January : Perfect time for re-balancing the budget!

Keeping you in the black in 2018

We’re three weeks into the new year, and like many folks, you probably went overboard with Christmas spending and then also got hit with some seasonal bills to boot. The start of the new year is the perfect time to analyze last year’s spending habits  and retool the budget for maximum success.

 

Write it down!

Keep a ledger of all your spending. Keep track of every penny and ask for receipts so you don’t forget something.  Also try to have ZERO days, where you spent NOTHING! Try to make a game of beating the number of ZERO days from one week to the next, and one month to the next. This will both help to motivate you and curb your finances at the same time.  I use a spiral bound notebook, purchased on sale at Wal-Mart for 50¢ ! If you notice that you are spending a high amount of money eating out, or on non-essentials, resolve to cut back in that category.

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Make a list of regularly occurring  monthly charges such as rent, utilities, and credit cards, and keep a record of their respective due dates. This will allow you to plan these payments according to your pay dates. Never spend more money than you earn!

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If you have high heating bills in the winter, contact your utility company and ask to be put on a budget plan. Then you’ll have  12 equal monthly bills each reflecting 1/12 of your total annual estimated consumption, instead of low bills in Summer and high bills in Winter. Trust me, it’s much easier to stick to a budget this way.

Set aside any ‘extra’ money you trim from your budget to build up emergency savings, or to fund future vacations or big-ticket items.

Clean out the pantry!                                    

If you’ve stocked up the larder with an impressive amount of groceries, resolve to use these groceries over the coming months. You don’t want to have food go out of code in the back of the cupboard because you felt like ordering take-out for the tenth time this month. Spoiled food is wasted money! A home-cooked meal made from scratch with assorted food-stuffs will stretch your pay-check and increase your ability to save even more money! Always keep track of what’s in the house, and don’t buy groceries you don’t need.  Take a list of what you need with you to the store, stick to the list, and buy it on sale, with coupons if at all possible. Also, be sure to avoid the impulse-buy traps the stores lay out for you when you shop.

Clear the queue!

If you have been using credit cards correctly and are reaping the benefits of reward points, then you are already in the habit of paying your entire balance in full each month. That’s excellent, BUT there is usually a two to three week gap between the statement closing date, the invoice mailing date and the monthly due date. If you’re using your cards every day, you run the risk of overcharging and blowing your budget the following month. Let’s assume your VISA cards closing date is January 15th. and about 5 days later, you receive the bill in the mail on January 20th, with a due date of February 2nd.   This bill will have all your charges from December 16th 2017 through January 15th 2018. Let’s say the balance is $1136 on the statement. This will NOT reflect the $30 gas you charged on 1/16, the $235 in groceries you charged on 1/18 and the $17 at the fast food place you stopped at on the way home on 1/20 before you even got home to see the visa bill waiting in your mailbox.  So even though you immediately write a check to cover the $1136 on the VISA bill, you technically are still in debt $282 in new charges not reflected  on the current statement which will appear on your NEXT statement.

What you need to do is go on a credit card ‘diet’ and clear the queue of future charges posted to future statements. First resolve to go ‘cash only’ for a thirty-to-sixty day period.  This will allow you to zero out your balances, and get back to spending as you go, verses carrying interest-free debt on a grace period.  This may be hard if you have automatic recurring payments scheduled, but the trick there is to send a ‘double payment’ the one month.

Trust me, you don’t want to be carrying a ‘grace period’ balance, fully expecting to pay it in full next month, only to have an unexpected life event zap your ability to do so. No one plans to get fired, become incapacitated by illness, or suddenly face an unexpected  car repair job. Life happens. A wise man expects the unexpected and plans accordingly .  As always I wish you  happiness and success!

Will you be left out in the cold?

Security in your golden years is up to you!

” Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler,  yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest..” Proverbs 6:6-8 NIV

Grasshopper

The Grasshopper and the Ant  is one of Aesop’s Fables and draws its origin from Proverbs 6:6-8 in the Bible. Aesop is thought to have been a Greek slave who lived about 600 B.C.  The fable describes how a hungry grasshopper begs for food from an ant when winter comes and is refused. The situation sums up moral lessons about the virtues of hard work and planning for the future.

Cradle to grave– A Ponzi Scheme

Charles Ponzi was an Italian swindler who ran a fraudulent investment  con operation where returns for older investors were funded through revenue paid by new investors. This is by and large how Social Security works.

 The Social Security Act was signed into law by President Roosevelt on August 14, 1935. In addition to several provisions for general welfare, the new Act created a social insurance program designed to pay retired workers age 65 or older a continuing income after retirement. The Social Security Administration will deny that it is a Ponzi scheme, even going into detail as to why it’s not a Ponzi scheme in one of its publications and again on its website. Social Security is part of a government attempt to provide ‘cradle to grave’ social welfare programs to provide for citizens of the USA. Relying on Social Security to support you in your old age is a terrible idea. It exists solely to provide funds for people too lazy to set aside funds for their retirement, and it will barely be able to cover basic needs. I have personally witnessed my mother and her sisters struggle and fail to make ends meet with Social Security. My mother would have been homeless without me bridging the shortfall left by her $450 a month SSA check the last five years of her life. My last living aunt is 76 and gets a meager $1060 per month.  She is constantly falling behind on the rent. She HAS been homeless, and will probably be again in the near future after alienating most of the family.   

“In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” – President Ronald Reagan

Your retirement is your business, not the governments!

The 401(k) provision was created in the 1978 Tax Revenue Act,  but went largely unnoticed for two years until Ted Benna, noticed that the tax clause in section 401, subsection (k), did not preclude pre-tax salary reduction when it stipulated that cash or deferred-bonus plans qualified for tax deferral.  It was a creative loophole that eventually led to rise of the 401(k) Plan as a major wealth-generating retirement tool.  Ronald Reagan had made personal saving through tax-deferred individual retirement accounts, or IRAs, a component of his campaign and presidency. (He went on to sign this new interpretation into tax law after he won the 1980 election. ) Payroll deductions for IRAs were allowed in 1981.

In February of 2005 Republican President George W. Bush outlined a major initiative to reform Social Security which included partial privatization of the system, personal Social Security accounts, and options to permit Americans to divert a portion of their Social Security tax (FICA) into secured investments.  In essence, he wanted to wean the populace off the teat of Social Security and move them into more financially lucrative personal IRAs. Democrats opposed the proposal and after gaining control of both houses following the 2006 Midterm elections, effectively killed the plan for the remainder of Bush’s term in office.  The Democrats created the failure that is Social Security, and they will fight to keep us under its yoke. The path to fiscal independence is paved with the gold bricks of IRAs and 401(k) plans. Countless fortunes have been made by investing in the stock market. No one have ever become wealthy by collecting monthly SSA checks.

IRA vs. 401(k): What’s the difference?  

Both 401(K) plans and IRAs (Individual Retirement Accounts) allow you to save money in the stock market through tax deferred contributions. Anyone with a job can contribute money to an IRA. You can only contribute money to a 401(k) or similar retirement plan if one is offered by your place of employment. In many cases employers will offer matching contributions. In other words: FREE MONEY. You should commit to contributing 10% of your salary to these plans as soon as you are eligible to enroll, and you should always be sure to contribute enough to  max out the employer match. Again, it’s FREE MONEY! There is no funding match for IRAs. As of January 2018, the maximum employee contribution for 401(k) and similar plans is $18,500. The max for an IRA is $5,500, but if you’re 50 or older you can add another $1000 to that as a catch-up fund.

 Retirement plans offered by employers include:

  • 401(k) plan – a retirement savings plan sponsored by an employer. It lets workers save and invest a piece of their paycheck before taxes are taken out. Taxes aren’t paid until the money is withdrawn from the account.
  • 403(b) plan – also known as a tax-sheltered annuity (TSA) plan, is a retirement plan for certain employees of public schools, employees of certain tax-exempt organizations, and certain ministers. The basic difference is that a 403b is used by nonprofit companies, religious groups, school districts, and governmental organizations. The law allows these organizations to be exempt from certain administrative processes that apply to 401k plans. In other words, administrative costs for a 403b are lower.
  • 457 plan –  a kind of defined contribution retirement plan available to state and local public employees, but can also be offered by certain nonprofit organizations. They work much the same way as 401(k) plans.
  • TSP Plan – Federal employees and members of the uniformed services participate in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), a retirement savings plan similar to 401(k) plans offered to private sector employees

Both IRAs and 401(k) plans may be available as ROTHs. Roth IRAs and now the new Roth 401(k)s are named for Delaware Senator William Roth and were established by the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997. There is no pre-tax savings on these, they are funded by after- taxed income, but they grow tax free.  

IRAs give you the largest number of personal investment choices, they are quite similar to a brokerage fund. 401(k)s tend to limit your investment choices to up to as many as twenty different funds, which may be passive index funds, or actively managed funds which will have periodic fund maintenance fees associated with them which will eat away at your returns.   

EXAMPLE: My company TSP Plan offers 6 funds:

G Fund: Government Securities Investment Fund (no risk bonds)

F Fund: Fixed Income Index Investment Fund – is invested in a separate account that is managed to track the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index

C Fund: Common Stock Index Investment Fund – tracks the Standard &Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) Stock Index

S Fund: Small Cap Stock Index Investment Fund – a stock index fund that tracks the Dow Jones U.S. Completion Total Stock Market (TSM) Index.

I Fund: International Stock Index Investment Fund – a stock index fund that tracks the MSCI EAFE (Europe, Australasia, Far East) Index.

L Fund: Lifestyle Fund – diversifies participant accounts among the G, F, C, S, and I Funds using professionally determined investment mixes (allocations)that are tailored to different time horizons. The L Funds are rebalanced to their target allocations each business day. The investment mix of each fund adjusts quarterly to more conservative investments as the fund’s time horizon shortens.

The Bottom Line

I have been paying into Social Security since I got my first paycheck at my first job. It’s mandatory. You can’t opt out. I have been actively and intentionally contributing to my company TSP plan since I became eligible. It’s MY option to do so. No one is forcing me to do this. I can check the balances of both programs online. Needless to say, the mandatory government SSA plan which I am forced to pay into has far less in it than my personal TSP plan which I have been overseeing myself.  You will come out far ahead of the rest when you take a hands on approach to your money, and your retirement. A fool and his money are soon parted. Do you want to be wise, or is it your intention to be a fool? It’s your life, it’s your money, it’s your choice. As always I wish you  happiness and success!

You Can’t Time The Market!

The ‘right time’ to invest was yesterday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) often simply called ‘The Dow’ was founded on May 26, 1896. It was created by Wall Street Journal editor Charles Dow, and is named after both Dow and statistician Edward Jones.  It is one of popular financial guides used to track how well investment stock markets are doing.  Other popular indices used by business and finical watchers include:

  • The Standard & Poor’s 500 – often abbreviated as the S&P 500, or just the S&P was introduced in 1923, but fully realized in its current form on March 4th 1957.   
  • Nasdaq Composite  – created on February 8, 1971 by the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD)
  • CBOE Volatility Index or VIX –   a  measurement of  expected  volatility implied by S&P 500 index options, created by the Chicago Board Options Exchange on January 19, 1993. This last one is sometimes referred to as ‘the fear index’, and moves inversely to the S&P. You want this one to plunge.

I will be limiting the scope of this blog post to the American stock markets and  economy.  I have very little experience with foreign stocks and markets. One important thing to note, the stock market is driven by investment expectations and is an ’emotional’ response to the economy. It is not the same thing as the economy, but it can impact it. There are many factors that impact the market that can include everything from oil prices to politics to weather.  Ultimately, shrewd investors study multiple factors before committing their stock trades as past performance is  never an indication of future earnings. No one can know the future, but we can study the past and make an educated guess.

“The sad fact is that people are poor because they have not yet decided to be rich.” —Brian Tracy

The Time is NOW!

Quite often  a few misguided friends and co-workers tell me that they are waiting for the right time to invest in the market.  Fear of a correction or a crash keep them from potential earnings. Poor spending habits hamper their ability to invest. Ignorance and the refusal to seek wise counsel on fiscal issues keep them in poverty. You cannot spend your way into prosperity, the only sure-fire way to get rich is by making diverse, informed investments over a long period of time. You can’t achieve this if you spend every penny  you make on food, ‘toys’, and entertainment.   You need to first get your financial house in order because the money you use to invest must be disposable income not earmarked for essential monthly expenses. Refer to my many earlier blog posts on finances, planning,  and budgeting.   

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“Whenever I hear people talk pessimistically about this country, I think they’re out of their mind.” — Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway chairman

But a crash is coming!

Maybe. Maybe not.  And, so what? There have been 14 crashes in the history of the Dow. The market has ALWAYS rebounded usually within a matter of months. The longest recovery period was from  the Great Crash on October 24th 1929 which lasted four years and then led to the Great Depression.

Three examples of why uninformed and/or misinformed investing is dangerous:

 #1 On November 8th 2016, Donald J. Trump became the 45th president of the United States. (Full disclosure,  I’m a Christian first, and a lifelong Republican second. I FULLY support the current President. I voted for him in both the primary and general election, and will vote for him again when he runs for his second term in 2020. I’ve lost friends because of this fact, but I stand my ground.)

When Trump won the election, there were a lot of newscasters , Democrats, and entertainers who said the country was DOOMED! I had a discussion with a very upset friend at work who thought that this was the end of the world. On Nov 07, 2016, the day before the election, the Dow closed at 17,994.64. I was hoping and praying that Trump won, because I fully believed that a Clinton win would be the death of the U.S.  and a disaster for its economy. Being precautious, I moved all of my investments out of the market, just in case the unthinkable happened and ‘That Woman’ won. (I had done the same thing in the 2008 election, more on that later.)  Fortunately the best man won.

The Dow shot up nearly a 1000 points over the next week, a gain which I missed out on because I couldn’t move my investments back fast enough.  It kept going up. About two or three weeks after the election, I told the same co-worker that I had read several financial analysts who predicted the Dow would hit 30,000 by the end of Trump’s first term, and 50,000 by the end of his second term should he win again in 2020. I EVEN showed him the articles stating this. He didn’t believe it, not a word, and dismissed it as propaganda.  As of Friday January 5th 2018 the Dow closed at 25,295.87!

#2 There’s an old Investment adage – Sell in May and go away, but remember to come back in September! It’s meant to avoid seasonal declines in the market, and I’ve used it more often than not. Sometimes I’ve benefited, other times I missed out on an unexpected spike in the markets during the Summer.  You can’t time the market, but you can attempt to lock in gains and minimize losses. You see market sell-offs all the time. These are mini corrections and just people trying to time the market because they think it may go down, then they plan to jump back in and capture the dip. In May of 2008, the Dow ran between 12,818.34 and 12,638.22, so it was pretty flat that month. I don’t remember the exact date I got out of the market that May, but It was probably near the end of the month. In either case it was a presidential election year, and I was not 100% thrilled with John McCain, but I absolutely HATED the other option and I’d sooner vote for Satan than a Democrat. (Unfortunately my guy didn’t win that year.)  The Dow closed at 9,625.28 On November 4th 2008. It plunged 500 points two days later and kept dropping. Fortunately as I knew that presidential election years are very unpredictable, I chose to stay out in May and remained out as I kept watching the market drop, and drop, and drop! It hit a low on Mar 05, 2009 of 6,544.10 before it started its long climb back. During this time I was still buying new shares of stock in my 401k, and even increased my paycheck deductions to 20% to capture these incredible bargains, all the while, my original balance total from May 2008 was locked away safely earning interest in a no-risk bond fund. When it got to May 2009, I uncharacteristically moved my nest egg back into the market and rode that elevator to the top! A co-worker wasn’t so lucky. He stayed in during the plunge, got out at the bottom and stayed out missing the rebound because of fear.

 #3 I was speaking about the market with a friend on December 16, 2017. He had his investments in a no risk fund, because he was fearing a crash, and was waiting for the ‘right time’ to re-enter the market. My investments were all in the high risk C Fund, or Stock fund. They still are, and probably will be for the foreseeable future. Anyhow, I told him there wasn’t anything to worry about and that the market would keep going up. December 15th 2017, the Dow closed at 24,651.74. Three weeks later on Jan 5th 2018 it closed at 25,295.87, up over 600 points.

Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?  Matthew 6:27 NIV

Let me tell you, I’ve been broke and deep and debt, and I’ve been debt-free and financially sound. Rich is better than broke. I’ve been investing for my retirement since I started working. If you keeping putting off investing in your 401k and building your savings because you’re afraid, you’ll always be broke. The USA has endured many disasters and tragedies which have impacted the stock market since its inception, yet it always rebounds and yields an average return on investments of above 10.5% over the long term. The fact is, if you let your life be ruled by fear and doubt, you will second guess everything, become skeptical with anything and succeed at nothing except making yourself miserable and poor. The decision is up to you, choose well. As always I wish you happiness and success!

A new year, a new you!

Make the most of the coming year.

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As we count down the final hours of 2017 on this last day and final blog post of the year, let’s pause a moment and take stock of the past twelve months.  It may not have been a perfect year  for most of us, but when we reflect back, in most cases we’d have to agree that there were far more good times than bad.  There will always be a small percentage of people we know who had a rough year. These people constantly exclaim ‘I can’t wait for this year to be over’.   For me, the only real part that I dislike and am ready for to end is always winter. I’m not a fan of the snow  and ice. I dislike the short days of early darkness and sub-freezing temperatures.  In North America, winter spans the end of the old year, and the beginning of the new.  Seasons change, and winter exists in part to make us appreciate spring, summer and autumn all the more.   

Raindrops keep falling on my head!

We have no control over the weather, just how we prepare for it. We carry an umbrella in case it rains. We have a coat or jacket in case it gets cold. Only a foolish person curses the weather because they chose not to plan accordingly. We don’t always have to like circumstances beyond our control, but realistically we know that the situation will change in time, and with proper planning and precautions, we can weather the storm. Make it your goal to accept the things you have no control over, and make positive changes over the things that you can control.

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay!  My, oh my, what a wonderful day!

Every day each and every one of us gets 86,400 seconds to spend however we choose, with just two exceptions. The day we’re born and the day we die. Excluding those, our days are all the same length, yet some people never seem to get anything done, while others accomplish an incredible amount.  The difference was the result of the choices made, and the attitude behind them.  Planning your day out ‘saves time’.  Procrastinating wastes it. Being miserable makes the day drag, but time flies when you’re having fun.  Did you dwell on the past instead of planning for the future? Keep a positive attitude and try to find one good thing to be thankful for each day. Then focus on that. A positive attitude will attract like-minded people and soon you’ll be surrounded by a positive support group to help keep you encouraged. Remember, no one likes a sad sack.

Time is on my side, yes it is.  

Plan ahead, and plan early. Don’t put off for tomorrow what can be done today! Prior proper planning prevents poor performance .  Manage your time, manage your expenses. Make positive changes in every aspect of your life, and multi-task when you have complimentary goals.     

The great thing about New Year’s is that it’s a reminder that we can start over. If you didn’t like the way this past year went, you can look back on what went wrong, and make changes to fix the problems. You can make New Year’s Resolutions for every item under the sun. The key though, is that you must complete the goal to achieve the result. If you change nothing, nothing will change. You can do it if you stay motivated. One key way to achieve this is by seeing positive change over a period of time.  If you have a fitness goal, such as losing weight, break it down into smaller, easily achievable goals.  Instead of focusing on the sixty pounds you want to lose this year, focus on the five pounds you need to lose in each of the twelve months and be consistent. Track your progress so that you can see how far you’ve come. And if you reach the goal early, go the extra mile and get ahead of the game. This way if you hit a plateau, or a stumbling block, you’ve got breathing room to regroup and recover from the setback. The same thing applies to financial goals. Slow and steady wins the race.  Baby steps forward are still progress.

I faced it all and I stood tall And did it my way!

The Man in the Mirror is a book written by Patrick Morley in 1989. I recommend reading it, as well as exploring any self-help books pertaining to the area of your life that you wish to change.  In  The Man in the Mirror , the author attempts to  teach us to solve 24 problems every man faces in life. Although geared for men, this book applies to everyone. The title is the clue to the cause of the problems, and the solution is to live our lives in a more godly manner.  How many of the problems we face in our lives are a direct result of our stubbornness to do  it ‘our way’ instead of the right way? How many times do we repeat the same mistakes and expect different results? An honest person is forced to admit that the larger portion of our misfortunes are self-made.   Blaming the year and wishing it were over is a very childish way to deal with one’s problems. After all, if you don’t effect positive changes in your life, most likely next year will be a repeat of this year,  or maybe be even worse.  The choice is up to you!  Are you ready for more of the same, or a fantastic new beginning?  You decide.  As always I wish you happiness and success!

Secret Santa

A man’s gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men. –– Proverbs 18:16 KJV

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As I’m sitting here in the wee small hours of the morning of Christmas Eve 2017 working on my last Christmas-themed financial blog post of 2017, the main thought that is going through my mind is, ” I LOVE CHRISTMAS!”  It is impossible ignore the fact that whatever your personal religious beliefs are, Christmas begins with CHRIST, Jesus is the reason for the season, and Christians like myself become ‘a little more vocal’ about what we believe. Christmas is a very good thing for both the believer and the non-believer alike.  It truly is the most wonderful time of the year! So if you don’t believe in Christ, please don’t take offense at a person extending you a heartfelt ‘Merry Christmas’ at this time of year. It’s not a religious threat or insult, it’s a olive branch or a bridge to show that we are all connected. Take it in the spirit of goodwill in which it’s meant.

Talking about ‘spirits’ and giving brings to mind two secular and fictional aspects of Christmas: Ebeneezer Scrooge and Santa Claus.  

I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ — Acts 20:35 The Holy Bible, New King James Version

There are people in this world today who claim that being wealthy is a sign of greed, and that somehow the rich people of the world are responsible for causing the poverty in it. This is far from the truth. Wealthy people pay the majority of all taxes collected, and donate the largest sums to charities. They build the factories, fund the businesses, and create the jobs.   

The protagonist of A Christmas Carol written by Charles Dickens is a miser named Ebeneezer Scrooge. Some people get the idea that he’s the villain of the tale because all he cares about is money. Scrooge isn’t the bad guy because he has money, but because he lives a joyless existence, he mistreats his employees,  and he’s horded his wealth instead of using it to bless the needy and do acts of great good. After he’s visited by the Christmas spirits, he sees the error of his ways, and is transformed by the renewing of his heart and mind. He then does great acts of charity that would not have been possible had he been poor. There are some acts of generosity that only  a wealthy person has the ability to do. Anyone can smile, say a kind word, do good deeds, or pray for other people. These things are good, and we should always do them. Most people can even afford to donate money to the less fortunate, even if it’s only coins in the Salvation Army Kettle at Christmastime.

Only the rich can give charities million-dollar endowments or build factories to create jobs.

 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’— Matthew 25:23, New English Translation

 Santa Claus is a bit more tricky. His origins have been mixed with fable thanks to L. Frank Baum and Clement C. Moore. Elves and reindeer aside, ‘Father Christmas’ is based on a real person, Saint Nicolas of Myra was a Christian bishop who helped the needy. He was born circa 280 AD and died December 6th 345 AD. In the twentieth century, Santa Claus stated to supplant Christ as the focus of Christmas, basically because he was a fun way to make the season more ‘inclusive’. Some people who were not religious felt left out. So advertising departments of companies like Coca-cola and Macy’s ran with Santa as a jolly alternative, and a new representative of Christmas goodwill.  This is both good and bad. Bad because Santa distracts us from ‘the real reason for the season’ and can be confusing for young children. Good because Santa is FUN, and inspires giving.      

As a Christian, I KNOW that ALL things come from God, and everything I have ultimately came from The Lord of All Creation. Christians especially have a duty to use their God-given gifts in the service of God, and Christmas gives us many great opportunities to help the less fortunate. I find myself a little merrier wearing a red Santa hat, it inspires me!

I’m going to wrap this up with the inspiring true story of Larry Stewart, the Secret Santa.  

 Kind words and kind actions can change lives!

Larry Stewart (April 1, 1948 – January 12, 2007) was an American philanthropist from Kansas City better known as “Kansas City’s Secret Santa.” After poor beginnings, Stewart — from 1979 through 2006 — made a practice of anonymously handing out small amounts of cash, typically in the form of hundred-dollar bills, to needy people.

Larry was a traveling salesman in 1970, and he wasn’t very good because by 1971 he was broke and sleeping in his car. After a few days of not eating, in desperation he decided to ‘rob’ a diner by ordering a big breakfast he couldn’t pay for, and then claiming he accidentally lost his wallet somehow.  Ted Horn owner of the Dixie Diner realized the true nature of the situation, and instead of getting mad, or calling the cops, decided to give Larry a $20 bill he ‘found’ on the floor, which ‘might’ have fallen out of Larry’s ‘lost’ wallet. This lesson of kindness and generosity stayed with Larry Stewart. Ashamed of his initial act of deception, and humbled by the kindness of the diner owner, he vowed to himself that he would  ‘pay it forward’ as soon as he was able.

Around Christmas of 1979 on a very cold day, he stopped at a drive-in restaurant. A carhop waitress was outside wearing a small, thin coat, and freezing as she served the diners at their cars in the hope of maybe nickel or dime tips. When she brought Larry his lunch, he handed her a $20 bill, and told her to keep the change. Her lips begin to tremble and tears begin to flow down her cheeks as she said, ‘Sir, you have no idea what this means to me.’

Stewart went on to become a multimillionaire, earning his fortune from cable television and long distance calling. Each Christmas from 1979 until his death in 2007 he continued giving cash away to the needy as Secret Santa.  He quickly progressed from giving out $20s to handing out $100s, not just in Kansas City but traveling to other areas in times of tragedy, like NYC after 9/11/01 and Mississippi in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.  Sadly, he developed cancer, but because he was concerned about the poor and needy, he trained an army of Secret Santas and assistant ‘elves’ who would pass out $100s to the needy after he was gone. By the time he passed away on January 12th 2007, Larry Stewart had given away over a million dollars, all inspired by the kindness of ONE man who gave him a $20 bill decades earlier. Today, the army of Secret Santas continue to hand $100 bills to poor, their efforts supported by other wealthy philanthropists, and inspiring others to do likewise.

So as we open our gifts on Christmas morning, and give presents to our friends and family, let us all be inspired by all the beauty and wonder of all the aspects and icons of the season. Let us not focus on ourselves, but think of our fellow man, and be grateful for all that we have. May we all find the courage to better ourselves, so that we can extend a hand-up to the fallen, and together we can with a smile, encouragement, charity and kindness, make this a better world. As always I wish you happiness and success!  Merry Christmas and God bless us, everyone.             

Wrap it in a ribbon and a bow!

Budgeting 103: Decorate for Christmas without breaking the bank!

Every Christmas, there’s at least ONE house in every neighborhood decked out with so many lights and lawn ornaments that it could probably be seen from space on a clear night.  Forget the initial expense of buying all those lights and glowing plastic luminaries, imagine the electricity usage! The numbers on the electric meter are changing so fast they’re probably an unreadable blur. And if the house is that decorated on the outside, you know the interior is just as festive. Imagine also the amount of time to decorate, then after the season, to  un-decorate. Let’s not forget storing it all. If you can’t fit it all in your home, you need to rent a storage locker for a year. That adds up to thousands of dollars a year to transform your residence into a festive Christmas spot for about 4-6 weeks depending on how early you start, and when you take it all down.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with spending that kind of money IF you are doing it to make YOURSELF happy, and you can afford it. If you’re just doing it to impress people you don’t know, or you’re trying to outdo the Jones’s on the corner with their ‘impressive’ display, you really need to examine your heart. Christmas is a great time of happiness and fellowship for the majority (despite some of the Christmas headaches) and should you care more about your friends and family than how your home looks. So here’s a few things to help save you money (and sanity) decorating for Christmas.

K.I.S.S.  – Keep It Super Simple

Outside

  • Limit the number of lawn and outdoor pieces. Less is more. People will see a light up nativity scene or plastic Santa a lot easier it it’s not hidden among a 100 other luminaries on your lawn.
  • Instead of stringing lights all over your house, save time and money by projecting the lights with a laser light projector.

Inside

  • Decorate a room, or two at most. You don’t need to deck EVERY hall.
  • DIY – Don’t buy expensive Christmas decorations. A few craft supplies can be used to make homemade ornaments, spruce up pine cones with paint and glitter, or whatever your mind can imagine. Be creative, but remember crafting takes time and skill. You can only do what you can do. I wowed a couple of my guests this year with simple holly rings ( which I made myself with craft supplies ) added to the bases of cheap votive candles.

Xmas Craft

Xmas candle

    • Don’t buy ‘collectible’ ornaments! Every year Hallmark and several other chains release HUNDREDS of expensive ornaments for every fandom base there is. They are cheap plastic trinkets that will never go up in value, and cost big bucks. No one cries when they accidentally break a simple glass ball. But  Barbie’s limited edition Pink Corvette from 1997 or the Millennium Falcon? These will bring a fanboy or fangirl to tears when they break.
    • Pine cones are FREE, go for a walk in the woods and gather a couple dozen. Just be sure to clean and disinfect them if you find them in the wild, you don’t want bugs invading your home.
    • Use pine cones, a glass bowl, real greens and candles to make your own center piece.

Xmas centerpiece

  • Take advantage of after Christmas Holiday clearance sales and stock up for next year now.  I’m always able to get a collection of spare Santa hats for my guests for pennies on the dollar every year after the stores mark them down. I’ve gotten a dozen glass balls for 75¢ ! Wrapping paper is never so cheap as it is after Christmas.  Just make sure to store everything you pre-buy for next year properly. I use Red Plastic Totes, and Ziploc bags, then put these all in the walk-in closet where I can find them. I have a special ornament tote, and wrapping paper tote to keep these safe as well.

Santa Hats

The money and time you save will make you jolly each Christmas, and allow you quality time with friends and family. Xmas Friends

As always I wish you happiness and success!  And God bless us, everyone.         

The Gift of Giving

Ringle, ringle, coins when they jingle, make such a lovely sound.

IMG_9769

I am very fortunate to live in the USA, it’s the Land of Liberty and the American Dream, and home to more millionaires than any other country on Earth. There are many people today who seem to have a misconception that wealthy people are greedy and have somehow been responsible for the plight of the poor. Maybe it started with the depiction of the miser Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.  Let’s not forget that by the end of the story, Scrooge learns the true meaning of Christmas and becomes a wealthy benefactor to Tiny Tim and the Cratchet  family, as well as reconnecting with his nephew Fred.

” You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”  John 12:8 NIV

The true meaning of Christmas is the birth of Christ, and the Greatest gift was Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross for the sins of all mankind. There are many who try to diminish or remove references to Jesus Christ at Christmastime, and that’s unfortunate. Christians are the most generous people of any religious group according to phlianthropy.com  , and philanthropyroundtable.org supports the fact that the wealthiest Americans are the most giving.   

 The wicked borrow and do not repay,  but the righteous give generously; Psalm 37:21 NIV

I did not grow up wealthy, but I worked very hard to get where I am today. I am grateful to God for all that I have, and I give a sizable amount to  charity at Christmas. There are many charitable organizations that support many great causes, and there is a lot of duplication of services. It’s very important when donating to charities to know that the majority of the donated funds are actually reaching those in need, and not being wasted on overhead, or to buy a new Mercedes for the director of the so-called charity.   I recommend using charitynavigator.org  Charity Navigator is an American independent charity watchdog organization that evaluates charitable organizations in the USA, and will help you evaluate worthy charities so that you can avoid the less reputable ones.  

    In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” Acts 20:35 NIV

Christians have an obligation to help the needy. We received a great Gift to cover a Debt we can never repay.  The concept of tithing is mentioned in the Bible, as is the story of the good Samaritan. As Christians we are created for doing good works to further the glory of God. Faith without works is a dead faith because the lack of works reveals an unchanged life or a spiritually dead heart.    

Pennies from Heaven

 As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury.  He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins.  “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others.  All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”  Luke 21:1-4 New International Version (NIV)

There’s rarely a day that goes by that I don’t find a penny on the ground as I walk the streets doing my rounds. On average, I actually find about $2 in coins and bills per week. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to my annual salary. Every little bit helps, and that’s the basis of crowdfunding. If everyone gives something, even pennies dropped into a Salvation Army Kettle, it adds up. The current population of the United States of America is 325,467,306 as of Friday, December 8, 2017. If every person in the USA gave just ONE PENNY to charity each day, it would add up to 3.25 million dollars daily. So don’t feel that a tiny donation is meaningless. Little things mean a lot, and great things come from tiny beginnings. As always I wish you happiness and success! And God Bless us everyone.