Hope for your financial life and beyond

Operation Christmas Child: Changing Lives One Shoebox at a Time

I believe the Bible when it says, He who has a generous eye will be blessed, for he gives of his bread to the poor”  (Proverbs 22:9). There are spiritual and emotional blessings that come when we give to others, especially those in challenging life situations. And this time of year I can think of nothing better to give to than Operation Christmas Child. 

operation christmas childCan you imagine living in a world with no Christmas? What does that look like?

There are no kids eager to wake you up at 7:00 a.m…no smiles when a gift is received…no feelings of being special…no thoughts that someone cares for you.

What an unattractive and dismal scenario. Sadly, millions of children all over the world experience a Christmas just like this.  Their Christmas is bitter, meaningless and without hope.

That’s where Operation Christmas Child steps in. But they are only able to do so with your help. Here is how.

Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Program

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10 Last Minute Gift Ideas For Him This Christmas

Do you have trouble shopping for that special guy in your life? Let’s face it, men are tough to shop for. It’s not easy to crack our code and find out what we’d really like to receive as a gift.

last minute gift ideas for himWaiting until the last minute to shop of course adds even more pressure. You’ll probably panic and end up buying him some socks. Not that we wouldn’t appreciate it – we’ll love any gift we get (or at least pretend to love it). In the interests of helping my men-fellows though, here are some last minute gift ideas for him that we’d appreciate even more.

Last Minute Gift Ideas For Him

Of course you know your man best. Some of these last minute gift ideas for him may not work. Additionally, you may have financial limitations that prevent these purchases. But I’m pretty sure, if you can afford it, he’ll absolutely love these items:

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Cheap Christmas Activities for Kids to Cure the Boredom

Several weeks ago my kids had several days off for Thanksgiving break. Within two hours of being home from school they were showing signs of boredom. I guess being out of their natural school routine was a shock to their system and they didn’t know what to do. Sound familiar?

christmas activities for kidsIt occurred to me that a more serious situation would be coming up soon – two weeks for Christmas break. Yikes! What Christmas activities for kids could I find to keep them from being bored out of their mind for that length of time?

Really it’s only the first week of break that is a concern – the week leading up to Christmas. So that’s five days or so that I have to keep them busy. After the 25th – with all the presents they receive – they usually have enough to occupy their interest and keep them busy until they return to school.

Of course I will grant them a small portion of their time to watch some TV and play video games. They’ve earned it with all the hard work they’ve put in at school. But I don’t want those two activities to take up the majority of the day.

And I certainly don’t want to be spending a lot of money on activities seeing how we are already spending a lot for gifts.

So here are some Christmas activities for kids I’ve come up with and will do my best to implement over that first week of Christmas break. I don’t know how original these are but by golly my kids are doing them. I don’t want to hear them whining about being bored.

Christmas Activities for Kids

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5 Money Saving Questions to Ask Before Buying Christmas Gifts

My wife and I never go shopping for Christmas gifts on Black Friday. I don’t care how good the deals are the crowds are just too much for us. We are more Cyber Monday or wait until the last minute type of people.

christmas giftsBuying Christmas gifts is always fun for us though because we love to spend money on the people we care about. It’s become even better recently since we’ve learned how to save money throughout the year to spend at Christmas. Now all of our Christmas gifts are paid for in cash and we never see a credit card bill come January.

While we all get excited about spending money on the people we love, it can get seriously out of hand. What happens in December can have short and long-term financial consequences if you don’t keep your spending on Christmas gifts in check. So before you make any purchases this year here are five simple questions you should ask yourself as you buy Christmas gifts for those special people in your life.

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Decorating Your Christmas Tree Doesn’t Have To Hurt Your Pocket

I was out shopping the other day for some festive autumn items to decorate the house for fall/Halloween and guess what I ran into? I turned the corner of an aisle and ran smack dab into Christmas stuff. Yes, the wrapping paper and decorations are already starting to hit the shelves.

kid in front of christmas treeOne of the mainstays of any home during the Christmas holidays is of course the Christmas tree. I have fond memories of Christmas and the giving that surrounds the season. It meant so much to my family growing up, seeing all the love and laughter shared around the Christmas tree as we exchanged gifts.

I will say a nicely decorated Christmas tree adds to the festive nature of the season. And of course trimming the tree is also the perfect opportunity to get the family together and share some quality time. Our kids love the opportunity to put all the decorations on the tree, meticulously placing them so they are spread around just right.

However, it can also get a little bit costly at a time when you’re pinching pennies for those last minute presents. Luckily, there are a few handy hints and tips to get your tree looking fabulous for less, letting you focus your budget on putting more things under the tree instead of on it!

Cost Effective Ways to Trim a Tree

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If You Have Never Read the Christmas Story…

My friend Shannon from The Heavy Purse has talked recently about the importance of traditions at Christmas. Like her I’ve seen how traditions help bind families together. They create strong emotional connections. They build lasting memories that are always looked back upon with fondness (or maybe not if you hated your family’s traditions…here’s to hoping that’s not the case).

away in a mangerOne tradition we started when our kids were old enough was to read the Christmas story from the Bible on Christmas Eve. After that we get a jump on unwrapping presents by opening the kids’ stockings. In recent years as the kids have become older, we’ve also added the viewing of “It’s a Wonderful Life” on Christmas Eve.

Even though we won’t be buying our kids presents this year, we will continue the reading and the movie watching. For us it’s a reminder of what the season means and how much we have for which to be grateful.

Perhaps you’ve never read the Bible story from Luke 2 about the birth of Jesus. It’s not what you might expect, considering Jesus was heralded in the Hebrew literature as the King of the Jews. He came into the world in the humblest of circumstances, surrounded by only his parents, some barnyard animals and a few unimportant shepherds.

Yet this simple story details the beginnings of a life that would change the world. I share it now with the hope that it might lead you to consider what Jesus could mean for you.

Merry Christmas!

The Biblical Christmas Story From Luke 2

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Why My Kids Love That We Are Not Buying Christmas Presents This Year

I love Christmas! Giving and receiving gifts is one of the highlights of our family’s year. In my mind nothing beats it for family togetherness and sharing expressions of love.

no Christmas presents As a parent though, I’m often hit with a January hangover. My headache comes from watching the majority of the presents I bought for my children lie dormant in a corner of their room. I would say that over 80% of the toys my wife and I purchase the kids each Christmas are played with a couple of times and then left to collect dust. That’s frustrating considering the money we shell out for them.

So last year we asked them to make a list of the items they wanted. They did. We bought them. Same issue occurred.

I’m not mad at the kids. I guess we just have trouble hitting their toy sweet spot.

So just the other week my wife and I decided to do something different this year. We aren’t buying any Christmas presents. To our surprise, when we told the kids what we were doing, they were 100% enthusiastically behind it.

Our Alternative to Christmas Presents

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5 Budgeting Tips to Save Money for the Holidays

Want to save money shopping this holiday season? Today’s guest post by freelance journalist Ivan Serrano begins our countdown to Christmas with these five budgeting tips.

With Thanksgiving only a week away, Americans are already shopping for the holidays.

budgeting tipsAccording to the 2014 Accenture Holiday Shopping Survey (.pdf), the average American is expected to spend $718 on holiday gifts alone. In addition, one-fourth of Americans plan to spend more on holiday shopping this year than they did in 2013.

While many Americans are planning to spend more during the upcoming holiday season, consumers are still looking for ways to save. Ninety-six percent of Americans believe discounts will be important for their purchasing decisions this year according to Accenture.

As you plan for the upcoming season, here are five tips to help you budget money for the holidays:

Set a short term savings goal for the holidays

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Give the Gift of Investing This Holiday Season

I’m happy to welcome today the Debt Free Guys. Enjoy their guest post on how the gift of investing may be the best present a child could receive this holiday season.

Christmas presents under the treeAmericans are expected to spend between 4 and 4.5 percent more this coming holiday season than in 2013 or $981 to $986 billion between November and January, excluding auto and gas sales. The lion’s share of that money is expected to be spent on technology, led by Apple’s iPhone 6 and 6+.

Already this month we’ve seen personal finance blogs with advice to manage expenses this holiday season. Expect to see lists of all sorts on financial blogs and websites, such as “25 Gifts Under $25”, “Gifts You Can Make” and “The Art of Re-Gifting”. We’ll kick off our 2014 holiday shopping advice to give the gift of investing this year.

There will be the exceptions, but most American children will have their fair share of gifts beautifully wrapped and lovingly placed under a Christmas tree or next to a menorah. They’ll excitedly un-wrap their gift, play with their new toy or wear the new piece of clothing, but eventually the gift will be forgotten. Some possibly forgotten before the day is over. Others will be forgotten by the end of the holiday season or a few months later. Even iPhones lose their luster after several months.

What won’t be forgotten is education. As we’ve discussed frequently at Debt Free Guys, we believe there is a gap in education in that kids don’t sufficiently learn enough about money management, saving and investing.

Educate the children in your life and give the holiday gift of life-long investing. There are three ways to do this.

Open a UTMA/UGMA Account

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The Value of Repetition – As Witnessed Through My Daughter

Hidden Nuggets Series #22 – “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” – Deuteronomy 6:6-7

ID-10057677Repetition is the key to learning.

Repeat things consistently, day in and day out, and patterns will develop that are extremely difficult to break. These patterns could be positive or negative depending on what has been repeated. Either way, they get hard wired into the brain and influence our behavior.

As a parent, I serve as the default pattern developer for my children. They will pick up on what I routinely say and do and begin to express those things in their life (both consciously and subconsciously). Nothing serves to be more encouraging and/or terrifying as seeing your children turn into you.

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How to Get the Most Out of Christmas

I know stores already have decorations on display, but for me, Saturday, December 1st will officially begin the start of the 2012 Christmas season. In the next 25 days, we will attempt to cram more into each 24-hour day than is usually desirable. For me, the annual cramming revolves around two specific lists – my December “To Do List” and my December “Present Wish List.”

The “To Do List” for December is very important for me because as a teacher I receive a two-week vacation as school is out of session for Christmas break. (Not really a vacation because I take care of our four kids.) This gives me a greatly needed window of time to catch up on tasks at home. “Yes dear, I am putting that storm door up soon.”

The “Present Wish List” is all about what I would like to receive on Christmas day during our annual gift exchange.

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