A Brief Guide to Holiday Tipping

I'm getting more requests this year for holiday tipping info than ever before. For example, Nina wrote: "Can you provide some guidelines for Holiday Tipping Etiquette for the holiday season? I'm at a complete loss..."

To be honest, I don't know much about holiday tipping. It's not something I was raised with. I covered it briefly in my guide to how much to tip, but I'm basically as in the dark as Nina is. To learn more about the subject, I did a little research. I learned that in some places and for some jobs, holiday tipping is customary.

The December 2009 issue of Consumer Reports includes a survey on holiday tipping habits. Housekeepers are by far the most commonly tipped profession. A full 75% of folks tip their cleaning person — and no wonder. More than half tip their child's teacher. Other than that, holiday tipping is more sporadic. (Only 8% tip the trash collector.) Continue reading...

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Financial Balance Lets You Enjoy Tomorrow AND Today

This article is the 11th of a 14-part series that explores the core tenets of Get Rich Slowly. It originally appeared at Soul Shelter in a slightly different form.

For more than a decade, I was buried in debt. My relationship with money was poor. I earned a decent salary, but I couldn't seem to get ahead. I lived paycheck-to-paycheck on $40,000 a year.

I'd frequently find myself standing in a store, holding a stack of CDs, say, or maybe several magazines. Inside, I'd be arguing with myself, almost as if there were an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. Most of the time, the devil won. I'd buy the stack of CDs or the magazines. And I'd use credit to do it. I was a compulsive spender.

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Master Your Money with a Financial Health Day

Howdy, folks. I'm writing you from a hotel room in Charlottesville, Virginia. All alone. My wife kicked me out of the house.

But it's a good thing.

You see, for reasons too boring to enumerate, it's been a topsy-turvy few months in the Brokamp household, and my “to do” pile has really piled up. It was beginning to affect stress level, and threatening my remaining hair follicles (which are already an endangered species). So my wife found a hotel for me, reserved it for two nights, and kicked me and my “to do” pile out of the house.

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The Anti-Stuff Holiday Gift Guide

For the past couple of years, my husband and I have not exchanged traditional, wrapped-and-Christmas-bowed gifts. Instead, we plan an experience.

We started our anti-Stuff celebrations because neither of us could think of a gift we truly wanted. Then we'd each be scrambling to think of something, anything, since not giving a box with a bow was unacceptable. This way, the pressure is off, and we create memories of fabulous meals and trips to vineyards, instead of piling up Stuff to fulfill a gift requirement.

I'm not against traditional gifts, especially if you know it's something the recipient will use or enjoy. But if you are at a loss for the hard-to-buy-for loved ones on your list, consider an anti-Stuff gift of consumables or experiences. Why? Continue reading...

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Large Amounts Matter Too

This article is the sixth of a fourteen-part series that explores the core tenets of Get Rich Slowly.

Last winter, Kris and I re-financed our mortgage. In one fell swoop, we trimmed our monthly payments for principal and interest from $1386.60 to $1137.69, boosting our cash flow by $248.91 per month.

If we had consumer debt, that's $248.91 per month we have could used for our debt snowball. It's $248.91 per month we could stick in our retirement accounts, or to put into savings accounts for our trip to France next year — or to pursue other hobbies and interests. Really, it's $248.91 we could use for anything we wanted. (As it happens, we chose to use that money to accelerate our mortgage payments.) Continue reading...

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Where We’re Starting From

Each of us has a unique relationship with money. Some have always used it wisely, have saved, have avoided debt. Others, like me, have struggled. I carried consumer debt for 20 years. I didn't open my first savings account until I was 36 years old. But now, after just over four years of intense effort, I feel financially secure. I still make mistakes (boy, do I!), but my momentum is leading me in the direction of my dreams.

Some people — through luck or right action — have good careers with comfortable salaries. Others — through luck or poor choices — face a daily grind in a low-wage job. Most of us fall somewhere in-between.

Seeking change
Each of us is different. We all have different attitudes and relationships to money. Obvious, I know, but it needs to be said. That's why I try to cover a wide range of topics at Get Rich Slowly: we're each starting from a different financial place. I think it's wrong to judge anyone based on their situation. If you're trying to improve, I'm willing to help, no matter whether you're deep in debt or financially secure.

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My financial infrastructure

Mapping your financial infrastructure is a mundane task. It's not exciting. It's not likely to save you big bucks. Instead, it's the sort of Big Picture exercise that each of us ought to perform from time-to-time just to be sure that everything's working the way we think it is. If you do this every year or two, you just might catch some inefficiencies that need to be corrected. I did.

A map of Jim's financial network
(Photo credit: Bargaineering.com)

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Safe Money in Tough Times: Questions and Answers with Jonathan Pond

My wife is a public broadcasting fanatic. I recognize its value, but mostly I just tolerate it. (I often joke that NPR is "noise pollution radio" — I can't think when it's on.) Usually the television pledge breaks annoy me, but one night last week, the local station employed a clever tactic. They had a financial expert answer viewer questions between pleas for more money.

Jonathan Pond bills himself as "America's financial planner". He runs a financial planning firm in Boston, but last Tuesday he was here in Portland, Oregon, fielding questions from the folks who called in to pledge money to public broadcasting. (Pond was also giving away copies of his new book, Safe Money in Tough Times.)

The questions Pond answered were a lot like the questions I've been receiving here at Get Rich Slowly. I don't have time to answer most of the questions readers submit, and some are beyond my ken. (Remember: I'm just an average guy.) When I realized that a financial expert was going to tackle topics of interest to my readers, I grabbed a pad of paper to take notes. I've reproduced some of the most interesting responses below. Continue reading...

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How I Cut My Television Bill in Half

I've had several requests lately to update my two-year quest to find cheap alternatives to cable television. In March of 2007, Kris and I were paying $65.82 for a deluxe digital cable package that we rarely used - money that could have been used to pay down debt or increase the balance on my savings account. "$65.82 a month isn't a fortune," I wrote at the time, "but it's a lot of money to pay for something that doesn't get used. If we were big TV watchers maybe the cost could be justified. But we aren't. And it can't."

To save money, we cut our cable to just the basic channels, which reduced our bill to $11.30/month. We also began to use the iTunes Music Store to subscribe to the shows that we wanted to watch. And over the past year, I've become a fan of Hulu, an online service that allows users to watch many past and current shows for free.

Here's an overview of the tools we use, and how much money we've managed to save.

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The Personal Finance Gift Guide

Last year, in answer to reader questions, I suggested some personal-finance books that make good gifts. Though the list was good, I wished that there were more to it than just books. To that end, I've kept my eyes open for other options for financially-themed presents.

The following list is rough. It will grow more robust and refined in time as I incorporate reader comments and suggestions. For now, it highlights some books, games, and tools that might make good gifts for certain people on your Christmas list.

Books for kids
In general, young children don't understand money and how it works. By engaging them in the actual physical presence of the stuff, it's possible to get them to grasp an otherwise abstract concept.

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