Ask the Readers: What brings out the Scrooge in you?

As I mentioned last month, Thanksgiving is my very favorite holiday. It's about food and togetherness, not gifts. Sometimes I think this makes me sound like a Scrooge. But it's not the idea of gift-giving that I dislike, it's all the stress that surrounds it.

Here's an example. My husband and I have been together for almost 10 years. During the first four or five years, we did the whole gift-exchange thing. For me, it was kinda fun. I don't mean to brag, but I'm pretty good at getting people something they'll love. I take into account all kinds of stuff: hobbies, lifestyle, conversations from six months ago about the thingmajig they've always wanted. All year long, I update secret Amazon wishlists for each person I buy gifts for; so when a gift-giving occasion pops up, I have plenty of options. I also scour the 'net for coupon codes and rebate offers, so I stretch my dollars a little farther.

My husband, on the other hand, has a harder time with picking out gifts. That's why, when we got together, I took over the gift-selection duties for him. But he was still on the hook for picking out my gift, and I could tell it wasn't easy. Then there was the issue of having joint finances. I review the credit card purchases regularly, so it would be difficult for anything to be a surprise unless he paid in cash at a brick-and-mortar store.<

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‘Fallen Fruit’ and the concept of sharing abundance

I was recently reading Lauren Weber's book, "In Cheap We Trust: The Story of a Misunderstood American Virtue." On page 16, I got a little excited:

"…www.FallenFruit.org, maps out public fruit trees in Los Angeles and encourages reader to gather up the bounty."

A-whaaa? I jumped out of bed and onto the Internet, where I discovered Fallen Fruit is much, much more than a bunch of maps of public fruit trees (but it's definitely that, too.) Continue reading...

More about...Food, Giving

Tax-efficient charitable giving

This is a guest post from LD, a practicing Certified Public Accountant and Certified Financial Planner who blogs about personal finance at Personal Finance Insider.

Some reader stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success or failure. These stories feature folks with all levels of financial maturity and income.

Generosity is exactly this: to give that which is dearest to us. It is an act that transforms us. After it, we will be poorer, but we will feel richer. Perhaps we will feel less equipped and secure, but we will be freer. We will have made the world we live in a little kinder. — Piero Ferrucci Continue reading...

More about...Giving, Taxes

Starting to see financial fitness muscle!

This story comes to us from reader EmJay. EmJay's story is the epitome of getting rich slowly, and readers can learn from her effort. This post is part of the Reader Stories series. Some reader stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success or failure. These stories feature folks with all levels of financial maturity and income.

Although we didn't declare it to be at the outset, 2012 was The Year We Slayed Our Debt. We refinanced our house in late 2011 to get a shorter interest rate and term, and when we got that magical 10-year mortgage (which will even be a bit shorter than that using a biweekly payment schedule!!), something clicked for me.

All of a sudden, there was light at the end of the tunnel.  If we could pay off our house in 10 years, we could debt-free by 40! And if we could pay off our house, what else could we pay off? What else could we do with all that money that would be available? This was really exciting!<

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More about...Budgeting, Giving, Planning, Transportation

Battle of the toy bulge

By now, most families have taken down their trees and house lights. And if you're like me and live in the Midwest, you might be counting down the days until the first signs of spring. A new year of goals, hopes and beginnings has begun...

Meanwhile, a battle is taking place in many homes. Many people with children, like me, are finding that they have been overrun by an absurd number of new toys and games. Especially in minimalist dwellings like my own, the amount of new stuff is overwhelming. The funny thing is, I thought that I had taken some preventive measures to stop this from happening. Months before Christmas, I began purging baby toys that my youngest daughter no longer plays with. I got rid of duplicate toys and others that served a similar function. Our children's book collection was whittled down to the top 50, and our toy inventory seemed under control.

Then…BOOM! Santa came in waves as we attended various holiday functions. We had braced ourselves for what we assumed would be a ridiculous toy explosion, and unfortunately, we were right. Well-meaning family members and friends generously showered my children with way more than they could ever play with or need. And while each individual gift does not pose a problem on its own, the accumulation of all of them is insane. Continue reading...

More about...Frugality, Giving

Resisting the holiday spending trap

Every year, I fail to really account for the cost of Christmas. "A few hundred dollars," I think, for gifts, and then by the first few days of December I've bought several pounds of butter, and lots of my favorite seasonal chocolate, and the big size of maple syrup because I'll be baking and pancake-making a lot this winter. And suddenly I've already spent a few hundred dollars, and not a gift among them.

And because my children are children, having grown up in a big extended family of good Christians who are totally O.K. with Santa, (and let me reiterate: a big family, with traditions including fat, stuffed stockings and gift-giving to aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents, going to public school and occasionally coming across those toy ads in the circulars from department stores like the local Fred Meyer… ) well, they expect something. Like, a big something. They want their Christmas-morning minds blown.

I've done this to myself. Continue reading...

More about...Frugality, Giving

Lowering expectations for Christmas

Personally, I begin to panic every year as the holiday season approaches. It's not because I don't love Christmas. I really do love the holiday season, in general. I just cringe at the thought of all of the money that gets spent unnecessarily, especially mine. And as holiday spending has steadily grown out of control, expectations have come along for the ride. What is now considered to be a reasonable amount of presents is completely different than it was when I was a kid. Nowadays, children are getting showered with big gifts, expensive toys, and things I never would have dreamed of receiving as a child.

My mom once told me that, when she was young, she typically got an orange and some candy in her stocking on Christmas. Seriously. And she was thrilled to get it. She also reminded me that she and her siblings would each get only a few small toys as well. The thing is, this isn't just some story about walking 10 miles to school, uphill, both ways. It is actually the truth. Of course, it happened 60 years ago, and I cannot believe how times have changed. Kids certainly expect a lot more gifts now, and it doesn't take much to figure out why things have changed so dramatically.

Doesn't it seem like the holiday season creeps up on us earlier every single year? It is no longer surprising to see stores decorated for Christmas in early November... way before Thanksgiving! This year, several stores even announced that they would open for Black Friday on Thanksgiving Day, and they made many customers upset in the process. Continue reading...

More about...Budgeting, Giving

Ask the Readers: How do you build an inexpensive care package?

This guest post was written by Jenny Saikwa who was inspired by Veterans Day.

I'm not exactly sure how Spit made his entrance, but the little stuffed camel certainly meant a lot to my son during the waning days of his first deployment in Afghanistan. The object of countless "missions," Spit's uncanny ability to sneak into a photo or weasel his way onto a helicopter was the stuff of legends. Spit celebrated his first Christmas next to a Charlie Brown-style tree at Bagram Airfield. Spit was also endowed with the straight-man's knack for comedy. He'd show up posing for pictures and appearing on Skype. But no matter what the situation, Spit would just stare at you.

For my son, orchestrating Spit's adventures kept him occupied during the long months of deployment. It was heart-warming that such a small, inexpensive item could connect us across the miles, and it required only a bit of humor and ingenuity. Continue reading...

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Ask the Readers: How do you keep holiday tipping in check?

This post comes from J. Whiton.

I'm preparing a holiday gift budget for family and close friends and realize I should factor in year-end gifts and bonuses to myriad people who provide services to us throughout the year. I've gotten the memo that “it's the thought that counts,” but I'm not sure my newspaper delivery person has. He continues to enclose a self-addressed envelope with our paper in early December, and I'm pretty sure he is interested in receiving more than a kind note expressing our appreciation for the times he managed to avoid tossing our paper in the sprinkler.

My goal is to limit holiday gift giving to $1,500 in total. As I begin assembling this list, I can see that the amount spent in the holiday gratuity category could potentially absorb the bulk of my budget:

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More about...Budgeting, Giving

‘Tis the Season for an Autopsy of Last Year’s Holiday

With the retailers already selling bones, severed limbs, and other Halloween paraphernalia, it's only a matter of (short) time until it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. I know, summer's not even technically over yet; why talk about the winter? But if you're like many people — such as my mom, who asked me yesterday what's on my kids' wish lists this year — you might already be looking for bargains with the aim of breaking the holiday spending into more manageable, monthly chunks. It may not be the most jolly thought in September, but the season of giving, receiving, and eating — it's the most consumption-ful time of the year! — is not as far away as we might wish.

But before you loosen your wallet and your belt, pause to fill your head with dancing visions of what you gave during last year's holidays. Do the recipients still value your gifts? Do they still use them? Are you still paying for them...with interest?

Brokamp stockings hung by the chimney with care
The Brokamp family mantel, Christmas 2011.

When it comes to your extended family and friends, this may be difficult to answer, though the next time you're in their houses, you can see if your past presents are in a utilitarian location or a dust-gathering location. Or maybe the next time they have a yard sale, look for presents of yore being sold for a 10th of what you paid for them.

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