Are we BEAR yet?

Keeping your cool while others lose their minds over their investment losses.

Since 2009,  US investors have been enjoying the second longest running Bull market since WWII. But after closing once again at record highs on January 26th, 2018, the market started slipping into a correction. The two week period ending Friday February 9th 2018 saw a river of red on Wall Street. Historic losses occurred almost every other day, and the Dow closed down 1175.12 on Monday Feb 5th.  Less than a week later there was a second four-digit drop. In spite of all the excitement we are still ‘technically’ riding the Bull, despite the specter of the Bear periodically swiping at the markets and making the red ink spatter everywhere. So far it’s only a correction, and not yet a crash.  If you’re not sure of the difference:

  • A stock market correction is when the market falls 10 percent from its 52-week high.
  • A bear market occurs when the market falls 20 percent.
  • If the market falls 40 percent it’s considered a crash.  

So what makes the markets suddenly drop? The reasons are many, but usually it starts when large numbers of investors decide to ‘cash in their chips’ so to speak and lock in their gains. Perhaps companies didn’t make their earnings projections,  or investors are afraid that changes in legislation will affect profits. It does not matter but once enough people are selling instead of buying, stock prices start dropping. This spooks the second group of investors who now sell because the price is dropping, and they want to stop losses. This leads to a panic. Once a cascade sell-off effect begins, the only way to stop it is if enough potential investors decided to buy the dips, thus raising the price of stocks and ending the sell-off. Or possibly not. Prices of the shares may recover enough that a third group of investors decide that now they should sell and lock in the partial recovery of lost potential gains, starting a brand new sell-off. That’s why you start seeing these roller-coaster swings of market volatility.

 The key take away from all of this is that middle group of investors who sold out as the stocks plunged ended up losing their money.  It is impossible to time the market.  They were not in the market once it rebounded, which time has shown it will. The group who locked in at the market peak made money, and if they returned to buy the dips, they made even move money. When investing in stocks, you need to keep your head and make informed, intellectual trades. Emotional, panic sell-offs will hurt you financially.

Overtime, the stock market will continue to grow at an average return at about 12%. Crashes, corrections and Bear markets always lead to new Bull runs.  These market fluctuations are a normal part of the way the stock market grows and are not to be feared.  In September of 2017, stock guru Warren Buffet was widely quoted for stating that he believed that in one hundred years, the Dow would hit  one million points. When one of the eight richest men in the world tells you stock tips, you listen! Buffet didn’t get rich by luck. He recommends buying stocks when everyone else is liquidating their assets because you pick up bargains that given time, will more than likely rebound. He also recommends staying in the market and investing in passive, low fee index mutual funds and ETFs that track the markets. In many cases these index funds outperform the majority of actively managed mutual funds and offer a low-cost way for investors to track popular stock and bond market indexes while providing a diversified portfolio at the same time.

I’m getting too old for this excitement.

Although index funds and ETFs offer diversification they are still tied to the market. This is great news if you are young, because you can weather any storm clouds that the market may encounter. On the other hand, if you are nearing retirement and counting on your retirement nest egg being a certain amount, you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you’re weeks away from punching the time clock for the final time only to have a sudden market crash wipe out 40% of your investments.  This is where a higher level of asset diversification towards less volatile investments will protect you.  Bond funds, precious metals and even real estate can provide a much more stable investment, just with comparably lower returns on investment. Only you can determine your individual retirement needs.

Two general rules of thumb based on age.

1) Take the number 100, and subtract your age. The remaining number is how much money you should invest in stocks.

2) Take the number 125, and subtract your age.  This number is the percentage of your investments which should be in higher risk stocks.

Some stocks are more volatile than others. This is reflected in a stocks beta number. The lower the number the more stable the stock. A beta number of 2.0 would fall twice as fast as the market, while a share with a beta of 0.5 would drop half as fast. Also you should research the 52 week highs and lows, as well as the P/E ratio and if the stock pays a dividend, how often it’s paid, and the what the ex-dividend date is. Bottom line, DO YOUR RESEARCH!  Financial matters are nothing to joke about. The wrong decisions early on will greatly impact you in your retirement years. 

Now I’m still south of 50, I’m unmarried,  I have no children, plus I’m debt free. In my individual circumstance, knowing what I know and being willing to accept the risks, I  tend to have ALL of my investments in higher risk assets. Thus far, it’s made me the richest man in my family, although it does get unnerving at times when you watch your portfolio take a big hit during a correction. In the past two weeks, my net worth decreased by more money than some people earn working a full time job for an entire year. It will come back given time, but a  financial loss like that would have killed my mother.

TheCrash

True story

My father, George Henry Lawrence Oetting Jr. was an intelligent business man. He went to St. John’s University, was a CPA, and was the editor of a local Queens newspaper. He understood how money and finances worked. That’s him in the photo above. I used to think that the screaming woman in the picture was my very melodramatic mother, but I’ve since learned it was a just a family friend. But I do remember that look. Everything was a tragedy for my mother when things didn’t go her way.  Now my father was a newspaper editor, so he was always on top of trends in business and investing opportunities.  He owned 50 shares of stock in a growing company called McDonald’s.  I’m sure that this is why my mother grew obsessed with the cheap burger brand. My father was great with finances. My mother? Not so much. That woman couldn’t handle money to save her life. If you gave her a dollar, she’d spend two! Anyway my father died suddenly when I was young, so he never saw the grand openings of the first NYC McDonald’s in Manhattan. My mother got re-married to her boss a year after my father died. About that time, the first McDonald’s in Queens opened at  13832 Jamaica Avenue, Jamaica, NY 11435. My mother still owned the stocks at the time, and she was there with my stepfather acting like she owned the place because she was a share-holder! I remember there was a guy dressed like Ronald McDonald and he was signing these stuffed Ronald dolls and my mother was buying them for all my cousins. She probably blew $100 that day on food and memorabilia which says a lot considering at the time the burgers were ONLY 30¢ each. Anyhow, a year after that, my step father also died. A year later, my mother was dead broke.  Between 1971 and 1975 she’d lost 2 husbands, 2 houses, the lifetime savings of two men, and those 50 shares of McDonald’s stock, which if I still had them today would be valued at three-to-five million dollars. A fool and their money are soon parted. My mother may have cost me a fortune because of her foolish spending habits, but at least I managed to inherit my father’s good looks and intelligence, and those pay their own unique dividends.  I’d like to believe he’d be impressed and proud of the man I grew up to be. As always I wish you  happiness and success!

A Wall Street Fairy Tale

Is the sky really falling?

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Chicken Little lived in Storybook Land. He had a nice government job working for the King, Mr. T. Chicken Little wasn’t born rich, but he was smart and read a lot. He wanted to be rich someday like his cousin Goose Golden-Eggs. Money just seemed to drop out of Goose. She left a pile of wealth everywhere she sat. It didn’t seem fair that some people were  born rich and had more money than brains, but no one ever said life was fair. Chicken had feathered his nest with Index Funds from the Stock Market. He hoped to have a very nice nest egg when he retired. He always paid attention to what was happening with The Stock Market.

The Stock Market was co-owned  by Mr. Bull and Mr. Bear. No one had seen Mr. Bear in years, not since 2009. No one liked it when Mr. Bear ran the market, but thankfully he only did so about once every seven years, and he never ran it for very long. Mr. Bull did a much better job running the Stock Market and always managed to clean up the mess left by Mr. Bear. He even had a new friend keeping him company on Wall Street,  Fearless Girl who just showed up one day and has hung around with Mr. Bull ever since.

Now Chicken Little was always running home from work each day, because he always wanted to see what the Talking Heads on TV had to say. Everyone in Storybook land watched different Talking Heads. There were many of them and you could always find one you liked. The problem was that they all said something different, so you had to be really careful which ones you listened to. Some of them said some very bad and dumb things, and if you listened to them too much, you grew very sad and jaded, like The Old Witch.

The Old Witch liked to tell everyone how  smart she was because she was very old, and she watched the Talking Heads all day long, so she knew everything. As Chicken Little was passing her home, she waved him over.

“Hi Chicken, did  you hear what my favorite Talking Heads said today?”

“No Witch, I was busy working all day so I could have more money to feather my nest.”

“They said Mr. T the King is an idiot, his son is retarded, and he’s going to destroy the world.”

Chicken Little was aghast! He couldn’t believe anyone would say such terrible things, much less listen to them, so he decided to quickly change the subject.

“Say Witch, you’re old and know everything. What’s the best thing to do with your money? I leave ten percent of  my money in  The Stock Market with Mr. Bull and he takes great care of it.”

“The Stock Market?!” she yelled. “You’d have to be crazy to leave money in the Stock Market. Do you remember the big crash of 1929? Humpty Dumpty lost everything  in the Market and leapt to his death because he was so depressed. Only idiots put their money in the Stock Market. I hide all my extra cash in my mattress,  it’s safer than a bank, and I own a nice house, it’s made of Candy and Chocolate.”

Chicken Little didn’t own a house, he rented a nice apartment with a great view. He eyed her home skeptically. “Isn’t candy bad for you? I heard it makes you fat and gives you diabetes.”

 The Old Witch scowled and gave him an angry look.

“What do you know? You’re not as old as I am, and you’re not as smart. I watch the Talking Heads all day. Chocolate comes from cocoa, which is a bean.  Candy is made with sugar which come from sugarcane. So both come from plants and therefore they are both vegetables and vegetables are good for you. Now scat! I’m busy, my favorite TV show is about to start.”

Chicken Little walked away shaking his head. Next he came to the house of the Pigs.

Practical Pig owned a house made of Gold Bricks. He and his brother Fifer were in the yard gardening as Chicken walked past. He called to them.

“Hey Pigs! I was talking with the Old Witch about money, what do you do with yours?”

“All my money is invested in real estate and precious metals.” replied Practical Pig pointing at his house made of gold bricks. Fifer said nothing, he just smiled. 

Practical was older and smarter than his brother Fifer. Fifer lived with his brother and slept on his couch. Fifer  used to own a house made of sticks. It was built on a foundation of sand, and financed with a ‘Ninja’ loan. It was a variable rate mortgage which inflated quickly. Fifer eventually lost his house of sticks when the housing bubble bust, so now he had to live with his brother.

“Isn’t gold and real estate expensive?” asked Chicken.

“It can be, but everyone has to live somewhere, and gold had never been worthless so both are great investments.”  Practical replied.

Chicken alternated looks between Practical Pig and his homeless brother Fifer.

“Say Practical, do you ever hear from your other brother Fiddler?”

“Oh yeah. I spoke to him on the phone this morning. He just moved into a huge expensive mansion financed by BitCoin and Ethereum. It’s totally built out of Ones and Zeros. I worry about him, some day he’ll be sleeping on my couch too.”

Chicken waved goodbye at the brothers and hurried home to his maintenance-free apartment.

The first thing he did when he got home was to turn on the News to listen to what the Talking Heads were saying about the day’s business news. They were all screaming that the sky was falling because the market plunged nearly 666 points and that it was probably the end of the world.

Chicken Little was so shocked by the news that he passed out!

After he recovered from the shock, he reviewed the various news clips to see why the market fell.

Some of the Talking Heads blamed Mr. T the King  for constantly letting his pet blue birds The Tweets fly free,  and said that he didn’t play well with others. Some of the Talking Heads said the Market Fell because The Wicked Witch of the West was the rightful ruler of Storybook Land and the throne had been stolen from her. A few others blamed it on The Man in the Moon and yelled at the sky. A few blamed the Russians. A few said they had ‘no idea why, it was a mystery.’ A few said it fell because the market fluctuates and it’ll bounce back. Uncle Warren the Wise Wizard of Wall Street said he was going to buy lots of cheap stocks first thing in the morning.  Little Jack Horner  sat in the corner eating his pie. The Cheshire Cat smiled until he faded away,  leaving only his grin. Everyone seemed to react to the news differently.

In the end, Chicken Little checked that his nest was still intact, saw that his index stocks were still up for the year, and discovered that despite what some of the Talking Heads claimed, everything was going to be just fine. He decided to listen to Uncle Warren and pick up a few bargains at the Stock Market, and knew that one day, he too would grow up to be a Wizard of Wall Street.

The End

Fairy Tales were a traditional way to entertain young impressionable minds while at the same time conveying a moral lesson. Even Jesus Christ occasionally turned to parables when trying to covey complex ideas to the crowd. There are lots of individuals who have difficulty understanding  how the economy, the stock market, and even personal finances work.  Throw in politics and religion and people get real confused quite fast.

February 2nd, 2018 marked one of the largest drops of the Dow Jones Industrial Average  since 2009. The thousand point plunge from the prior week’s high probably scared the novice investor to death. It’s not as bad as some of the ‘experts’ are claiming. Investing in stocks still results in far greater returns on investment than real estate, precious metals, or even the dangerous new gimmick, crypto-currencies like BitCoin. I’d stay far away from that last one, when that bubble pops, it’s going to burst loud and hard!

The bottom line is that there are many factors which impact our day to day lives, and just as many pundits, cynics, and fools with opinions. Everyone has an opinion.  It can become quite the task to filter out the many voices and distill all the information to refine a pure source.  What do singers , athletes, and movie stars really know when they speak on a topic? For every one celebrity with an actual college degree, there are at least a hundred who barely even graduated  high school.  Check your sources, check your information, and review your facts before making a decision which could potentially ruin your future happiness. Just because everyone around you is telling you what you want to hear doesn’t mean it’s the truth. You just might be in an echo chamber surrounded by sycophants.   Tread carefully.  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.