to take our hard earned time and money for their own benefit.  If you have read either mine or Jacob's books I'm sure that has been much more evident in the recent political debates - the fight is all about who gets the money.  Not all as noble or patriotic as one might like to imagine.

Both books recommend cutting back to have more.  After the step of cutting back the having more becomes all the more possible being free from many debts, obligations, and encumbrances to not only our money but more importantly to our thinking. 

In the past two years Jacob's book has sold remarkably and he has returned to employment not because he needs to but because he loves it.   This is the greatest joy of the process is: freedom to make our own choices without trudging through our days believing we have not choice but to continue in a job we might hate.

So, if you haven't read it yet,  I hope you will check out Early Retirement Extreme, now also in Kindle version.

Reprinted from October 2010:

I have often mentioned Early Retirement Extreme as I have enjoyed Jacob's mind bending approach to finances so much. I first heard of ERE about three months ago. We share some of the same ideas for how to achieve financial independence but whereas my book is especially geared toward those going through financial hardship or downturn Jacob shows how you can take things even further and achieve early retirement! 
Link to Publisher
About the author:

Jacob Lund Fisker retired early at 33 years old. He did this by figuring out how to spend very little money by living simply and learning many skills to become more self-sufficient thus reducing his need for money to a quarter of the average person. Instead of spending the other three quarters of his money on stuff, he invested it for income to pay for the few things he can not make himself. This meant he reached financial independence at age 30 and no longer works for a living. He now spends his time volunteering for nonprofits, crewing on racing yachts, practicing martial arts, and writing the blog to show others the way to financial freedom.

Early Retirement Extreme
A philosophical and practical guide to financial independence
Authored by Jacob Lund Fisker

Early Retirement Extreme provides a robust strategy that makes it possible to stop working for money in just a short number of years. It provides a paradigm shift in economic perspective from consuming to producing. Your value to society is not how much you earn or how much you buy. It is what you create and produce for yourself and for others. It is what you leave, not what you take. Consumers are often locked into expensive options, but producers have the flexibility to create appropriate solutions at a quarter of the cost. The resulting savings (the difference between income and expenses) is one's monetary contribution to society. When savings are put to work through investments, society will pay dividends which cover the remaining expenses resulting in financial independence.

The strategy can also be used to pay off debt, travel the world, volunteer, go back to school, or work on otherwise nonprofitable endeavors without worrying about the next paycheck. It offers a compelling alternative to the default choice of graduating high school, getting a college degree, buying a car, getting married, buying a house, filling it with furniture, clothes, TVs, washing machines, lawn mowers, and electric egg boilers, and then spending the next 40 years working 9-5 to pay it all off.

The book is on the market through Don't forget to check out the Early Retirement Extreme blog and on Facebook.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


I am an avid fan of recycling and appreciate the efforts of others to find imaginative and ingenious ways to also do so.  Below are some of the uses that have most impressed me.  I hope you will enjoy them.  Some have links attached if you would like more information.  As you will see, the possibilities are as endless as someone's imagination and creativity.
Vinyl Picket Fences

Christmas tree made from old costume jewelry presented by Thrifty Fun

Capital Journal

Wow!  presented by Encore Bridal


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Wardrobe Planning 5-5-5

Some might think that  when one is In The Trenches that having a decent wardrobe for work is the least important thing to worry about.  I've seen and heard them at the office.  Quite the contrary, it is probably the most important time to be aware of how one is presenting oneself to others. The book Dress for Success points out that we are not only to dress appropriately for the job we currently have but to dress suitably for the job we wish to have.  The image we portray is not only what we see in the mirror but what others see.  Whether it is for a first impression at a one time meeting or for day to day interaction our choices subtlety reflect and affect our professionalism. 

Long time readers of this blog may remember that I moved from a very casual rural environment to the city a couple of years ago with very few clothes that would fit in an office environment.  On a very limited cash basis I purchased the items needed to get me going.  Back to Work Wardrobe on a Budget showed my first purchases.  The following spring and fall I again added a few items to expand my choices.  Last fall I concentrated on adding slacks of basic colors. 

In the meantime I have had a blast going to garage sales, ebay, and thrift store 1/2 price sales and picked up more.  My favorite garage sale just down the street offered bins and bins of clothing at 50 cents each.  At that price I was able to quickly grow my wardrobe and for $20 could add 40 blouses, skirts,  and jackets. 

The result was that as I surveyed my closet I knew that I had the best wardrobe of my entire life and all total spent less than what some might spend on a couple of suits.  Horror of horrors came when I added just enough pounds to make almost everything too tight!  What to do?  Of course, I know that taking off the weight was the goal but in the meantime my slacks felt like torture devices and I often had to undo a button just to get through a day.  I'm just telling the truth here and many of you know exactly what I'm talking about though it is not often mentioned out loud.  Yes of course I wore skirts and dresses much more often but with fall here again I had to make a big decision.  Every time I looked through my array of clothes I felt like I had absolutely nothing to wear.  Every time I tried to get rid of something my mind would try to make itself believe that it would fit in just a couple of months.  My mornings now included dread and self consciousness along with hustle and bustle to get out the door.

After lamenting this for days the idea of 5-5-5 came to mind and I welcomed it with relief.  What is 5-5-5?  I grabbed an old paycheck stub from my wallet and a pen and I wrote down my best 5 suits or jackets, my best 5 slacks, best 5 skirts, 5 dresses, and 5 blouses.  Realizing I did not have 5 jackets I added it to my shopping list.  The basic black one I had was washed so many times it was time to go.  In order to be on my 5-5-5 list it had to be in good condition, fit properly, and be somewhat in style so most of my animal prints had to go.

I was excited to get home!  Knowing fresh in my mind what I was keeping I grabbed everything else and threw it on the bed.  I kept a few more blouses than was on my list.  I organized them by color so they looked ready to shop through in my closet each morning.  This has been my habit for 30 years and my kids laugh but they are coming around.

I couldn't believe how much better the closet looked and how much better I felt.  I even found a dress I had forgotten I had bought.  But, alas, it was too small so also went on the stack.  I'm sure to the reader it may sound like I had so many clothes and indeed I did but please check your own closets before judging too harshly and remember my wardrobe cost me less than some might spend on a few months of cell phone bills.

The logical question one might ask is did I get my money's worth? The answer is all in the math. I roughly calulate my cost per wear on each item. Let's say I purchase a dress on sale for $50 at a retail store. If I wear the dress 20 times the cost is $2.50 per wear. If I buy that same dress for $5 at the thrift store and wear it 20 times the cost goes down to 25 cents each. Many would be shocked and enlightened if they were to go through this excercise.

The next step after surveying what I had kept was to fill in a couple gaps especially in the shoe department.  I growled all the while at how shoe manufacturers must not expect women to walk on their feet but happy to see that the  Indian style moccasins are back in style.  This was replaced by a sense of accomplishment at finding a $180 Nine West gray suit for $30 on clearance.  Though not on my list it was an excellent addition.

If you are a first timer at planning a wardrobe beyond the lastest sale this wardrobe planning post may provide some tips.

Now the fun part - I invited another woman to come and pick through it all and take what she wanted.  She selected some pieces and brought back some of her own to replace them.  This afternoon another friend is invited to go through them all and take her pick.  When anyone who might have interest that we can think of has had their picks the remainder with either go to the 50 cent ladies garage sale or a thrift store. 
Amazon Link

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

"Ask not what your country can do for you..."

One of the most beloved presidents of America was John F. Kennedy.  Our country was shocked and saddened as we watched him shot live on t.v. as we watched the parade through Dallas.  It was a blow not only to a man but to our entire democracy and those from both parties grieved.

In his inauguration speech he made the bold statement:

 "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."

Wow.  Times have changed.  If President Obama or Mitt Romney were to make such a statement they would not stand a chance let alone have the respect and admiration of the American people.  What happened to us?  When did it become just about "me" and "what can he do for me"? 

Recently we have been looking into volunteer opportunities in our area and found some sites worth sharing:

Volunteer Match. org

Christian Volunteering. org

Ministry Watch. org

Schools and churches almost always welcome another pair of hands or a listening ear. 

If one does not have time countless charities take donations.  Charity Navigator compiles the ratings for organizations so that you can insure your funds are going to good use.

Often an opportunity to help another is just down our own street and can be done in a way that personally is comfortable and makes sense to you. 

If you are feeling low on both time and money often a smile at a stranger, a prayer for a soldier, or a phone call or card to a friend is all that it takes to brighten up someone's  day.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Get a job

Unemployment in the country is still a major issue as evidenced by political and day to day discussions.  Being unemployed not only effects the pocketbook but just as importantly the mental attitude and moral starting with the adults in the household and working it's way through all the members.  The Gallup poll is one of the most reliable on many regularly tracked statistics.  Many had high hopes that the American economy would recover more quickly and are disappointed and angry that it has not. 
 Having been unemployed on more than one occasion I fully recognize the adjustments and hardship it can create.   More importantly is that I have realized it is a fact of life.  The reasons may vary from local economy, an obsolete or declining profession, or health issues.  It was on this issue that one of the chapter of the book addresses.  Some of my own circumstances have changed since it was written but the principles remain the same.

Get a job

As an apartment manager, which I do in addition to a full time job, running a ranch, and keeping up the house, I am increasingly concerned about the number of able bodied adults who would rather get behind on their bills than to look for a job.
Yes, the job market is tough. But, if you get up at 9:00 or 10:00 a.m., don’t bother to shower or shave why would anyone ever want to hire you? Lazy. An old fashioned word that is very unpopular these days. Yes, I’ve heard about all the hard luck stories and how tough it is and how you just need a little help this month to get you by but it amazes me how a person can have too much pride to work a minimum wage job but not too proud to ask for an extension when the rent is due. I guess the only ones they are kidding is themselves and then get bitter because the help and patience of others runs out.
One thing I see: a hard worker will work and find something to do whether they get paid for it or not. A lazy person will find all the reasons why he just can’t do it today.
What can you do if you are a hard worker and find yourself unemployed? What if you are a lazy person who is tired of being broke. Well, get to work. But “I don’t have a job”, you say. It doesn’t matter, get to work. Wake early in the morning, shower, shave, and look around and you can find work to do wherever you turn. Is your yard immaculate? Is your house spotless? Is your car clean? Is your mom’s house, yard, and car clean? Does the neighbor down the street need help with anything? Does the school need a volunteer to plant some flowers or read to children? Does the widow lady at church need her house painted or lawn mowed?
But why would you want to do any of these things for free? Here are some of the reasons:
1.     You will get all those projects and tasks done that you don’t have time to do while you are working. Many projects can be done for free or at minimal cost so you don’t have to break the bank and your family will love you for getting the house, cars, and yard maintained.
2.     You will meet new people in the community. Someone may hire you or refer you to someone who can.
3.     Some will repay your work with what they have even if it is not cash. This is especially prevalent in farming communities where you could get a freezer full of meat or corn for a few days work.
4.     You will be making a valuable contribution to individuals and organizations in your community.
5.     You will be known to all as a roll up your sleeves and get in there kind of person. Employers look for this.
6.     You will sleep better at night knowing that you have accomplished more than just watching Jerry Springer.
7.     Did I say that others will see what a hard worker you are and may want to hire you?
Most of all, your dignity and self-respect will remain intact and it will show as you go look for jobs.
Right now, I have fences to paint, pens to build, and a room to get sheet-rocked. I have no cash. BUT, I have a freezer full of steak, hamburger, and roasts. I also have enough wood to heat a house for the winter. Bartering tools. The hard workers I know are too busy to take on anymore. And the others I wouldn’t hire. And, it must be that no one else will either because they are still unemployed.
The moral to the story is clear. There is lots of work to be done. We need more hard workers to do it.
Oh, and of course, there are those who do a great job the first time and then you hire them back again and they start padding their hours, getting sloppy with their work, or not showing up when they say they will. Guess what? It only will happen once or twice and I will tell others who ask. Good and bad reputations do get passed around.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Hear the Sleigh Bells Ringing?

I cannot believe how quickly the year is flying by! If you want a Merry debt-free Christmas the time to starting thinking about it is now.  Good thing the elves were working because I sure had other things going on.

This article was originally posted in Christian Common Cents in August 2010 and have decided to post it annually. I had a lot of fun writing it and I hope you will enjoy reading it and sharing your own ideas. I remembered the article when last week I realized I better get my own Christmas list started.

“What? You’ve got to be kidding. It's only October.” That may be true but if you have heard the story of Santa then you know that his elves are already working. Delivery day is December 25 but all year long there has been busy activity in preparation for the day that we celebrate the birth of Christ by giving gifts to one another.

This year may be the first year ever that you are ready to consider creating a new tradition. No credit cards. No added debt. No paying for Christmas up until April. How about a new tradition of a cash only Christmas? You might have even said this to yourself every year right before you pull out the plastic.

“He’s making a list and checking it twice”. There’s our starting point. This is the most important part because it will be your guideline for what you will do for the next five months and I can tell you it might not be as easy as it sounds. It is hard to think about Christmas in August when we don’t have the store ads and commercials motivating us. “What? Oh, you mean the media is influencing us? Oh…..” Sure. They want to sell as much as they can and lay it on thick with all the best marketing, persuasive colors, lights, and sounds they can find. They have actually studied how to entice us to buy more. Just do it. Pull out the plastic.

This year is going to be different. This year we can plan early. Pay cash. And, have a wonderful holiday season that does not leave us with a strange sick feeling in the stomach when it’s over.
Back to the list making. If you can’t get enthusiastic then find a friend who will do this with you. Once the list is made figure out how much each item costs and write it on the side. Add up what you think might be the total cost. I know. It does take so much fun out of it to be so much like an accountant when thinking about Christmas. I totally get that. Spontaneous gift giving is very fun but it’s like dieting. We can’t enjoy the fact that we have passed up the donuts until we step on the scale and find that we have lost five pounds.

Here are some ideas to think about once the list is complete. You might want to revise your list after reading them.

1. Christmas cards. Almost everybody loves getting Christmas cards especially if they are from someone they have not heard from all year. To economize in this area consider reducing the price of the box of cards, not the number of people on your list. Discount and dollar stores often carry boxed cards year round at very cheap prices. Think about buying stamps now and setting them aside or stashing the money in your Christmas account if you want to wait for the seasonal stamps.

2. Christmas account. Set up a Christmas account at the bank and put a regular amount of money each paycheck that is building to the full amount of the list. With five months to go before Christmas and a list of $1,000 then you would need to put $200 per month in the account. What? Can’t afford that? Then it’s time to go back through the list. Here are more ideas to help cut it back.

3. Baking cookies and treats. We used to spend a few days in the kitchen baking, baking, and baking. Little cranberry and pumpkin loaves, cookies, and fudge. We would then deliver them to friends and neighbors with our personal Christmas greetings. Is there anyone on your list who would be just as happy with holiday treats as they would be with the gift you were planning to buy? In these tough economic times everyone knows about cutting back and understands. Sometimes it can even be a relief to them because they don’t feel like they need to reciprocate more than a hug if that is all they can afford.

4. Layaway. Before credit cards (yes, there was actually a time before credit cards) layaway was very popular with the department stores. Ask at each of the stores you frequent if they have layaway. If not suggest that Christmas is coming and they might want to get it in place. If yes, then watch for the best sale you can find on big-ticket items. Shop around so that you know the difference between the regular price and a sale. When you find the best deal put it on lay-away. You will need to make a regular payment so ask and make arrangements with the store to do so. This can be reduced from the money you are putting in the bank. Don’t miss a payment. The merchandise could go back on the rack and you could lose some or all of what was paid in. Another good reason to have your Christmas account. If you really are running short you have a back-up payment source.

5. Make your own gifts. Do you have a talent or craft that you enjoy? By starting early you can make many of your gifts. One of my favorite Christmas’ was when I was about five. My mom and dad bought me a doll. My grandpa made a wooden doll bed and painted it white. My grandma made some blankets, sheets, and a little pink pillow, and my great aunt made some doll clothes. It was a family effort and it was wonderful. Most was made from scrap lumber, fabric, and yarn. The cost was minimal but the gift was priceless.

6. More please. I am a firm believer that children under 12 would prefer to have a number of smaller gifts than one big gift. It’s more exciting. If income is limited by setting an amount per person you can select what will fit into this limit. Board games, books, articles of clothing can all add to their feeling of an abundant Christmas. Remember that kids do count so if Sally got five gifts then Mike wants five gifts also. If there is a more expensive item on the list is it something that could be a “family gift” instead of being designated for one person?

7. Practical Christmas gifts. It’s great to have picked the perfect gift for everyone on our list. How often does that really happen based on the returns? One of the ways I like to shop is to pick a practical gift and buy the same thing for almost everybody. Towels are my favorite item because everyone can use them and every couple years it’s nice to have some new. It’s very simple to go and buy seven sets of towels in colors to match their bathroom. For children there are Dora, Barbie, sports, and other things kids love. The price is about $12 to $20 per person to do this. Other gifts I have bought in this manner are sheets, digital cameras, and kitchen towel sets. You can structure your gift to the amount you have to spend per person that year.

8. What are your own favorite Christmas memories? What was most special? Can you incorporate any of these ideas in your planning?

9. Still short on having enough money planned? There is still time to do a Labor Day Garage sale to bring in part or the entire amount needed for your Christmas list.

10. Bonus tip. When shopping for others with a plan you will be less likely to impulsively buy things that are not needed just for recreation. You can still have the enjoyment of a day of shopping but are doing it with a purpose in mind.

Every year we remind ourselves that it is the thought that counts for Christmas and that thought flies out the window when we start shopping. Santa’s helpers have the right idea and we can learn from their experience by planning ahead. When the holidays arrive we can be ready and be able to relax and enjoy them. Oops, in December it’s to make all those cookies. So, we can be busy and enjoy them. When January comes we can walk to the mailbox with confidence knowing we have achieved our personal victory over the credit monster for another year.