Sunday, October 30, 2011

Animal Farm 2011 version

The purpose of In The Trenches is to be a PERSONAL finance blog written for the general population to give real TOOLS to those striving to work through challenges faced in their own families.  However, there are times when it is necessary to look at the bigger picture. 

For more than three years now we have been in what is referred to as the American Economic Crisis.  Most of us have felt the pinch in one way or another and I am confident that people who read this or other of the many wonderful financial blogs are taking the reasonable and responsible steps needed to correct past mistakes and forge ahead to a renewed state of stability.

I have tried to keep things from getting overly political believing that once we recognise and implement our PERSONAL needed strategies we will recognize and choose politicians who are moving in the right direction also.  Long term politicians on both sides of the isle are shaking in their boots waiting to see how the American people will vote.

This weeks posts will lean more toward the soapbox side as I can no longer bear to let watch the freak show.  At three years people are still scrambling to point the finger and pass the buck detracting from the huge amount of progress that could and should have been made already.  So for a few minutes I will jump in as well.

The cast of characters is most like the book Animal Farm as anything I have ever seen.  For today we will suffice with identifying them.  If you have not read the book, it is one of my favorites and if you have please jump in and add your own observations.

The Farmer - These are the Americans that have worked and fought and died to make this country was it is today.  Our parents, grandparents, soldiers, farmers, miners, and yes, even the original politicians who wrote the Constitution in such a way that would enable us to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The Pigs - These are the ones that wanted to take over and convinced the other farm animals that life would be better if they did so.  Their methods were cunning, deceptive, and underhanded.  Only in the end was it truly evident that they cared for no one but themselves and their own comfort and prosperity.  You guessed it I hope.  These are the modern day bankers and insurance companies.  Promising homes, cars, and prosperity they enticed and seduced the population into debt and financial slavery.  Once the noose was set and they had their fingers into almost every family they pulled the rope, took the homes, cars, credit ratings, down payments, monthly payments, and fees that had put into them and left the people to figure out how to bail themselves out.  I have read that they have now moved to China where they are doing the same thing and in the meantime continue to collect monthly payments from the American people.  Please note that when I refer to the PIGS I am NOT referencing your local bank teller who is doing their job just like the rest of us.  I'm referring to the people much higher up on the corporate ladder of the business who set the goals, policies, and fee structures including the most diabolical of all - the adjustable rate mortgage.

The Politicians - Where the Pigs loved the money the politicians loved the power.  Entrusted with serving the people instead they turned to taking contributions to insure their elections from the major industries in turn for wonderful campaigns to keep them elected term after term while they carried on their adulterous affairs, fancy dinners, and talked out of both sides of their mouths.  The dictionary would define this as a bribe. The one thing I would observe however is that with the vast dis-unity of other segments of the population that these elected individuals would have a hard time even knowing how to best represent those who elected them. The objectives are so contrary that even their constituents do not agree on the best solutions.  It is here where strong leadership and common sense is most needed.  Only in this way will they be able to serve in a manner that preserves the mandates of our nation and not cater to special interests. 

The Newscasters - Weren't these the chickens in Animal Farm?  The reporting of the news is no longer about facts and truth it became about ratings.  We watched the stock market rise and fall like a roller coaster depending on their optimistic or dismal reports.  And, since it was now about ratings they could track who watched what and report more of the same.   They are often referred to as the ministers of propaganda.  Oh, wait that is from George Orwell's 1984.

The Consumers - They even call themselves this. On the farm we call them coyotes.  Spending whatever they can whether they need it or not thinking that this will somehow improve the economy.  A consumer is defined as a devourer and  destroyer.  But, they look good, smell good, drive nice cars so they have become the poster children for the sheep who also would like to do these things.  But wait, where is their money coming from?  The sheep of course but because they do such a good job at creating the illusion of wealth they are given tax credits and contribute large sums to campaigns so that the politicians can stay in power. 

The Work Horses - Those who are In The Trenches learn more and work hard day after day to improve and support their families.  One characteristic of the work horses is that they would rather give than receive.  If they don't know all that is going on it is because they are too busy to pay attention.  The work horses fall in all economic levels but they differ from the consumers in that they provide valuable goods and services for their efforts.  Bill Gates and Sam Walton fall into this catagory along with many of our friends and neighbors.  We are in good company as we follow the advice and example of those who have gone before us. 

The Sheep - If you remember the story of Animal Farm the sheep were taught a song that they repeated over and over in an attempt to keep them from looking into questioning the truth of what was going on around them.  They didn't want to think too much and were easily confused but they were willing and ready to follow leadership and put trust in those who they thought had their best interests at heart.  The sheep when handed a credit card and told they could afford it would say thank you and spend up to their limit.  The sheep though lack of knowledge have been prey to and of the bankers and pigs.  Though they made many financial mistakes it was ultimately to their own detriment and without malicious intent.  The sheep's greatest assets is their wool and truly they have been targeted and fleeced by those would wanted to get it. 

The b.s. - Anyone who has ever been to a farm knows that the first rule is to watch your step because there is b.s. lying everywhere.  It is a constant job to keep things clean but it is an effort that never is done.  As the economic crisis has continued so has the b.s.  These are the people who continue to draw their unemployment checks with extension after extension without looking for a job.  These are the ones who will willingly drive all over town to hit every food bank and service just because they qualify.  These are the ones and they are plentiful that look toward the taxpayers to provide their needs in subsidies, grants, programs, and resources on a long term basis without putting in the effort to take the actions and get the knowledge to be able to support their own families.  We cannot afford this and should not allow it to continue.  Auditing is the number one thing needed to expose and curtail this practice of abuse.  One common thing I have seen is using the children as a tool to obtain benefits.'s a bunch of b.s. and we should not except it.

The poor - There are those who truly need a temporary helping hand.  There always will be.  Natural disasters, health issues, and death can put any one of us in a dramatic financial tailspin and we need to recognize and be willing to help where and when we are able.

The foreigners - This is a much written about and highly opinionated subject so I will not delve into it except to mention that there are approximately 16 million illegal people in the country and a growing trend of foreign investors. (see more on the second group in the next post)

America is being tested to it's core.  It is no small wonder that progress is slow for we haven't even agreed upon a course of action let alone a sense of direction and individual steps needed to achieve that goal.  It would be easy for us to say that we all want a Stable, Secure America.  But really, are many in these groups not really just more concerned about what they can get for themselves?  At the heart of it all is not extreme selfishness at the root of many of our nations ills?  Are we really looking toward the future of our children and grand children and making choices in their best interests or are we looking toward fast, easy solutions that will lead us to deeper bondage and corruption.

I believe that we live in the best country in the whole wide world.  Our prosperity is built not only on our vast resources but also on our purpose, hard work, and willingness to sacrifice, and stand for truth and justice here and where ever we see the need abroad.

Finally, and above all we are a nation built on our faith in God and it is He that has prospered us in the past.  Our Declaration of Independence clearly states this within it's opening lines. What better way to end than the way it all began?

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness..."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

As they grow...

Word reached me about this event and though our readers probably do not live in the area where it was held I thought the concept was so interesting that it was worth sharing for all the creative, industrious people out there. 

As they Grow was started by three women and the events are held twice a year.  Their website gives all the information and it looks like they have done an exceptional job in organizing. 

Everyone wins with this business model:
  • The community has reasonably prices items,
  • the consignors get rid of their stuff and make some money,
  • the hosts make money,
  • the consignors may elect to give all unsold items to local charities,
  • and, of course, the children get new clothes.
Seems like the concept could work with other interests such a fishing supplies, holiday crafts and gifts, or even swap meet variety.

Hope you enjoy browsing through their website to come up with some of your own innovative ideas.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Material Girl

Remember?  How can we forget Madonna's song Material Girl ?  Even though I was not into pop culture I knew the song.  It was glitzy, catchy, and fun.  An entire generation was raised on the song and guess what?  We now have an economic crisis.  Is it a coincidence or are we now reaping what we sowed?

The music we listen to effects our thinking and each generation brings with it the theme song for the outcome of the next.  Music affects our minds and actions in sometimes subtle but noticeable ways. I too have to catch myself every time the song "I've got friends in low places" comes on because it is one that I start singing along with, it has such a catchy beat and it really is fun to sing. Everyone around me joins in with gusto.

So, here we are in 2011, Material Girls to some degree and now having to pay off the debt.

"But, I'M NOT A MATERIAL GIRL"  you say.  Maybe your favorite outfit is jeans, tennis shoes, and a t-shirt.  Just for fun, if you dare, answer these 10 questions.  If you answer yes to a few of them you MIGHT be a material girl (or guy)

  1. Do you have any clothes that you have not worn for a year?
  2. Is shopping a hobby or past time?
  3. Do you rent a storage unit or can't get your car in the garage?
  4. Do you replace items that are not broken or worn out?
  5. Is spending money to party or going out to eat a regular event?
  6. Does getting your nails done prevent you from doing other things like cleaning or the dishes?
  7. Do you show off your new purchases to friends?
  8. Are you attracted to other people by what appears to be material success?
  9. Does your car symbolize your coolness?
  10. Do you buy things that are on sale that you really don't need?
Hmmm....maybe we have been influenced.  I know I have. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Set your first financial goal

Some of my favorite writing has actually been posted on other blogs.  This article was written for and published in August 2011.  Although the content may not apply to all In The Trenches readers you may know someone that it does and want to pass it on.
Life is like a treadmill…if we don’t make a conscious effort to keep moving forward, we will automatically begin to slide backward.
This is true of every area in our lives, whether it be relationships, health, finances, or even house cleaning. The momentum of our decline can even speed up when unexpected tragedies and events occur. I wrote In The Trenches to help others keep moving forward rather than sinking backwards.

In The Trenches, what does that sound like to you? The term it is one commonly associated with the military and conjures associations of a battlefront. Indeed, In The Trenches is a defensive posture with an offensive goal. "How does it apply to finances?" you may wonder?
People are now facing a financial battle brought on by unexpected or unplanned circumstances. Many more feel that they have worked so long, with so little to show for it. For all these people, it’s time to get In The Trenches. The battle strategy from In The Trenches that I would like to share today is the simple act of setting a goal, even if it is the simple desire to be self-sufficient.

Whether it is food stamps, unemployment, or even subsidized housing, the first step toward financial independence and freedom is to set a goal. It may take six months or more to achieve your goal, but if you keep walking forward in the direction you plan, you will reach your destination. Remember the first line? If you are not moving forward you will slide backward.

If you are currently receiving any type of welfare assistance, I'd like to share a story with you that I hope will illustrate why your first goal should be to overcome your dependence on financial assistance.

A Common Story
At my work, we hired a young woman fresh out of high school. For the purposes of this story, we'll call her Jane. The job we hired Jane for wasn't great, but it was a good place for her to gain experience and a pay check. Unfortunately, Jane had no goals and no direction. She became pregnant, but decided not to marry the father, with whom she had a rocky relationship. Jane reasoned that she could qualify for many types of government assistance if she stayed single and the money could supplement the income she made at her job.

It was not long before the baby arrived and Jane set out as a single mother, making every attempt to raise the child on her own. She continued to maintain an open relationship with the child's father because she wanted her baby to have a two-parent family. The unstable relationship caused Jane to move several times in the next couple of years. When together, the pair could afford a nicer home. When separate, Jane had to downsize again. While apart, they each dated others, creating more obstacles to their happiness.

After a separation, they got back together and talked about getting married. And what happened almost immediately? You guessed it. Jane was pregnant again. Watching the downward spiral of Jane's life was hard for her co-workers. But none of us expected what happened next. Jane told us she was quitting her job. As the whole department listened, trying to keep their jaws from dropping, she told us that she and her fiancé would now be a happy family and that she wanted to stay home with her children. Between the man who paid not one dime in child support and government assistance, Jane actually thought everything would work out fine.

After watching the drama unfold for two years, we were all very sad for Jane. Just a month later, we found out she was looking for a job again. Jane was wandering through life on a roller coaster to nowhere. Jane did have a vague goal. She wanted a happy stable family. But she was clearly going about it the wrong way. Anyone could see that. But there is an old saying, “They can’t see the forest through the trees,” and that's exactly what had happened to our friend Jane. Even sadder, Jane's situation is not so unusual.

Jane is not Alone
In Washington State in 1960, the rate of babies born to unmarried mothers was 3 percent. By 2007 it had climbed to 33 percent*. In 2000, the number of married couples with children at poverty level was 6 percent. Compare that to the number of single female heads of household children in poverty, 31 percent!* The worst part of the debacle is that it took place long before the financial crisis of 2007 set in.

So ladies, what is our goal here? To get off assistance. Benefits won't last forever, and without strong support from a partner or your family, expecting to raise a family on financial assistance alone is unrealistic.

Achieve Your Goal in Three Steps
How does one go about this goal? As a single mother myself, I’m going to recommend three steps:

1. Get your personal life in order. If not for your own sake, then for your children. There are many good books to help, but two in particular were the most helpful to me. I only wish I had known about them when I was 16 years old:
  • Too Close Too Soon, by Bobby Reed and Dr. Jim A Talley
  • The Rules, by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider

2. Get a job and give it your all. Start someplace...anyplace. It does not have to be your dream career or even something you want to do for more than a year, but any job looks better on a resume than no job. If you can' find one, begin doing volunteer work or odd jobs. Find one that lets you bring your children if you can't find a family member to help care for the kids.

3. One friend of mine who loved to clean found a job in the hospital's Housekeeping Department and made more money than I did. She earned benefits like a retirement fund, bonuses, and recognition for her excellent work. Many companies offer medical, dental, education, and profit sharing. If nothing else, you gain experience. Keep working on your budgeting and money management plans.

Follow the advice you find on blogs like Billeater and keep moving forward, not backward. Use your desire to learn all you can about managing your resources effectively and profitably.

Many Janes, One Lesson
You might think Jane's story doesn't really apply to you, that such situations have no effect on your life. But if you are a taxpayer, if you have kids in school, if you are a single mom struggling to get by, then the lessons Jane learned most certainly apply to you.

Managing finances is not just about money. The way you manage finances reflects on your choices, goals, and values in life. All these facets of life are subject to change and we can all change them today by taking steps to keep moving forward.

Because finding a job is the first step to financial independence, you can use the Job Profitability Worksheet in her book to help you make the best and most profitable job choice, calculating not just wages, but the costs and benefits involved in any employment.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

How are your juggling skills?

If someone were to ask you what are the basic necessities of life what would you answer?  Most of us would answer food, clothing, shelter, and medical care (for those who have physical ailments).  But is this how we plan our lives or our budgets?  Recently I heard of a survey where regular manicures were included on the list of basic necessities.  How about cell phones?  A car?  A college education?  Pampers?  Somewhere along the line the expectations and definition of basic necessity has changed.  And, in attempting to maintain this new level of what is assumed to be expected people are scrambling to hold it all together amidst a changing environment. 

I'm not a juggler but I would imagine that it would be easier to keep one ball in the air than 10.  I have also seen those who are skilled are even able to juggle flaming objects.  Not my idea of a good time.  I prefer to keep it simple. Many approach planning a budget and paying their bills in the same manner and wonder why they can't keep all the objects in the air.

It is this principle that motivated The Minimum Basic Budget.  When the income gets cut some quick decisions need to be made.  The changes needed may not necessarily be permanent but indeed they do need to be done quickly.  By recognizing the need to focus on the basics early enough we have the opportunity to set down the rest so that we can keep these in the air.  Otherwise we run the risk of dropping them all and having to start over from the beginning. 

It is easy to point to the U.S. economic crisis and think that was when all our troubles began.  Indeed it was a turning point for many but often the signs of a diminishing personal economy were already rearing their faces but because we continued to receive a paycheck we were holding the hounds at bay.  The job loss was then just the last straw.

What were some of the signs?
  • Lack of savings.  This could be in the form of cash in the bank or other commodities.
  • Growing credit card debt.  Any credit card not paid in full each month is a sign of risk.
  • Living pay check to paycheck and counting the days until the next one.
  • Dependence on any government or public subsidy including welfare, food stamps, student loans, and tax credits.
  • Car payments.
  • More bills in the mail than letters from friends.
These are just some of the signs and may raise the hackles of some who still don't want to acknowledge that these warning signs existed and evasive action was needed.  Yes, I too, recognized some of these signs in my own finances so am not immune.  In fact, it is because I have had to start over more than once that I am beginning to learn the steps to the dance.

The bottom line is that there will ALWAYS be more opportunities to spend money than there are for most of us to earn it.  So the goal cannot always be to EARN MORE but to MANAGE BETTER.  Even if you have lost everything that gives you the opportunity to start over and become a more proficient juggler.  Dropping all the balls is sometimes the first step to figuring out which ones are really necessary.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Dollar Store

"How much is it?"
"It's only a buck."

When we go to The Dollar Store we hear those phases repeated over and over again.  It always makes us laugh as we catch ourselves time after time repeating it along with all the other shoppers.  Yes, the sign on the door says so but we continue to ask anyway.

About once a month we head in and have a great time roaming through the aisles finding all the strange and unusual things on the shelves.  Most do not carry the standard policy of  when the shelf is empty it gets refilled.  No, each time we go there is a different collection of items to pick and choose through as the owner has picked up the deals along the way.  With the holidays approaching the variety is even more colorful.

Even the kids can take their change and find something new and different to enjoy.  Once of the best purchases that was made was a package of colorful pipe cleaners.  Hours and hours of enjoyment and creativity was used in the making of mobiles, bird cages, and roses.  All for a buck.  The same happened with a package of colored Popsicle sticks. 

Some of the many items we have found:
  • Cleaning products including window cleaner, laundry detergent, and dish soap.  Some are brand name
  • Socks. 3 pair for a dollar
  • Party supplies
  • Hardcover and paperback books including some of the top authors
  • Umbrellas
  • Toothpaste
  • Bungee Cords at another store $6
  • T-shirts
  • Hair accessories
  • Calculator
  • Bibles
  • First aid supplies including ibuprofen and band aids
  • Pet Supplies
  • Picture frames
  • Holiday items
  • School supplies
  • Liquid hand soap/sanitizer
  • Gloves
  • Puzzles at another store $4
  • and, my favorite - pink flamingo decorative items.
They also sell all manner of food items but as is always true, know your prices.  A can of vegetables at $1 is not the best price in town.

What can you still buy for a dollar?  Check it out.  You may be surprised and have a fun time in the process.  And, if you REALLY want to save money they also have the 99 cent store where you can even get back change from your dollar.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Teach a man to fish....

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."

One of the benefits of riding the bus is that one gets to see a cross section of the population on a regular basis and whether you want to or not you overhear the things that effect their lives.  From the job commuters to the unemployed, all ages, races, professions, and walks of life are represented on their good and bad days.  Often one ends up sitting and visiting with a person totally unlike themselves and there may be only one thing we have in common... we are both on that bus, that day, at that time.  I have met band members, drunks, salesmen, Republicans, gang members, single mothers, Christians, atheists, grand parents, Democrats, American born, able bodied and those in wheelchairs, and tourists from throughout the world.

Almost everybody talks about money.  How they make it, how they spend it, how they need it, and how they hope to get more.  The talk about how they are getting a house or losing a home.  Some are applying for a job, or going to the unemployment office.  They talk about where the sales are or who's playing in the football game.  They share and listen to the events of the their lives and develop friendships with others who ride the same schedule each day.

Just as often they look out the window and give one another their space.  Many talk on their cell phones and act like they are not broadcasting their lives and loves to the entire bus.  Book reading is the other major activity and I do much of this myself.

On our journey the closer to downtown are the beggars.  I'm not always sure what else to call them.  Most have a sign and walk between the cars at the stop light asking for money.  Many are there everyday.  Some beat me there in the morning as I go to work and still there in the evening when I come home.  Day after day, month after month.  Some are as faithful to their begging as I to my job.  In addition to the regulars are the passersby who ask for a cigarettes, bus fare, or any spare change.  More than once I have seen people ask for bus money, receive it, and then not get on the next bus. 

Many leave trash at the bus stop.  Mostly the bags or cups from the fast food places and many empty beer bottles and cans.  The strange part is that often the garbage is left only a few feet away from the trash can.  I guess many think there is a magical trash fairy who goes around and picks it up and apparently there is because it starts over the next morning.  And, worst of all on the streets are the unmentionables.  Everytime I see them I am shocked and appalled that one would leave them on the street. If you don't know what I'm talking about than you have not yet walked a city street so I will spare the details.

These are the streets of our cities.  Some are better, some are worse.  I actually live and work in the "good" part of town so what I'm am describing are the AVERAGE Americans that our government policies and programs are intended to help.  These are some of the people who are receiving the tax credits, cash assistance, and unemployment extentions we hear so much about.  Most long to have their own car so they no longer have to be reminded of the others. 

Recovery - one family at a time.
Throughout my writing I have attempted to highlight the importance of the individual family in the midst of the greater population.  Beginning and throughout the process I have strived to stress that the starting point is our own actions and response is to all that is going on around us.  Then, and now, I have believed that the important, and yes, right, approach to our nations difficulties can be summed up in the following:

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."

It is for this reason I have sought to give away the free copy of In The Trenches.  Education and not social aid is the #1 key to America getting back on it's feet.  We can give away all the tax credits and free money we want but it will only drive the country farther into debt and not solve the problems. 

In taking the next step in my own journey and to help make available the copy of the free book I would like to offer the following:  If you or any non-profit organization you are affiliated with are interested and feel you know people who would benefit from In The Trenches I will offer them at my cost to anyone interested in getting 10 or more copies for distribution.  This would include food programs, churches, or even your unemployed relatives. The cost will be roughly half of the single copy price offered on Amazon.  The exact amount will depend on shipping.    The worksheets accompaning the book are already available for free in the sidebar.

I also hope to have a Kindle version available in January of 2012 and am beginning to prepare the material in a format suitable for small group or individual presentations.  It is my hope that the materials may be used to supplement other financial training programs now in progress or provide a beginner level program to those who find themselves In The Trenches. 

I plan to mention this a number of times over the next few months to give our readers the greatest opportunity to be aware of this offer so please don't think that in doing so I am trying to promote myself for I will earn nothing from the effort.  I just would like to make sure everyone is aware.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Enjoy the journey

Many have been on the In The Trenches journey for almost three years now.  That is when it became evident that the economy and it's shaky foundations was starting it's rocking and rolling.  Many more have joined the journey along the way and have had to make radical changes to their lifestyles, ideas, and choices.

According to a Wall Street Journal article dated Sept 26, 2011 there are still 40 million individuals receiving food stamps.  Even if you don't like to follow the news the statistics in this article are extremely interesting and will probably surprise you.  They did me.  I could write an entire post on just this article but will save that for another day.  The point of my noting it is to validate that we as an American Economy have a long way to go in our recovery. 

Recovery from anything whether it be health, addiction, or financial is a long process and there is much to change and learn along the way.  But, it can be the best time of our lives if we choose to allow our minds to focus on the positive aspects.  One does not often appreciate health, beauty, or opportunity until it is gone.  Can this also be true about our challenges?

So today if you have no extra money in your pocket and the kids are driving you nuts, notice the green grass in the backyard, the neighborhood park, and the public library.  It is time to give thanks. 

There is not much to eat in the house so you mix a little of this, a little of that, and realize that you have just created a culinary masterpiece.  It is time to give thanks.

You have no gas to get to the job interview and the neighbor offers you a ride.  It is time to give thanks. 

So much we have and take for granted we forget to appreciate each and everyday.  So much is given to us that costs us nothing and being In The Trenches can be the opportunity to open our eyes to the abundance around us each and every day and give thanks.  The change that comes over us in the process is amazing.  Instead of the moaning, groaning, and down cast shoulders we can hold our heads up, smile at everyone we see, and movitates us to keep on keeping on.  The other day someone told a group of us that there are millions around the world who would love to come to America just to be poor.  So starting from there we move forward.  We choose whether we do so with moaning and a scowl on our faces or a smile and holding the door for someone else.  I ride the bus, I see both everyday.

This is our life, we only have one.  Enjoy the journey.

While I was looking for a photo for this post I found the website I Skip .  How funny!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

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.  If the article below ignites your spirit there are other Christmas posts right below if you hit the older posts button.  See, after my break from writing it really did fly!  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.  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 August.” (Oh, no, it's already October first!) 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.