Saturday, July 14, 2007

Caroling in July

Jingle Bells in the middle of July?

Go ahead......ask. Am I crazy?

No not really. In less than six months, children across the more developed nations will be waking up and rushing to the Christmas tree to open a bounty of gifts from St. Nick and others.Very soon after the back to school sales, the pressure will begin to mount to find the "gotta have" toy, doll or electronic gadget. Sometimes the key is determining what will be hot and what won't. Sometimes it's a moving target.

But with all the pressure, and yes, even sometimes fun of collecting the bounty, the fact remains that the holiday season creates more problems than the moment of joy it brings. Why? Because soon after, the credit card bills begin to arrive in the mail. Suddenly that New Years resolution to get the finances back on track begins to derail.

The problem most people have is that Christmas sneaks up on them. Dave Ramsey points out that most people have the realization at the Thanksgiving table. Probably just about the time there is the need for the Tums. They head of to the medicine cabinet and about halfway there, they palm their forehead with the realization that Santa was in Macy's parade earlier that day to usher in officially the holiday season. Black Friday is less than 24 hours away.

Many also simply fail to understand, that unlike Easter with a moving target, Christmas is December 25th every year. Has been since I was a child and for many years before that.

Here are some ideas that may put less stress on you individually as well as financially after the first of the year.

First, set a realistic spending plan. I like that better than budget. I sat in my departments budget meeting the other day. I hated it. Not only did it cut into my already busy day, but it was about constraint, not how to really allocate the monies we had for year and a forecast for next year. A spending plan seems to be more flexible. Maybe it's mind over matter, but hey it works for me.

The spending plan needs to realistically look at how much you would like to spend and how much is being practical without being a scrooge.

Set an amount to spend. Now, from that amount divide it by 5. That's the amount you will need to save monthly to have a paid for Christmas. It the amount is larger than what you can save, then trim it until you can. It will be tough at first. But once you start and get in the habit, it becomes easier and easier.

Now create a list of items that need to be purchased and for who? Make a T chart. Mark one side of the T needs and the other wants. Put the persons name you plan to give the gift to next to the item.

I really like T charts because they allow you to organize and see your thoughts outside of the confines of your mind. They are on paper and no longer just bouncing around in your mind. I compare it to an old saying a boss of mine once had. He said, and he was a sexist, that most women have snakes in their heads. In reality it applies to most people whether they are male or female.

Imagine if you would, a skull full of slithering, slimy snakes coursing their way through your head. Those are thoughts. Is it any wonder we never get control of our thoughts? How in the world are we to separate that slimy, slithering tangled mess and deal with it?

Heck, I don't even want to think about it. See what I mean about thoughts. The best way I know of to not stick our mental hands in our skulls and try to clean up the mess is to make a T chart and write it down.

Now's the time to find some approximate prices for the items you marked down and tally it up. Sometimes we know from shopping. Other times it's best to just check the prices on the web. But remember; don't press the "add to basket" button. That too will get you in trouble.

How close is the tallied amount to your spending plan amount?

If you're like most people, you just found that you’re planning to spend more than you just planned to spend. And if you're like most people, you've given up at this point. I'm trusting you're not like most people. If you're reading this, you have something that most people don't have. A common persons desire to start getting ahead.Now look at your T chart once again. You've already categorized needs and wants on your chart. Cherry pick through the wants side of the list and scratch some things that can wait, aren't really necessary or may upon second visit really look foolish to begin with.

That process probably didn't get you to the financial number you need, but you are closer. And with getting closer, you're already beginning to win. Take a moment and congratulate yourself.

Now, back to the list. Review the list once again and get creative. There are certain people you can't scratch from the list. But maybe you could group them in as a family or some other common unit. That could reduce 2 or more gifts to one. Is there a gift or group of gifts you could get other friends or family members to go in on with you? If so, again, you've just stretched your budget.

How about a gift of love. My church calls them random acts of kindness gifts. An idea would be to give a homemade gift certificate or coupon book with low or no cost things you could do with a loved one. Maybe a grandparent or aunt would really like a day out or some help around the house rather than some additional trinket to add to their collection. Something where your time or talent is more important to them both emotionally and from a gift perspective than a store purchased gift.

For nieces and nephews, maybe a day at the matinee or a camping trip to a nearby campground. I'm not overly creative with ideas, but hopefully these ideas created a catalyst of ideas for you.

One important step here. Get buy in from your spouse on these ideas. Without you working as a team, this simply isn't going to work. You must let your spouse or other significant person in your life know how important this is without becoming a nag or worse. You must convey to them how important this is to you without coming off as a crackpot or a scrooge.

Buy in from both spouses is critical because now it's easier to work your plan as a family unit.

Now to your children. This is where I could really touch the third rail. My first wife and I only had one child. One year while Christmas shopping, we were in the mega toy store. I always like to wander through the store and just re-invent myself as a kid and marvel at all the neat toys. When I caught up with her, she had two basket carts overflowing with toys. My first question after regaining mental acuity was why so much? Her reply was "that's what he wanted". The look of hurt was deep in her face. She not only believed that she needed to purchase these and likely many more gifts as the day approached, but now she disappointed me. And looking back, I probably wasn't very diplomatic. That's for another time.

Understand I loved my child too. But the sight of two shopping carts filled with toys floored me.

Also, I've always long held that most children are overwhelmed at Christmas with toys and other items. Think for a moment; they usually only really play with one or two items and the rest end up in the toy box or somewhere in a recessed corner in the basement? They are so overwhelmed they really don't appreciate the act that went into getting the gift. The gifts become long forgotten until the next garage or yard sale.

Make a pledge to cut back and buy gifts that will meaningful to your children. Save some for special gifts later in the year. Allow them to achieve something nice as a reward for hard work.

Seriously, don't treat your family like it's the depression. But realize most of us don't have the last name of Rockefeller either. Starting today and with this holiday season, it really time that we need to act our wage.

Now go back to the T chart and cut some more with your newly acquired insight.

Now your list and the dollars associated with it should look a little more like the spending plan you created earlier. The one where if you start saving now, you likely will have a paid in full Christmas with cash.

Now for some reason I have the urge to start hanging the decorations and go caroling tonight!

Oh the weather outside is frightful, the humidity is no longer delightful. My deoderant gave out long ago. I'm caroling with no snow, with no snow.

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