Enjoy Christmas As If You Were A Child

I doubt any kids read this blog.  While I think many of the topics that I talk about should be taught to kids (staying out of debt, paying credit cards, saving responsibly), I don’t write it to where I think kids would want to read.

That being said, this post is directly for kids…the one inside each and every one of you.

Christmas is next week and regardless if you celebrate that as a holiday, the time of year and the holiday spirit should be alive and well.

Unfortunately, I think many of us get so caught up in the ‘things to do’ regarding Christmas and the holidays, that we forget to actually enjoy the time.  Think about that for a second.  We do all these things to make it a great holiday: Decorate, Buy Presents, Wrap Presents, Pay For the Presents, Make Cookies, Gather the Family and all the other things.  We do all that and we get so consumed with it that we forget to actually enjoy ourselves.

At the end of the holiday season, how many people say something along the lines of “I’m so glad this is all over!”

I know I do.

The thing is, while the holidays can be busy and expensive and stress levels can go sky high, the fact is that it’s a time for enjoyment. And, there is no better way to remember this than to think for a minute about how much kids enjoy Christmas.  If you have kids, you know what I mean.  Our 3-year old ran downstairs the day after we put up the Christmas tree, looking for his presents under the tree.

That’s enthusiasm!

One of my favorite modern Christmas songs is by Gloria Estafan, where she did a song called “Christmas Through Your Eyes” and it talks about how she wishes that she could see Christmas through the eyes of a child.

I’m with her all the way.

I challenge everybody reading this to give yourself a gift this Christmas holiday.  Make a pledge to take some time and do something that will bring Christmas to your eyes like it appears to the eyes of a child.  If you have young kids, spend some time with them as they open gifts and capture some of their excitement.  If you don’t, then find something from your childhood that you remember best about the holidays, and spend some time figuring out why that memory was so everlasting.  Chances are it will bring some of that unbridled holiday enthusiasm back to you.

In the end, try to see Christmas through their eyes.  If you can capture that for just a few moments, it will make it all seem worth it.

Readers, what do you to take time out from the hustle and bustle to actually enjoy the holiday season?  How do you put things in perspective?

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Merry Christmas Savings Time!

Christmas is four months away.  That’s right, four months.  Now, most of us are probably worried about squeezing in as many cook-outs as possible into the last few weeks of summer (as we should), but it’s also time to start thinking about Christmas.

More importantly, it’s time to start saving for Christmas.

It’s well known that the holidays are the time of year where we spend the most.  This is also, as it so happens, the time of year where we get into ‘trouble’ the most by racking up credit card debt.

So, avoid it!

If you haven’t already, start saving now.

The ideal way to save for Christmas is to estimate your expenses, divide by twelve, and set aside that amount every month.  Then, when the bills need to get paid, you just take the balance of what you’ve set aside, pay it off, and start the whole process over again.

But, if you didn’t do that, it’s still not too late.  You have four months.  That means that you should start putting away one-quarter of what you expect to spend around the holidays.  Today.  Right now.

But what if you can’t afford to do this? Good point. Christmas can be expensive and budgets are most likely tight.  So, if you plan on spending $1,000 on Christmas, that means you should start putting away $250 per month starting today.  If you can’t afford to do that, here’s what you do:

  1. Look for ways you can cut that spending, even a little bit.  Can you and your spouse / significant other cut back a little bit this year?
  2. Save what you can.  Even if you can only put away $50-100 per month, that’s fine.  Every bit will help.
  3. Pay off the balances as soon as you can.
  4. Don’t wait until August next year.  Start saving as early as you can.  Don’t just pledge to do it.  Do it!

With these simple steps, you can be prepared for the financial implications of Christmas without any worries.  It takes discipline and time, but trust me, it will make the holidays all the more enjoyable if you start saving for them.

We’ve been putting money aside every month for the last couple of years to pay for Christmas gifts, so I can tell you that this strategy works and works well especially since we keep a pretty tight month-to-month budget.

Have you started saving for the holidays yet?  If not, when will you be starting?

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The Outdoor LED Lights Look Great!

Since we moved into our house, we enjoy putting lights outside on various trees and bushes in the front of the house, as well as the deck railing in back.

This year, we completed the transition to LED lighting for the entire outdoor set of lights!  I’m happy to say that we like it a lot.  As an added bonus, our next door neighbors do their garage, trees and bushes in the same style of lighting so we inadvertently created a ‘double dose’ of lighting.

It was a ‘long’ road to get here, relatively speaking.

In 2008, we had no plans to get up and do any shopping on Black Friday.  However, for reasons I can’t remember, we were both up around 5am.  I decided to go look at the sale ads and found that the KMart ad contained a great sale on LED lights.  We agreed that since we were up we’d go there, as well as to a couple of other places.

KMart had multi-colored LED lights, for which we bought seven sets or so at a good price.

That year, we used them indoors on our ‘family room’ tree.

As much as we tried to tell ourselves we liked it, in the end we really didn’t.  The lights, while cool, provided too many ‘spotlights’ around the room.

So, last year in 2009 we returned that tree to traditional lighting.

The LED lights we had previously used ended up going out on the deck railing, and the railing lights came in to the tree.  In the front we still used our regular lines as well.  Those were el cheapo lines, and the biggest problem with them is that, since they were in trees and since I was working from the and since they were cheaply made, lights sometimes got pulled loose from their sockets when being taken down.

This year, in 2010, I decided to take advantage of a ‘double promotion’ by Home Depot to replace all of the lights in front.  They had a sale, plus they had a trade in offer of $3 per old line of lights.  All told, I was able to replace the 700 lights or so with new lights for an average of $5 per line of 50, which I thought was pretty good.

The ‘spotlight’ effect isn’t an issue outside.  I know that they were costing us lots of money on our energy bill, plus the LED lights that go on the tree are little ‘nubs’ versus the longer bulbs in traditional lines, so there’s less chance of them getting pulled out during the taking down process.

Our inside lights are still all traditional lights.  The coloring of the lights isn’t warm enough with LEDs to allow us to bring them indoors.  Hopefully as the technology advances, they will be able to ‘warm up’ the lights while cutting back on some of the ‘harshness’ that still seems to be in play with LED lines.

Even so, we’ll consume much less energy indoors this year.  In the past, we’ve done three Christmas trees.  One in the front window that was kind of the ‘classy’ tree.  One in the family room that had all of our ‘fun and family’ ornaments.  One in the dining room that was a really small tree that didn’t take long to put up and was sort of an add-on.  Still, with a very curious Little Boy Beagle, we had to cut back down to one.  We combined the first two trees, so that we have our tree in the window in the front window but it contains our ‘fun and family’ sentimental ornaments.

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The LED Christmas Light Issue

We do some lights on the outside of our house, in the bushes and around a big tree in the front yard.  We have been interested in converting to LED lights, and I decided to look and see if this could be the year.

I am a little concerned with everything that I found.

While we ended up getting lights, there still seems to be a lot of barriers to get lights into peoples hands to realize the energy savings that everybody talks about.

Here are some issues I see with LED lights:

  • Availability – At almost every store I went to, I saw shelf after shelf of ‘regular’ lights, but very little space dedicated to LED lights.  I saw signs at a few stores promoting the virtues of LED lights and how they could lead to 80% savings over traditional lights.  Yet, in most cases, regular lines of LED bulbs were sold out.  This is the third year I’ve gone on a quest for LED bulbs and I was not impressed with their availability at all.
  • Price – When there were LED lines available, they were very expensive.  When stores do offer them at discounts, you can go right back to the availability discussion because they’re usually gone the first day.  So, your choice becomes to look for the lines at $7, which are always gone, or pay $19 for the same line.  I think it would take a lot longer to make that extra $12 back in energy savings, so people just forget it.
  • Look – This is the first year I’ve seen white lights that aren’t those awful blue shade.  It looks like technology is finally getting there to offer traditional white lights that can save money.  Of course, their limited availability meant that they were priced even higher than regular lines.  I think it will be another two or three years before you actually see these.

We ended up getting lucky and getting some multi-colored lines for our house, using a $3 trade in offer from Home Depot, where they accepted old lines and gave you a $3 credit towards and LED line of lights.

Of course, I had to get there at 9:20 on a Saturday morning.  I bought what I wanted and thought about going back to get some more…but by 10am, they were of course gone.

All in all, I’m impressed with the technology but I’m not impressed with the availability of the consumer to get that technology.  It seems that price and availability have not yet caught up to allow consumers en masses to replace their lines.  The sad part is that the barriers seem to be in place so that consumers will continue to buy regular lines of lights instead.

So, when you see all the advertising about how much money you can save with LED Christmas lights this year, I wouldn’t get your hopes up too much.

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