The Squeaky Wheel?

Choosing the ‘right’ hand over the left!

The Squeaky Wheel

There’s an old saying, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” which means the problems that make the loudest noise are the ones which get our immediate attention. Whereas this may be the case in some situations, it does not always apply to every instance. This is where discernment is important, especially when it comes to donations and charitable giving. The world is a big place filled with countless problems which impact various people at different times in their lives. Everyone has some problem at some point, whether it is evident or not.

You may also be familiar with another saying, “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” which is a phrase of humility acknowledging that one might be in the same situation were it not for some divine intervention in our upbringing. If you were lucky to be born in the USA, you enjoy many freedoms and opportunities not afforded to those in other counties around the world. If you were born in the 20th or 21st century, your life is radically different from someone born in the first century. Times change, but people are still people and we cannot ever truly and completely know the motives of another person, only God knows.

‘ The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?  I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings. ‘ Jeremiah 17:9-10  

 Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Proverbs 3: 5-6

lord

I gave at the office…

I am not perfect, no one is, but I try to be good and do the right things in every situation. I donate on a regular basis to several worthy charities which I feel efficiently and effectively disseminate the largest possible percentage of my donations to the neediest of individuals. I can NEVER humanly know for certain if one person who benefited from my charity was more worthy than another, I can only HOPE and leave it in God’s hands. If a benevolent organization uses the lion’s share of contributions collected to cover salary and other overhead, they are still doing ‘some’ good, but there might be different organizations that are better stewards. This is why it’s important to research charities before blindly donating.  There is much need in the world and there are many organizations for every cause that have duplications of their target recipients.  No matter how good you might be at doing your job, there is always someone, somewhere who given the opportunity could do it better, and this also applies to charities.

Every year, the local union at my place of employment sponsors a local needy family at Christmastime. The union officials frequently encourage employees to donate to support the ‘Christmas Family’. It’s a good thing, but I do not contribute, not because I am uncaring, but because I already donate substantially to other organizations that fill a similar role . One year, a union official came to my desk asking for donations, and when I declined, he asked ‘Don’t you have a heart?’ This upset me greatly, and the next day I called him on the carpet in front of the boss brandishing a stack of receipts of donations I had made to various other organizations. I made him look bad, and he did apologize, but  I could have just ‘let it go’ and ignored the slight. Like I said, I’m not perfect. A successful person  admits his mistakes and learns from them.   Next time I will handle things better.

“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.” – John Wesley co-founder of Methodism

Tightfisted vs. ‘Tithe-fisted’

Tightfisted means being cheap, the idea of clenching your money tightly in your hand so that it can’t be pried away.

“Tithe” means a tenth or 10 percent. The tithing system described in the Bible was designed specifically to meet the needs of the religious, economic and political system of ancient Israel. Each of the twelve tribes of Israel, except the tribe of Levi, initially received an allotment of land in the promised land of Canaan. The Levites were assistants to Israel’s priests and were supported by a tithe offering from other eleven tribes. All families of those eleven tribes were to give a tenth of all produce, flocks, and cattle to the Levites. In turn, the Levites were to give a tenth of that to support the priests (Leviticus 27:30-33, Numbers 18:21-28).

Tithes were also used to meet the needs of foreigners, orphans and widows. (Deuteronomy 26:12-13)

In addition, everyone was to be generous with those in need:

If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs. (NIV, Deuteronomy 15:7-8)

The Bible does urge us to be generous with our wealth and time. However, any claim that wealth, health, good fortune or other blessings will come as a result of a donation should be looked at with suspicion. Likewise never feel guilty if you must say ‘no’ due to honest circumstances. God knows your heart. Giving should be done hilariously, or with a great joy. Even if you’re in no position to make a financial contribution, but still wish to serve in some capacity, perhaps you can do volunteer work.

If you’re uncertain about the effectiveness of a charitable organization, and want to check them out to see how they rank against other similar organizations, a handy website is Charity Navigator. https://www.charitynavigator.org/

Remember the world is a big place with much poverty, you will never be able to help everyone, and there will always be needy. You should take care of your family, friends, and other people who live close to you before helping people who are living further away or in another country. Do what you can, when you can, and do it with a glad heart. As always, I wish you success and happiness.

Secret Santa

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

IMG_9868

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.   

Deck the Halls!

It’s Christmastime- Budgeting 102!

DECKHALLS

“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.” 
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and the average consumer tends to blow their budget to smithereens as they get carried away by the holiday cheer.  Each year Christmas spending has been increasing, usually prompted by Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.  This is good news for retailers whose profit earnings during the Christmas season can be significant, up to and even exceeding  half of their annual profits. Christmas is big business, but it can land consumers in the poor house.

Haunted by ‘The Ghosts of Christmas Past’?

According to The American Research Group Inc. the average American spends almost $1000 on Christmas gifts. If you add other seasonal expenses like decorations, food, and expenses associated with traveling to visit distant friends and family, the amount can easily skyrocket. Most of this is rung up on plastic.  Let’s not forget about charitable donations either. How much pocket change did you throw in the Salvation Army Kettle each time you passed a bell-ringer? Till it’s all said and done, the end-of the-year shopping spree spreading Christmas Cheer is followed each January by the real ‘Ghosts of Christmas Past’ – the credit card bills!

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” 
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

At the end of A Christmas Carol Ebenezer Scrooge learns the true meaning of Christmas. You don’t have to go overboard and be a miser to avoid the consumer trap, you just need to plan a budget and  stick to it.

Naughty or Nice?

Do you honestly have to buy something for EVERYONE you know? It may be sad to say, but there are many people we know who deserve a lump of coal for Christmas. If you have little or no money to spend, you have two choices:

  • ‘Everyone’ doesn’t get a gift.
  • ‘Everyone’ gets a share of the pot.

I’m not a fan of  cutting people out because I feel mistreated or cheated. Everyone we know is facing some inner turmoil we know nothing about.  If someone gives you a gift, you don’t have to automatically reciprocate with an equal or even more expensive gift.  Just say ‘thank you’.  A gift is a gift, not an obligation.  I have almost a thousand regular customers at my day job. I treat them all the same. A very small few give me Christmas gifts. I don’t expect anything from them, but I always thank them.   I know that in many cases, some of my elderly customers are on fixed incomes and have very little money. I worry about accepting gifts from them, and I sometimes ask ‘are you sure?’ or state that they ‘didn’t have to do that’. It’s rude to refuse a gift. Be grateful, smile and thank them. They appreciate it far more than you know, and it costs NOTHING to be kind!

Set limits!

I budget for Christmas. I have a set amount ear-marked for the season, and I stick to that limit. Everyone on my list gets something, even if it’s only a card. It’s the thought that counts. I mail out almost 50 cards, each with a printed annual newsletter. It’s an expense, but I enjoy doing it. I have not been able to see some of the people on my list in years because I am so busy, and they are busy, and our schedules don’t mesh. A Christmas greeting in the form of a card and newsletter is a nice way to let people know you still care. Only about 20% of them mail me a return card, but that’s okay. Gifts are gifts, no obligation remember?

Keep gifts appropriate

Always consider that just because you like something doesn’t mean everyone will like it. Take fruitcake for example. Some people think it makes a great gift. Others feel it’s great for propping open the door. Some people have food allergies or special diets.  Some parents don’t allow certain toys. NEVER GIVE PETS AS GIFTS! Give cash or gift cards and let the recipient purchase what they really want.

Christmas Club!

During the Great Depression, banks first started the idea of seasonal savings accounts earmarked for Christmas. These are still offered by some financial institutions. In many cases you can even arrange for automatic payroll deductions to make saving for even Christmas easier. Christmas Clubs usually send out checks or electronic bank deposits of the entire amount at the end of October, in plenty of time for Christmas.  

Grandma hates me!

Children do not understand gifts of socks and underwear. I grew up poor, and Christmas was about getting toys. Very few children have the understanding and level of maturity to understand that they may be poor, and don’t get why ‘Santa’ didn’t bring them a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle, opting instead for much needed clothing. I was always disappointed by clothing. I also had too many toys.  I didn’t play with the ones I had, or need new ones. I don’t have kids, but let me tell you, if I did they wouldn’t be spoiled with showers of toys. Yet each year, I see friends and relatives spoiling their kids.  Some elderly people have a dozen or more grandchildren. They can’t afford a gift for every grandchild. If there is some special must-have toy that is quite expensive, consider pooling resources, and just labeling the one gift ‘From Santa’.   

Visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads

Instead of buying gifts, throw a small dinner party. I do this each year for a few close friends who live local.  Arrange party games and take pictures to make it memorable.    

Made with Love

 Maybe there is nothing in the store they need, but what about some token of love? Bake Christmas Cookies, or give a handmade gift like a decorated mason jar filled with coffee or cocoa mix, or a handmade ornament. Send cards to let them know you care. What about just love itself?, Share friendship, understanding, consideration, a helping hand, a smile, and a prayer. You can’t buy these things in any store , but these things are what people need the most. As always I wish you happiness and success!  And God bless us, everyone.