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Why You Need to Start Planning for Christmas Now

It’s hot, you’re sweaty and longing for some relief from the heat of summer. Kinda’ makes you think about cooler days ahead, right? And while thinking, you may also be dreaming of brisk mornings, fall colors, back-to-school and … Christmas!

Summer is the perfect time to think ahead about the holiday season. Start planning now and you’ll benefit in so many ways come December.

Before I find myself dealing with angry responses from readers who find the phenomena of “Christmas creep” to be offensive (a merchandising phenomenon in which merchants and retailers exploit the commercialized status of Christmas by introducing Christmas-themed merchandise or decorations earlier and earlier each year), that’s not what I’m talking about. In fact, I find that quite objectionable myself. I don’t want the Christmas season to start until we’ve cleaned up the last of the Thanksgiving turkey.

What I’m talking about is planning and getting organized now without the overwhelming pressure and panic that I know will come once I’ve waited too long and believe my only option is to rack up a pile of debt to just get through the season. I just hate that feeling of being under the gun, driven by guilt and remorse to mark names off a list; compelled to buy something—anything!—to get through the holiday.

The Difference Between a Life of Joy or One of Misery

The longer I live, the more convinced I become that it’s not the amount of money a person has, but what he or she does with it that makes the difference between a life of joy or one of misery.

Years ago, a friend of mine won the New York State Lottery, with guaranteed annual checks of $200,000 for 10 years. Two million dollars seemed too good to be true. Brett was over the moon with joy because he knew his days of financial misery were over. He could pay off all of his debts, and buy the car he needed so badly for his young family and a new home, too. Just like that, he was a millionaire. And, boy, was he happy. He couldn’t write those checks fast enough. He bought a new car the following weekend, and they bought their dream home, as well.

Why 15 Cents Matters

I used to think that small amounts of money didn’t matter. What difference could $5 here or $10 there make when we were more than $100,000 in debt (not counting the house and cars)?

So what if I increased our debt by such a small amount—it wouldn’t really matter because we already owed so much. I used the same argument for not paying anything more than the minimum monthly payments on our credit cards because that too would make no difference.

Boy, did I have a lot to learn. The truth is that we five-and-10-dollared ourselves to death. It was the little things that added up to create a huge monster. Thinking that the little things didn’t matter freed us to think $2, $5 or $20 didn’t matter … then $50 didn’t matter, and on and on it went.

Ironically, it was the little things that turned us around, too. Sending an extra $2, $5 or $20 every month to rapidly repay the debt we were targeting helped us find a way to make the payment $22, then $35 and soon a $100 payment became standard.

I’ve had people look at me like I was a little weird when I suggested they should not use a first-class stamp on a postcard. I mean, does 15 cents really matter? I think it does, not so much for the dime and nickel, but for the attitude. You see, if you casually throw 15 cents away when it comes to a postage stamp, it’s much easier to begin thinking slightly larger sums don’t matter, either. And soon you’ll be on your way to thinking $20 is not a big deal. Then you’ll be headed for trouble.

Yes, my friends, 15 cents does matter. If you understand that, then $1.50 matters and $15 will matter even more, and on and on right up to $15,000.

Some wise person once said, “Watch the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves.” I have proven that to be true and I hope you can, too.

Here are three easy ways to stash cash:

Coins. Don’t spend them. Save them, instead. Every evening, empty your pockets, purse and wallet of all coins. Even if the bill comes to $4.05, hand the clerk a $5 bill and stash the difference. When you accumulate $25 or so, roll, wrap and send them off to your savings account.

Windfalls. No matter how small, make it a habit to bank all coupon savings, rebate checks, refunds and other “found money.”

Save an extra 10 percent. Stash 10 percent of your pocket money, grocery money and any other “walk around” funds you control in your secret savings spot. Chances are you won’t even miss it. But soon you’ll discover that $2 here and $4 there really adds up.

Stop Whining!

As the mother of two young world-class whiners, the behavior modification techniques described in the booklet—more like a pamphlet—appeared too simple to be taken seriously.

In desperation, however, I decided to give the anti-whining program my best shot.

Day One: Whenever one of the boys whined I did exactly as prescribed. I got down to his level, looked him straight in the eye and said in a firm-yet-gentle manner,

Stop whining! I cannot listen to you when you whine because it gives me a headache.

Next, I imitated what he said and the way he said it, right down to his nasally, high-pitched, sing-song tone. Then I restated in a grown-up voice what he said, using a better choice of words and required him to repeat it without whining, blaming or complaining.

I did this no fewer than 397 times before bedtime on Day One.

Day Two: The second day was similar to the first except after my demonstration of the correct way to communicate, I had to turn away and ignore the child until on his own he restated his need or situation without whining, blaming or complaining.

Just Hand Over the Sweet Peas and No One Gets Hurt

Confession is good for the soul, I’m told, and so I’d like to confess. I came this close to clocking the woman standing in front of me in the very crowded pick-up line at the airport last week. It’s not that she was rude or jumped in front of me or anything like that. She was holding a bouquet of fresh flowers … Sweet Peas!

It seems that she’d just returned having chaperoned an entire class of high-school students on a Spring Break trip. Amazingly, she appeared to have all of her mental faculties intact and a sweet attitude, too!  As for those flowers, a grateful parent presented them to her as a kind of welcome-home-I-still-can’t-believe-you-were-brave-enough-to-do-this kind of gift.

I don’t mind that she had flowers. But Sweet Peas? Clearly, homegrown from a garden within driving distance of my home? Not only were they beautiful, they were abundant. I mean gigantic blooms with perfect ruffles, and a bouquet so large this woman could barely get her hands around it.

I inched ever closer to her just to get a whiff of that fragrance. But I couldn’t appreciate it much for all the envy that flooded my soul. My garden should be overflowing with Sweet Peas at this very moment. It’s not. I am so angry at myself. You see, I procrastinated. I thought I had plenty of time to get my seeds into the ground for a glorious spring harvest of Sweet Peas.

But no … I had other things to do. Then it rained. I got busy. I lost my window of planting opportunity.

Saving money is a lot like planting. You need to do it early then you can sit back and relax. But unlike those of you who’ve lost your window of opportunity to save early and reap a big harvest come retirement, I’ll get another chance.

Next fall I will plant early and spring 2018 is going to yield a bumper crop of Sweet Peas like the world has never known. You just wait.

While you’ll never be able to catch up fully on what might have been if you’d started an aggressive savings program years ago, that should not stop you from starting now. Today.

Determine to put away the same amount (or more, never less) every month, week … or day. Just do it. You won’t notice much of anything in the beginning. But some time from now you’ll be reaping a bountiful harvest that’s going to make life much more enjoyable down the road.

Six Reasons to Celebrate!

Celebrate? With all that’s going on in our economy, our nation—our world?  Given the challenges of the day, you may be thinking that’s the last thing you’ll be doing now, or anytime soon. If so, let me encourage you to think again. Now, of all times, we need to celebrate wherever and whenever possible.

In their book, Why Good Things Happen to Good People, authors Stephen Post and Julie Neimark tell us that celebration is one of the most important ways that we express gratitude. Celebration is gratitude in action, and celebration—like rest, seat belts, and green leafy vegetables—is good for us!

Jumping

Celebration creates joy. Feeling down in the dumps? Celebrate something or someone. The gratitude you feel as a result of celebrating others, or creation in general, will help you to be less materialistic and therefore more easily satisfied with what life brings your way. It’s a fact that gratitude actually creates joy within our souls. 

Don’t Throw in the Towel—Find a Solution!

On this Memorial Day we pause to reflect on the brave sacrifices of those who have given their lives for this great nation. We honor the sacrifices of prior generations. We honor the sacrifices of the men and women in our own communities who have served or continue to serve our country. We pledge never to forget the meaning of this day. It is with the utmost gratitude we say thanks. God bless America.

As the story goes, the owner of a hair salon in a small town enjoyed the serenity of knowing that his was the only salon in town. He was responsible for cutting and styling the hair of just about every resident.

photo credit: gruntledemployees.com

His income allowed him to live comfortably and even send all of his six children to college.

Unfortunately for him, big business showed up one day. Right across the street from his busy little hair salon sprang up one of those new full-service franchises.

Immediately the media campaign began. Ads in newspapers, magazines, and billboards announced, “EVERYTHING FOR $6.00! $6.00 haircuts, $6.00 perms, $6.00 manicures, everything for $6.00.”

Soon all of his customers even his neighbors began visiting the salon across the street while his salon sat empty. Desperate, he hired an expensive consultant. “I’m finished,” he moaned. “It’s impossible for me, just one little business owner, to compete with that big, powerful corporation. I can’t match their prices and I sure cannot beat them. I might as well throw in the towel now!”

The consultant squinted at the salon across the street and took a very long pause. “Not just yet, not just yet,” he responded.

With that the consultant picked up the phone and dialed the town’s only billboard company. “Yes, on top of our salon … big letters: WE FIX $6.00 HAIRCUTS!”

You Can Have Your Smashed Avocado and a House, Too

I love a good story, especially one that for some unknown reason goes viral, setting off a media firestorm. Like this one:

On a recent episode of the Australian news show, 60 Minutes, property mogul and self-avowed millionaire Tim Gurner casually suggested that the reason millennials cannot afford to buy a house is they’re addicted to $19 Avocado toast and $4 Coffee.

Say, what?

I love avocados and I’m a big fan of toast, but I must admit that I’d never heard of this Avocado Toast—an apparent luxury item that has the younger generation so strapped, a good number are back living with their parents, destined to never having a home of their own.

Oh man, did that not sit well with a lot of millennials. The Internet was ablaze with snarky comments and every effort imaginable to set this Gurner fellow straight.

I read with a bit of glee as one money expert after another “did the math” to prove that giving up twice-monthly $19 Avocado Toast would not make a dent in a millennial’s ability to save a 20-percent down payment on a house. They did this by dividing $19 into a typical 20 percent down payment on an average American house. It got quite funny.