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God's Two Christmas Presents for Us

 

By Bob Brooks

December 18, 2014

 

We have a wonderful Christmas tradition at our house that involves the Elf on the Shelf named Jingles. This Elf on the Shelf is the incredible idea that some (very rich) person came up with and is a huge seller at Christmas. The whole notion is that the Elf sits on a shelf and watches the children and observes whether they are being good or not. Then, at night while they are sleeping, the Elf flies off to tell Santa how they have been behaving. When the kids wake up they want to see where the Elf is and where he is sitting that day. So, every night the parent moves the Elf to a new location.

Grayson, my 11 year old, still wants to believe that doll flies away each night.  Blaine, my 13 year old, just plays along so not to spoil it for Grayson. Every once in a while Grayson will question if the Elf is real. Any type of an explanation from Cheri and I quickly keeps the story alive.  Whether he is playing along or he really believes it, he is getting the most out of the magic of Christmas. 

Grayson also still believes in Santa and continues to ask me when I am taking him to go see Santa. How great it must be to still be a child and believe in the magic of Christmas. Whether he is playing along or he really believes it, he is getting the most out of the magic of Christmas.

I think that it is so easy to get caught up in everything that is not right in the world, worrying about what might or might not happen, and stay so Christmas busy that we lose perspective of God is showing us this time of the year through the gift of His two greatest presents.

God gave us the greatest present of all which was the birth of His Son.  It is so easy to lose sight of that gift.  When is the last time you reflected on the truest meaning of Christmas? 

God also gave us the present of the Present.  The only thing that matters is what we do with the Present.  The past is done and there is nothing we can do about it except to learn.  The future is for God to know and us to experience only when the future becomes the Present.  Until then, all of the worry and speculation in the world will do no good.  Besides, why ruin the Present with idle thought that the majority of the time doesn’t even occur?   

How will you celebrate God’s Presents to you?

My Christmas wish for you is that you will stay in the moment and get caught up in the magic of a toy Elf or experience the Christmas cheer of Santa and have a knowing that through God's greatest gifts to us there is a hope and a joy that is always there waiting to be received. To me, that is the true meaning of Christmas.

Merry Christmas to you and your family – I am so grateful and blessed for you following Prudent Money throughout the year.

Keep the Faith,

Bob

 

 
Surviving Christmas Season Money Mishaps

by Bob Brooks

December 17, 2014

Christmas is upon us and the craziness of shopping is in full swing. As consumers we are forced to deal with retailers and their often imperfect systems of commerce.   If you live long enough, you experience the downsides of Christmas shopping. 

• Company ships the wrong item

• You get home and find that some of the pieces are missing

• The store overcharges you for something

• A company doesn’t ship your item in time

• You cannot get the online system to take your order

• The item doesn’t work

• You are told one thing about the warranty and the warranty reads another

The list of potential mistakes that could occur during the Christmas buying season is a mile long. You need to be prepared ahead of time to handle Christmas Money Mishaps.

Change your expectations and get your Mind Right!

It is very easy to go into a situation where a mistake was made with negative expectations. 

“This is going to be a tough and drawn out process.”

“I am going to have to get angry to be heard

“There will be conflict.

“They will not admit it was their fault.”

“I know that they will not take the item back

  

Remember you are not going into battle unless you create one ahead of time. 

Consider a different mindset

• I know that it is a mistake and I can prove it with evidence

• This should be an easy process. If that is not the case, I will methodically get it resolved

• All it will take is a phone call and some follow up

• Life happens and I am not entitled to mistake free consumer experiences – as long as humans are in the mix, there is always the possibility that mistakes will happen

Put together a game plan

Before you call or go back to the store, have all of your evidence and facts in front of you. Remember you are presenting a case to the person on the other end and need to convince them that the mistake needs to be corrected.

You also need a game plan for getting through the dreaded call center. Companies are cutting back on live customer service solutions. They use a series of frustrating phone menus in order to hopefully alleviate the need for a live person.

Try this simple technique to get through to a live person. When you call a customer service number, start hitting “0” repeatedly. I have found that this sometimes cuts straight through the menu system and gets you to a live person.

 

#3: Present your case with Grace

Remember the person on the other end did not create your problem. This is not about making them wrong and making you right. It is about resolving a mistake. People are more likely to help someone who is pleasant rather than someone with a nasty and condemning attitude.

Start the conversation off with something like, “I have a problem that I hope you can help me get resolved. For whatever reason, my credit card has been overcharged.  What steps do we need to take to get this resolved? I really appreciate your help.”

 

That will get you much further down the road than, “You made a mistake. There is a charge on my statement that had better get corrected. It amazes me how your company cannot seem to get things right.”

Remember, mistakes happen and your reactions to the mistakes of others pre-determine the ease to which that mistake will get corrected.

 
College Education Instead of Toys for Christmas?

 

December 11, 2014

I was sent an interesting piece about Christmas gift giving.  For your kids, how about college education savings versus toys?  Mary Morris of The College Savings Foundation  had these ideas to share with us.

The following are a few examples and then a list of sites you can check out.

1) At Fidelity Investments, a family can create a customized gifting page and profile for their child or beneficiary.  Account holders can invite friends and family to that page through email or social media.  There, visitors can see a child's photo - including a quote on the child's dream for the future - and can make a contribution via an electronic check that goes directly from their bank account to the 529 account.  Account owners can monitor gifting on their private dashboard. Only parents with a Fidelity-managed retail 529 college savings account, which includes the UNIQUE College Investing Plan, the U.Fund® College Investing Plan, the Delaware College Investment Plan and the Fidelity Arizona College Savings Plan, can sign up for the 529 Online Gifting Service at www.Fidelity.com/collegegift and create the online gifting page.

2) GradSave lets friends and family make one-time or recurring gifts to a child's 529 plan or Coverdell ESA via eCheck or credit card. Parents create a college savings registry on GradSave featuring a personalized message and their child's photo, and share the link via email, social media, party invitations, or however they choose. A private dashboard allows parents to set goals and track their progress. The service is free, but GradSave passes on 3rd party fees for gifts made via credit card. www.gradsavegifts.org/home

3)         www.collegesavings.com/gifting


4)         www.giftofcollege.com

5)         www.giftedpath.com

6)         www.theeducationplan.com

7)         www.franklintempleton.com/529gifting or www.njbest.com/gifting

8)         www.virginia529.com/gift

 

 
The Rules of Gift Card Giving

Since consumers are going to spend an estimated 31 billion dollars on gift cards, I thought a few rules might be helpful.  Andrea Woroch wrote this excellent piece on gift cards that I thought you could benefit from. 

 

Once considered impersonal, today gift cards are perceived by millions of consumers as practical, convenient and the perfect holiday gift. In fact, gift cards continue to top holiday wish lists for the eighth year in a row with expected spending on these plastic presents to reach a record high. According to the National Retail Federation, shoppers plan to shell out over $170 on gift cards this year, with overall spending to exceed $31 billion.

Though buying a gift card is easier than ever these days, it's important to be as thoughtful with your purchase as you are with other items. To help you in this process, I've listed everything you need to know about giving gift cards, including how to save money (of course!).

Redeem rewards for free gift cards.
Most credit cards allow users to redeem their rewards for gift cards, and some offer deals on specific cards throughout the year. This is a great option for gift giving since it won't cost you anything extra. If you don't want to give a gift card, you can still redeem your rewards for one and use it to offset the cost of a different gift. Remember to give yourself plenty of time to receive the cards, as it can take a week or so to get them in the mail.

Get them for a discount.
There's no sense in paying full price for a gift card when you can easily save 5 to 30-percent off the face value. Shop for cards through GiftCardGranny.com and save 11-percent off cards to Starbucks; 26-percent off cards to Ann Taylor; and 11-percent off cards to Home Depot. You can also buy gift cards in bulk from Costco and Sam's Club and receive a discount. For example, Sam's Club is offering a 3-pack of $25 gift cards, plus a free $10 gift card, to Outback Steakhouse for $71.98.

Watch for promotional "gotchas."
Some gift cards that come free with select purchases are not true gift cards and might have expiration dates and usage restrictions. For example, Staples is currently offering a free $5 Promo card with purchase of $25 in eGift cards. However, that Promo card is only valid through January 31 and must be used via Google Wallet for redemption. The free gift cards currently available with select purchases from Target, on the other hand, appear to be the real deal. Ultimately, it's always good to read the fine print before using or re-gifting these cards.

Some still come with fees.
The CARD Act of 2009 did away with pesky fees and rapid expiration dates for most gift cards, but there's an important exception. Bank gift cards like those offered by VISA, MasterCard and American Express still carry fees of up to $4.95. When you're not sure what gift card to give, these bank cards may seem like a good choice, but that extra fee is an unnecessary expense when cash is just as useful. If cash feels too impersonal, consider getting creative with your presentation and turning the bill into an origami masterpiece.

Daily deals can be gift cards.
Giving the gift of an experience is increasingly attractive in our culture of mass consumerism. Daily deals are a great method of offering someone a day at the spa, a golf outing or an evening at the newest restaurant. A gift card of sorts, these vouchers should also be reviewed carefully before purchase, as expiration dates most certainly apply and restrictions can quickly derail your plans. For example, a friend nearly purchased a daily deal for a chiropractic exam and massage, only to learn she had to pay for a consultation before redeeming the voucher.

They make the perfect present in a pinch.
Whether you were surprised by an unexpected gift from a neighbor or coworker or you missed the shipping deadline to get that package to a loved one who lives across the country, virtual gift cards are the perfect present to give in a pinch. Most retailers offer electronic gift cards which can be ordered online and sent directly to the recipient's inbox. What’s more, many of these can also be printed from your home computer for an instant gift. Keep in mind, you don't have to be limited to department stores or big box retailers. The online gift card options are endless and available for movie theaters, spas, hotels and even airlines.

Get creative with the packaging.
Choosing the right gift card for the recipient is part of making it a personal gift. However, you can take it one step further by getting creative with the way you give it. For instance, a spa gift card could be given in a gift basket filled with a few at-home spa products like bubble bath and body lotion. A gift card to a favorite coffee shop can be paired with a festive mug and peppermint stir sticks. Putting effort into your presentation will make your gift card even more well received!

They're not always the best gift.
As the ultimate "I don't know what else to buy" gift, it may seem surprising that gift cards aren't always the best idea. If you don't know the recipient's shopping preferences (online or offline), or have no idea if a store or restaurant is located in their area, it's probably best to get them something else. In these cases, gift baskets of gourmet food or a subscription to a favorite magazine or newspaper might be a better alternative.

 

 

Andrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized shopping expert for Kinoli Inc., who helps consumers live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. From smart spending tips to personal finance advice, Andrea transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers. She has been featured among top news outlets such as Good Morning America, NBC's Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. For more information, visit AndreaWoroch.com or follow her on Twitter for daily savings advice and tips.

 

 

 
Sorry Mr. Gecko, Greed is not Good

By Bob Brooks
December 3, 2014

In one of my all-time favorite movies, Wall Street, the notorious bad guy Gordon Gecko made the statement, “Greed is Good.”

Just recently, the Pope had something to say about greed.  He recently cautioned that if men continue to be greedy about abusing natural resources to make a profit, the earth will eventually take her revenge,the Daily Mail reported.

The head of the Catholic Church also said "primacy of profit" and "market priorities" have obstructed efforts to fight global hunger and malnutrition.

By definition, greed “denotes an excessive, extreme desire for something, often more than one's proper share. Greed means avid desire for gain or wealth.”  I would add to that definition the need for control is crucial to make those gains.

When you really boil down all of the problems in the world they all have a foundation based on greed. We have just hit another big milestone with our national debt. We just rolled another big number and are in access of $18,000,000,000,000 of debt.  Yes, folks that is a number that no one can imagine.

So what fixes that 18 trillion dollar problem that keeps climbing day after day?  What really fixes healthcare?  What fixes Washington?  What prevents sound solutions from preventing financial disaster for our kids future? 

To me, it all comes down to fixing the problem of greed.  I had someone ask me yesterday about healthcare.  They asked if a republican becomes President and then is supported by Republican control of the Senate, can they repeal Obamacare?  The answer is pretty simple.  First, you can’t turn away universal healthcare.  That is here to stay.  You have to reform the entire healthcare system.  In order to do that you have to clean up politics and remove the greed from the system.  This is a two party problem.

What are the chances of that happening?  Greed for control, power, money, wealth, etc. drives the human spirit in politics.  Nothing gets fixed in this country until that gets fixed.

Greed has consequences and is never good.  The consequences of greed comes down to destruction for the benefit of others. The Pope offers the example of the abuse of natural resources.  The 18 trillion dollars of debt is a symbol of the ultimate destruction of the economy.

Proverbs 28:25Living Bible (TLB)

25 Greed causes fighting; trusting God leads to prosperity.

There is only one solution to greed.  It is about seeking God and getting true prosperity and doing it in large numbers.  You want control?  Surrender to control and let God have it.  Understanding that verse is the first step to what turns everything around in this country.  It is the antidote to greed. 

Then what do we do about this problem on an individual level and what does the church do corporately?  It seems like we are not doing anything in this country to fight greed.  Until we fix the greed problem in the world, the consequences will mount and ultimately be our downfall. 

 

 
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