The Secret for a Debt-Free Holiday Season in One Word

It’s not exactly a new word to me. But I’m pretty sure I’d never actually used the word predetermine in a sentence until my pastor referred to it recently—and in a way that turned on a bright light in my noggin.

To predetermine is to make a decision in advance. That describes perfectly what it means to budget. You get your paycheck and before you do anything with it, you predetermine where every dollar will go. You give each dollar a job to do—in advance. You predetermine!

Here we are on the cusp of one more glorious, fabulous, exciting and joyful Holiday Season. How can we do this without going into debt? Predetermine. That’s it! Decide or establish in advance what we will do, how much we will spend; where you will go, what you will do. Yes, I know that sounds very much like a Spending Plan and it is. The way to get to a Spending Plan is to—you guessed it!—predetermine.

Take the gift-giving part of the season. How can we predetermine in that area? Two things:

COST: Look at your gift list and predetermine how much money you will spend for each. Decide this fact. Plant it in your brain. Write it on your heart. Write it down or whatever else it takes to establish this in advance.

GIFT: Here is a foolproof way to select the perfect gift for each of your giftees: Ask yourself what does he or she really care about? By that I mean what would this person say they could never have enough of?

For my husband, a hobby woodworker, the answer would come without hesitation: He could never have enough clamps. Every year I make sure there are clamps under the tree for my favorite woodworker and every year he says that same thing: “Oh good, I can never have too many clamps!” Read more

3 Ways to Find Extra Cash for Christmas

It’s still summer, but not too early to start planning for Christmas. If you’re ready to make this year a debt-free Christmas, I’ve got three very useful ways to find the extra cash you’ll need to do that.

Time is of the essence because Christmas will be here before we know it!

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Rather than choose one of the following options, I suggest you consider doing all three. Don’t let that intimidate you. And don’t worry about having to start up a side business or make any kind of upfront investment, either. The options that follow are all free and require nothing but your spare time to begin racking up extra cash.

SWAGBUCKS 

Swagbucks is an online rewards program that gives users points (“Swag Bucks,” or SBs) for various tasks—100 points = $1.00. Points can be traded in for eGift cards for more than 1,500 popular merchants like Amazon, Target, Starbucks and Walmart. Don’t want gift cards? Redeem your points for cold, hard cash via PayPal.

Swagbucks rewards members for the everyday things they already do online like shopping, answering surveys and polls, watching entertaining videos, discovering videos, searching the web and even playing games. 

Members can earn SBs using the mobile app and from their computers. 

To get started, create your free Swagbucks account. Once verified (you’ll get a verification email message) you’ll get your first 5 SBs. Then take a quick survey or watch a 5-minute video. The opportunities to earn SBs will be endless. Do as little or as much as you want. 

Swagbucks is super easy to use and you’ll be amazed how quickly you can earn SBs. We have EC readers who earn hundreds of dollars every year that they earmark for Christmas shopping!

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A Procrastinator’s Guide to Saving Valentine’s Day

Friends. This is Friday. Valentine’s Day is Wednesday. I know, I can’t believe it either. Before you start to stress, let’s get a plan together.

The way I see it, you have four options:

  1. Ignore the day altogether and assume your spouse, kids, grandkids, friends, family, and co-workers, will think you forgot and give you a pass.
  2. Get thee to the card shop and post office to pick up Valentine’s cards and plenty of postage stamps, then get them in the mail, pronto!
  3. Make sweet treats in your kitchen befitting the day.
  4. Find that perfect little something for those perfect someones in your life—there is still plenty of time.

Should you be leaning toward option #4, here are 21 great gift ideas sure to please that can be delivered on time and, won’t break the bank:

 

GIFTS FOR KIDS

1. Happy Valentine’s Day Blank Sketchbook. Kids of all ages love to doodle and draw. Here’s a fun sketchpad that will let them keep their creations together in a safe place.

2. Roses Are Pink, Your Feet Really Stink. Love to hear your young readers giggle? Whether they read it themselves or you read it to them, this cute story about Gilbert, a fuzzy-looking woodland creature who comes up with “nice” rhymes for his classmates will bring out the laughter while teaching about kindness and forgiveness.

3. Junie B. Jones and the Mushy Gushy Valentime. Hurray! February 14—Valentime’s Day, as June B. calls it—is just around the corner. Junie B. can’t wait to see all the valentimes she’ll get. But she never expected a big, mushy mystery! Adorable story.

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Do You Hear the Bells?

The year was 1859 and Charles Dickens starts his classic A Tale of Two Cities with,

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair ….

As I read this passage it makes me wonder: Was Dickens referring to life in 1859 or looking into the future to December 2017?

 

With this year’s devastating hurricanes, epic fires, horrific shootings and—just this past week—tragic train wreck so fresh in our memories, many are wondering about Christmas. Where, among all this, is our peace on earth and goodwill toward man? This feels like Dickens’ season of darkness, our winter of despair.

Recently, I heard the story of one of America’s most beloved poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In 1861, his wife Fanny was fatally burned in an accident, but only after Longfellow attempted to save her and was severely burned himself. Too ill from his burns and grief, Henry did not attend her funeral.

The first Christmas after Fanny’s death, Longfellow wrote in his journal, Read more

Keeping Holiday Party Costs Under Control

Most of us, when we think of the cost of Christmas, think gifts. But there are so many other expenses like travel, entertainment, decorations and mailing costs. And parties!

How can we be warm and generous hosts without breaking the bank? That the question today’s first reader asks.

Beautiful buffet set for Christmas

Dear Mary: This year it’s my turn to throw the family Christmas party. Last Christmas, my sister-in-law created a tough act to follow by having her party catered with expensive hors-d’oeuvres and top-shelf champagne. I can’t afford catering, but I want to put on a spread that’s as impressive as hers. How do I accomplish that without going into debt in the process? Natasha

Dear Natasha: Trying to upstage your sister-in-law puts you in a no-win situation. Turn your thoughts instead to making this your party—a special gift of your love to your family, not a competition to see who spent the most money.

Once you determine how much cash you have to spend, go online. Check out websites like FoodNetwork.com, RecipeTinEats.com, Epicurious.com, AllRecipes.com, and BarefootContessa.com. Do a Google search, typing in Top Recipe Websites or Top Recipe Blogs in the search bar. You will be amazed at the results. Pay particular attention to websites and recipes devoted to holiday fare, particularly hors-d’oeuvres. Read more

The Joy of Giving is Its Own Reward But a Tax Break is a Nice Bonus

Here’s a great way to let your children experience the joy of giving to others who may not be as fortunate this Christmas. Help them go through their toys, picking out those that are still in great shape, but they’ve outgrown.

Then let the kids go with you to donate the toys to a shelter or other charitable organization in your community that will be grateful to accept them.

Boy taking donation box full with stuff to donate

While you’re at it, consider you have only a few more weeks to make other tax-qualified donations. Even though you will have until April 2018 to file for Tax Year 2017, midnight on Dec. 31, 2017, is the deadline to actually make qualified donations. (Be sure to get a receipt).

Your bonus for donating to tax-qualified charities could be a reduction in the tax you owe or a nice increase in your refund check.

Figuring out the allowable market-value of your items can be tricky. If you value them at less than the IRS will allow, you could be leaving money on the table. But if you err on the side of valuing too high, you could be setting yourself up for a tax audit and no one wants an IRS tax audit! The solution is to use a valuation guide that is not only reliable but certified.

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A Lavish Gift Exchange

When our boys were only toddlers, we and our best friends, who have three children just about the same ages as our boys, decided that we would have a Family Christmas Party early in December. We called it that even though the two families were not technically related. We invited two sets of grandparents and one other older couple as well.

large family handing gifts to each other during a christmas dinner

Our common bond? Five adorable kids and all the grown-ups who love them. Everyone dressed up and the children performed their current talent. We had such a great time that we decided to make this Family Christmas Party an annual event.

That first year there were a few gifts—mostly small things for the children. But somehow over the years, the gifts grew in both quantity and quality. By the time this event passed the thirty-five-year mark, four of the five babies were married with babies of their own. Lots of kids! Two grandparents had died causing the family dynamic to change tremendously. But still the Family Christmas Party went on. And every year the problem would arise: What to do about gifts?

I give you this background so you can fully appreciate what happened that one year.

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Just Maybe the Best Homemade Holiday Gift Ever

When the holiday season arrives, the best gifts just might be from your kitchen. And when those gifts are extra decadent, well that just makes them even better.

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A couple of years ago I got the crazy idea to take my homemade gifts of food beyond cookies, cakes and pure vanilla extract to bacon. Seriously. More specifically Bacon Jam.

Yes! And I have to say that with all the challenges you’ll discover as you read to the end, Bacon Jam is quite possibly the best holiday gift ever. I say that because it’s what local friends and family clamor for.

Bacon Jam

  • 1 1/2 pounds sliced bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces (note 1)
  • 2 large yellow onions, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 3/4 cup strong brewed coffee
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (note 3)
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar, more or less to taste
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup (the real deal, please)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste

Note 1: Ignore the molasses in the photo.

Note 2: I’ve tested substituting bacon crumbles for bacon and wasn’t thrilled with the result. Your results may vary, which means crumbles are certainly an option.

Note 3: May substitute apple cider vinegar for all or part of the balsamic vinegar, which is what I do now after considering my own taste and feedback from my recipients. However, either will give you great results.

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The first step is to cut the bacon crosswise into one-inch pieces and cook them in a large skillet, stirring occasionally until the fat is rendered and the bacon is lightly browned about 20 minutes.

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