Posts Tagged ‘family’

Family, Faith and Finances

Had a great conversation with Rob Ekno about faith, family and finances on Rob’s radio program, In Your Face, which can be heard on  Click here if you would like to listen to the conversation.

Paying for Christmas

The most wonderful time of the year is quickly followed by the most miserable time of the year. Not because of the winter doldrums, but because of the credit card bills appearing in your mailbox.  If you’re like many Americans who used credit cards to purchase gifts for the holidays, financial stress quickly replaces the joy and happiness of Christmas.

You may have the unfortunate realization that it’s going to take you months to pay off your Christmas gifts.  Don’t feel alone.  According to Consumer Reports, 13 million Americans (nearly 6% of the population) are still paying off last Christmas.   If you’re only making minimum monthly payments on your credit cards, chances are you’ll be paying it off for several more years.

Do you know that there is another way to pay for Christmas?  I will even go so far as to say that it’s a better way.

The best time to start paying for Christmas 2011 is right now.  I’m not talking about taking advantage of all those after-Christmas sales to stock up on gifts.  Instead, you can start saving money now to pay for your Christmas shopping next year. 

The first step is deciding how much you want to spend for Christmas.  If you’re married, you need to discuss this with your spouse and come to some reasonable agreement.  You may have different families, traditions and expectations, so expect to compromise.

Let’s assume that you decide you want to spend $2,000 for Christmas gifts next year.  Starting in January, take $200 and save it (that’s $50 per week). Open a separate savings account if you need to, or find a bank that offers Christmas Club savings accounts just for this purpose.  With meager interest rates and bank fees, you might just stuff the cash under your mattress.  The key is that you save it the money and don’t touch it until Christmas.  It’s not an emergency fund or quick spending money; it’s for Christmas.  If you put $200 aside each month, you’ll have $2,000 in cash by the end of October just waiting to be spent on great Christmas bargains.

But wait… what about the debt from this year?  Wouldn’t I be better off using the $200 each month to pay off my credit cards? 

That may sound like a good idea, but I say don’t do it.  Reducing your existing debt and paying off your credit cards is a different discussion.  Chances are this is the cycle you’ve been operating under for years.  You charge it.  You work all year to pay it off.  When Christmas rolls around again, you haven’t saved any money for Christmas, so you charge it again.  If you want to break the cycle, you’ve got to do something different.

I’m all for paying off credit cards and getting out of debt. However, you probably won’t achieve either of these without learning how to live within a budget and saving money to pay for future purchases.   Even if you’re still paying for this Christmas next year, think of how great you’ll feel next year when Christmas is fully paid before Christmas.  The stress and agony of opening bills in January will be history.

When it comes to paying for Christmas, you can pay now or pay later.  If you start paying for next Christmas now, I think you’ll experience a lot more peace, joy and holiday cheer next year.

The Gift-Giving Season

Christmas is the gift-giving season.  There is a lot of emphasis to buy gifts for other people.  Not only are you expected to buy a gift, but there is a lot of pressure to buy the right gift.

If a gift is an expression of your love, adoration and appreciation, does it matter what gift you give?  Yes… and no.

A gift will communicate your feelings if it has special meaning to the recipient.  The best gifts are those that are unique to the person receiving them.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive or extravagant.  Sometimes a simple or hand-made gift can communicate your feelings much more than something that costs a lot of money.  Therefore, the right gift is the one that has signficant meaning rather than a high price tag.

This is an important principle to remember when purchasing gifts, especially for Christmas.  Our culture places a tremendous value upon the type of gifts you give.  Love, appreciation, and status are often measured by the gifts you purchase.  Consequently, there is a lot of pressure to overspend at Christmas, especially by parents.  You may want your children to have a memorable Christmas; or you want them to have a better life than you did; or worse, you’re trying to buy their affection by lavishing them with gifts.

There is nothing wrong with giving your children many things or showering them with gifts, but there is a problem if you’re buying gifts you can’t afford.  Far better for you to find less expensive but more meaningful gifts, than try to create an extravagant Christmas that takes months or years to pay off.  

Gifts rarely make lasting impressions and memories.  Sure there may be one or two gifts you’ll remember forever, but most of them are quickly forgotten or replaced.  Also, the more someone has, the less likely that any one thing has much meaning.  Upon reflection, I can only think of very few gifts I received at Christmas that really helped define a great Christmas.  My best memories are family traditions and spending time with people.  I may be a little unique in this regard, but I doubt it.

Christmas is a season of giving.  It’s good to give presents and material items, if given with the right heart and for the right reason.  The appropriate gift can communicate your love, adoration, appreciation and respect for another person.  At the same time, make sure that you can afford what you’re buying.  Feelings of regret and animosity can easily replace love and affection when you buy things you can’t afford.  Besides… it’s a foolish financial decision.

Giving gifts is an important part of Christmas, but there are more important things than material gifts.  The gift of love, time and traditions will probably make much more of an impact on your family and friends than the things you buy.  You may find that the best gifts don’t cost much.

Christmas is the gift-giving season.  Bless others with your generosity and gifts… both those that cost money and those that money can’t buy.

The Treasures of Life (The Value of Money – Part VII)

Have you ever heard that there are more important things in life than money?  If so, then what is more valuable than money?  If you can’t answer the question, how do you know that money isn’t the most significant thing in your life?

Three things have much greater value than money in my life – faith, family and friends.

I have very strong convictions about my faith.  You don’t have to agree with my theology, and I respect your right to be wrong… just kidding.  Seriously though, I do believe my faith is real and true.  If I don’t really believe my religious convictions are true, then I’m essentially saying that I believe in a lie.  However, I also respect your beliefs and convictions even though I may not personally agree.

It’s my faith in the true character and nature of God that I know will see me through anything I encounter in this life, and usher me into the next.  It’s been a difficult couple of years for Lady M (my wife) and I. My faith has helped me deal with life, people and situations when I didn’t understand or have a clue.  At times, I just needed to remind myself of the Biblical verse Romans 8:28, which states that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.

Family is the next most important thing to my faith.  Over the past two years, I have truly come to appreciate the value of a good and supportive family.  I can lose everything and still be okay, so long as I have my family.  Conversely, I also know that I could have all the fame and fortune in the world, but it would be worthless if I sacrificed my family to attain it.  Careers will end, kids will grow up, and friends will come and go.  Lady M will be the one thing that remains… until death do us part.

Your family history may be destructive and painful.  Families can be a great source of strength and encouragement, but they can also inflict some of the deepest wounds you’ll ever experience.  If that is your story, I’m sorry and truly wish it were not the case.  I have no simple solutions to overcome your past.  All I can do is to offer you hope that you can build the family you never had.  Learned behaviors and patterns may be hard to break, but I have seen other people do it and know you can too.

Friends follow close behind family.  I believe we all have an innate need and desire for relationships with other people.  Maybe it goes all the way back to the beginning when God said that it was not good for man to be alone.  The victories and successes of life can become hollow if you don’t have anyone to celebrate with and share the good news.  Furthermore, if you stumble and fall, it can be difficult to recoup and regain momentum without someone to help you.

You can choose to live life alone, but I think you will miss out on so much by going solo.  All relationships take effort, and people will disappoint you.  They are human, and so are you.  Friends can hurt you the way that complete strangers can’t, but like family, they can also bring you greater love, appreciation and joy.

I have a Successories print that’s been hanging in my office for over a decade.  Under the picture of a little boy it reads, “Priorities – A hundred years from now it won’t matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car that I drove… but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.”  I admit it’s a bit cheesy, and I’m dorky.  However, it can also be a good reminder of what’s most important in my life. 

Call them priorities, values or the treasures of life.  When it’s all said and done, so many things that I expend my energy upon won’t matter.  Money may keep me alive a little longer, but it can’t make me live forever.  All the treasures and possession I accumulate in my life will one day belong to someone else.  With that in mind, I want to invest in treasures that will last a hundred years and beyond.  For me, that’s my faith and the lives of other people. 

What is it for you?