This is a guest post by David W. Hegg
, MA, D.Min, senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church
; professor, blogger, columnist, husband, father, grandfather and brother of your humble columnist! Visit Dave at his website
and follow him on Twitter
So … here we go again! With Thanksgiving behind us and Black Friday staring us down there are no more excuses. The Christmas season has officially arrived and we’re already tired! Worse, memories of past seasons have us secretly wishing we’d actually planned that December trip to Hawaii.
But this year can be different if we’ll just take the reins and use Christmas rather than, once again, allowing the season to use and abuse us. Here are a few thoughts on making the season work for us.
PRIZE PEOPLE OVER PRESENTS. One of the biggest challenges of the season is gift giving, especially if you have many to shop for, and do most of the family buying yourself. I can see you already. You’ve made lists for everyone, and lists of lists including stores and sizes. Or maybe you’re way behind in your list making, and that is just adding more stress.
Here’s the deal. Make this Christmas about the people more than the presents. Reach out and reconnect with some distant friends. A phone conversation may be the best gift they get. And plan some family time without media distractions so you can recover the meaning of conversation, laughter, and love.
More than half of Americans, reportedly, make New Year’s resolutions. And 88 percent of those resolutions end in failure, according to a study by British psychologist Richard Wiseman.
There is a scientific reason for this fail rate that once we understand, we’ll be able to keep our resolutions long enough to make them stick.
The bottom line is that our brains cannot handle New Year’s resolutions. No seriously. It has to do with willpower and our brains’ cells that operate that particular mental function.
The human brain is divided up into sections—each one handling different aspects of brain function. The pre-frontal cortex (the part located at the front behind your forehead) is assigned the tasks of 1) staying focused 2) handling short-term memory 3) solving abstract tasks and 4) willpower.
Here’s the problem: That part of your brain cannot handle all of those things at the same time. It requires a huge amount of focus and willpower to change a learned behavior overnight, which is what a New Year’s resolution demands.
Bad habits are hard to break—and they’re impossible to break if we try to break them all at once. The focus and willpower required are just too much for the human brain. It simply cannot deliver.
The human pre-frontal cortex is like a muscle. It has to be trained. If you joined a local gym, you would never dream of starting out lifting a 300-pound barbell on your first session. You’d start with a 2-pound weight for a 2-minute session, working up slowly to heavier weights and longer periods of endurance.
Whether you want to look good or just to feel better, reaching your goal traditionally comes at a significant cost. But not if you’re a dedicated cheapskate. While medications and beauty products you use must be safe, there’s no reason that you have to pay exorbitant prices to ensure such qualify. Here are some fascinating and functional tips for saving time and stretching costs on everything from deodorant to skin care and more.
VISIT THE MEN’S DEPARTMENT. Buy mens toiletries if you have a choice when it comes to unscented deodorant, shaving foam and hair colorings, for example. Products manufactured specifically for men are significantly cheaper ounce for ounce than those made for women. Go figure.
SHAMPOO. With great confidence you can confidently stop being a shampoo snob. In a Consumer Reports test of 132 name-brand shampoos, the lowly cheap brands from the supermarket rated just as highly as the pricey salon brands. Just make sure you know how to read the product’s list of ingredients.
SUNLESS TAN. Smooth baby oil on skin and allow it to penetrate before applying sunless tanning lotion to achieve a more even, lighter tanning effect, especially on elbows and feet.
As you can imagine, every week I get a lot of mail from my readers containing hundreds of questions. While I can’t respond personally to every letter, I select questions I believe will have a broad appeal to the greatest number of readers to answer in a future column, like today’s.
DEAR MARY: We love your Everyday Cheapskate column! I still have the article on the table about cutting the cable, but I wonder if you have a recommendation about recording once the cable box is gone? We’re not always home to watch live TV and there are some things we would like to watch at a more convenient time. Any suggestions? And thanks so much for all of your help over the years! Pat and Richard
DEAR PAT AND RICHARD: You definitely have options for recording capability without having cable TV service. But it’s not free. The most popular is TiVO Roamio, which is an over-the-air DVR that comes with two purchase options:
Salt. It’s mandatory in a human diet. But salt can be as destructive as it is needful due to its ability to eat holes through metal and leave ugly stains on footwear.
DEAR MARY: I have several pair of beautiful winter fashion boots in suede and leather. I’d like to remove salt stains from last winter’s misuse but don’t want to take them to a cobbler. Any advise on how I can do this myself? Maha
DEAR MAHA: We should be thankful for sidewalk salt in the wintertime, because it’s effective at helping us avoid injuries from slipping on icy surfaces. Of course, the downside is, these chunky salt particles get on boots and shoes causing damage and ugly stains.
Cleaning these stains from your leather and suede footwear regularly throughout the winter will help them last and looking good for many years to come.
What would you do this holiday season if you had absolutely no money to spend and no available credit, either?
That’s the question I ask this time of year, and the responses have been all over the map from all-out panic to excitement at the thought of taking on such a challenge.
I’m not suggesting this should be the case for anyone. I’m simply posing the question in the same way I might ask what you would do if you noticed your kitchen on fire or your child choking on a chicken bone. Knowing to call 911 is good, but so is having a fully-charged fire extinguisher handy and a working knowledge of the Heimlich Maneuver.
So, let me ask you, could you do it? Could you find ways to celebrate Christmas that would fill your heart with joy and create warm and lasting memories, even if you had no money and no credit?
You know, when you come right down to it, isn’t that what we really want for Christmas? Isn’t that why we work so hard and often spend so much, to find joy and make memories that will last for a lifetime?
Just as I was knee-deep in researching, testing and learning all I could about electric space heaters, this letter washed up on my desk.
DEAR MARY: I need your help to figure out how we can reduce our home heating bill. It’s killing us to pay so much to keep our house warm in the winter.
We have a gas furnace and where I live the cost of gas has gone up more than 10 percent, while at the same time the cost of electricity has gone down slightly. Our home is two story with a basement. Our kids are grown so it’s just the two of us. My husband travels for his work, so I’m the only one here most of the time. Thanks in advance for your help! Jeanine
DEAR JEANINE: The most efficient and easiest way to reduce your home heating cost is to heat only the rooms that are occupied, while keeping your furnace set very low to say 55 or 60 F. Then use space heaters to make occupied rooms comfortable, while they are occupied. You can rely on this method during the day as well as at night.
You could easily see your heating bill drop 35 percent or more by simply keeping the main source of heat set very low, supplementing with electric space heaters. It’s such a simple way to make a huge difference in your home heating costs.
I love to travel, which is my favorite unintended consequence of founding Debt-Proof Living. And, I’ve learned, travel always involves challenges. That’s why I have adopted an attitude that no matter how well I’ve planned, if something can go wrong it probably will. And if it doesn’t? That’s my travel bonus.
Over the years I’ve collected a bunch of really great travel tips—some fun, some crazy but all of them very useful if only to avoid a headache or two. Here are 10 of my favorites:
1. Before you leave, scan the front and back of every item in your wallet including your passport. Email the images to yourself. Now you’ll always have a digital copy handy in case you lose something. This will not substitute for your passport, ID or credit card, but you’ll have all of the pertinent information you need to keep going.
2. Instead of folding your clothes, roll them tightly. They’ll take up less space in your luggage and that can save having to pay extra baggage fees.