A Financial Education Event

Avoiding Last Minute Christmas Panic!


So….here’s  some of this year’s Kay Christmas photos, that were a part of our annual photo greeting card. This was mailed the day after Thanksgiving. On Black Friday and Cyber Monday of every year, I get all my shopping done so that we can have a simple holiday–no last minute panic, no stress–just a simple life. But a few Christmases ago, I got talked into having “some work” done in our kitchen that was “a three day job.” I remember stressing to my husband that, with all the college kids coming home for the holidays, I didn’t want my house in a mess. But in accordance with Murphy’s law, most of my kids came home to 6 inches of snow on the ground that completely shut down our desert California town. Plus, I had A MESS OF KITCHEN! Workers couldn’t drive in t
he snow.  With no kitchen, there was no holiday baking, no traditional truffles, nothing but a sense of panic that there was too much to do and not enough time.

Whether you’re still shopping for last minute gifts, prepping your cards, cooking for the big meal or cleaning the house, you can avoid the associated expense and stress that comes with last minute panic by becoming proactive and purposeful in the midst of your panic. Here are some tips to attack the anxiety before it attacks you.


  • Simplify – It may have been a tough year economically for your family or you may an uncertain financial future. It’s the ideal time to simplify the holidays by taking a deep breath and thinking about what you do have rather than what you don’t have. I believe that each of us has two kinds of attitudes within us: there is a minimalist as well as a materialist in each of us. It’s time to tap into the minimalist and give the materialist less power in your life. Be sure that you are talking this through with your spouse. Dr. Jennifer Degler has some great ideas to manage these conversations when we interviewed her on The Money Millhouse. The holidays are all about friends and family, they’re really not about spending yourself into oblivion or stressing the small stuff.
  • Strategize – Get the free Christmas Radio app and sit down for a strategy session. At the root of most of our last minute anxiety is a basic lack of control. In order to separate emotional panic from the plan, take charge by implementing a specific strategy for these last few days.
    1. Step One: Take ten minutes to write down what you have left to do (gifts, grocery shopping, cards, baking, cleaning, etc). You could use the Christmas List app for $2.99 or just use the notes on your tablet so that you can share this with appropriate family members that may be impacted. Maybe you don’t really have as much to do as you thought and that, in and of itself, will help eliminate stress.
    2. Step Two: Go back over your list and mark the items as optional or mandatory. Do you really have to paint the bathroom before the guests arrive—optional.  Do you really have to change the sheets in the guest room before your mother-in-law arrives—mandatory.  Do you have to bake those three step chocolate truffles or can you get them at the local bakery–optional.
    3. Step Three: Take the optional items and place them on the bottom of the list. If you get to them—fine, if you don’t fine. This takes off TONS of pressure.
  • Stash the Cash – It’s soooo hard to really stay on budget with only days before Christmas. One tried-and-true way our family has been able to stay on a last minute budget is to get the budget remainder in cash and divide it into specially marked envelopes, for example, “food” and “gifts.” When I’m in the grocery store, I take the food budget envelope and it serves as a visual reminder of what I have left. On one hand, it keeps me from splurging on some treats if I’m running out of cash but on the other hand, it can also allow me to splurge (guilt free) on certain products if I realize that I have money leftover!
  • Split the Efforts – This may come as a news flash but… you don’t have to do everything in order for it to get done right! This is not the time to be Miss Polly Perfectionist. In this step, we need to delegate responsibilities. Assign tasks to different family members and cut your work in half. In fact, you could use this time as an opportunity to teach your teens the value of a dollar. Let them go to the store for you and get the items on your list, asking them to find the best deals. If they are not certain, then they can text you the options (what teen doesn’t love to text?) You can text them back some suggestions and in the process they are learning to evaluate a good deal and a bad deal.
  • Separate – It’s highly likely that you’re going to be charging some last minute expenses on your credit cards. But don’t let those purchases hurt your FICO (Fair Isaac Credit Score) by charging more than 30% on any one card. Check your credit card limits as well as your balances online or by phone and then make certain that you charge on the card that is lowest proportionally. Even if you are able to pay off these credit card bills next month, charges of more than 50% of the available limit on any given card can hurt your FICO. So be strategic by separating those purchases and saving your credit score.
  • SAVE – It used to be that Black Friday was just a day, this year it’s an entire season. It’s truly a buyer’s market amongst retailers and there are last minute deals to be had, especially electronics and clothing. But what if you don’t have time to go and battle the crowds at the store? There’s an easier way to give last minute gifts that simplifies your time, saves you money and keeps you on budget.
    1. Gift certificates (online and physical cards) – If you want to send an online gift certificate to someone, it’s as easy as pointing and clicking. They’ll receive notification in their in-box that you’ve bought them a gift certificate and you can follow up with an e-card alerting them that the notification they will receive from the retailer is not spam. For some great options, go to restaurant.com for discounts on eating out or check out potential deals at amazon.com For a review of codes that can give you a better deal, go to RetailMeNot.
    2. Gifts of Time – Some of the most memorable gifts I’ve ever received are gifts of time. One girlfriend gifted me with a certificate good for lunch at my favorite bistro. My kids have given me handmade “coupons” that are good for doing the dishes, cleaning the living room, babysitting a younger sibling or not back talking me for a week (hey, I’m happy for a day). You could write out your own coupon and give the recipient a card that says, “This card entitles you to dinner and a movie” or “This card can be redeemed for a night out on the town while we babysit your teething twins.” This can be FUN!
  • Share – I’m all about multitasking and getting the most out of my efforts as well as my money. Now is the perfect time to give to charity in a way that also benefits you financially with your taxes. This year, given the current economy and the great material needs in communities why not consider giving the “gift” of a donation in someone’s name? Our favorite non profit organization is Heroes at Home which provides free financial education for military members. Currently, 95% of your donations go directly to programs on base.  Look over your list of people and consider making a donation in their name instead of giving them a material gift. You don’t have to tell them the amount of the gift and you can make one donation in the names of several people—thereby giving an amount that allows you stay within your budget. Furthermore, this kind of gift could be tax-deductible and help you (if you itemize) on your taxes as well. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Merry Christmas!
Ellie Kay

De-Stress for Less (part 2)

In order to fully embrace the value of free time, we need to remind ourselves of the importance of recreation and relaxation in our overall quality of life and productivity. Our families, marriages, and friendships all need time to regenerate and celebrate so we can be refreshed and ready to face the next round of daily demands of modern living. Unfortunately, if we are not mindful, those rewarding activities can become costly and negatively impact our budgets—which puts us right back into stress mode!

If entertainment and eating out is scheduled into your spending plan, then there’s no stress of going off budget. But what if you could go out twice as often and still stay on budget? Here are some ways to have twice the fun at the same price:

Blockbuster Deals on Blockbuster Movie Tickets!


Blockbuster savings

One of the biggest traditions in the Kay family is watching movies. Well, more specifically, watching movies AND quoting movie lines at every opportune moment. For example, if I were to mention that tradition in front of one my boys, they’d likely pipe in with something like, “Really boot? Why don’t you give me 100 right now?” (Bonus points if you know the reference–scroll to the end of the blog for the answer.)

Like many families, our movie watching time increases in the summer. Kids are out of school, air-conditioned indoors suddenly become more appealing and Hollywood starts cranking out its big-time money-makers. But one of the most important reasons is the fact movie theaters start offering some of their best deals and reward programs of the year.

Here are some of the blockbuster deals from some of the biggest companies in the United States:

  1. Cinemark – These guys are probably the best when it comes to the sheer number of discounts and savings they offer. The Values page on their website is full of printable discounts and coupons such as free popcorn and discounted tickets. These coupons can be used in conjunction with their refillable soda and popcorn cups and tubs. They also offer discounts for seniors, groups, the military and students! If you go on the right day (like a Tuesday), you’d like be able to pull off a movie for two with concessions for less than $20, depending on what part of the country you live in. Best of all, Cinemark has a large number of dollar or discounted theaters, where you can get tickets for less than two bucks.
  2. AMC Theatres – If you go to the movies frequently, AMC has one of the best reward programs out there. Their AMC Stubs program not only gives you discounts and rewards, the online portal lets you track every cent you spend on concessions and tickets. Another perk is that the program waives all fees for purchasing tickets online. At $12 per year, the card pays for itself after only a few visits.
  3. Regal Entertainment Group – The best part about the Regal Crown Club? It’s absolutely free. In addition to offering rewards and discounts, members also have the opportunity to enter sweepstakes for vacations and movie-related prizes.
  4. Carmike Cinemas – TBG? TAG? Those are some of the promotion names at Carmike, which offers exclusive discounts on its social network pages. Of course, you’ll only know about them when you like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter. Their Family Pack, for example, offers amazing savings for families.
  5. Daily deals – Sites like Groupon may not be as popular as they were before, but that’s good for deal hunters, as they need to offer better deals to attract new customers. One popular deal is a movie ticket and drink for half price, meaning you only have to pay for popcorn (or simply enjoy a soda and a movie).

Whether you’re a student, senior or simply love movies, you can save big on movies this summer. Save what, you may ask? “Presidential flashcards.” Ok, that’s another movie line from the movie quoted at the top of this blog. Did you guess it? “That Thing You Do!”

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

Gift Cards and the New Card Act

Christmas past, Christmas present and Christmas future! I love looking back at holiday pix when my babies were babies, that’s part of the fun of the season.

Recently, I was on ABC NEWS, talking about the fact that for the past three Christmas seasons, the present at the top of most people’s list is the gift card. While recent surveys indicate that people love to give and get gift cards, this year, gift cards are not just for those who are short on time or scrambling for ideas. In a post recession economy, gift cards can help some families make ends meet for months to come. This year, there’s good news for those in the market for gift cards, the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act enacted last year has imposed new restrictions on gift cards so they are more consumer friendly.

Understanding the new CARD Act rules will help you make the best selection when purchasing gift cards. First of all, there are different kinds of gift cards, so it’s important to know the options and how to you decide which card to buy. There are basically two kinds of gift cards and they each have had their advantages as well as drawbacks. The credit card or bank issued cards have the advantage that they can be used almost anywhere, but traditionally, they’ve been racked with fees, including a hefty purchase fee. The other kind of card is a retailer card, which may not have the fees attached, but the obvious disadvantage is that they can only be used at a specific retailer.

Billions Lost in Christmas Past

Over the past several years there have been billions of dollars lost each year. Consumer have lost out because of expiration dates on cards, fees that can deteriorate their worth, and lost or misplaced cards. Plus, some businesses went under and the customer who had not yet finished using their card was out of luck.

CARD Act is Helping With Christmas Present

The CARD Act changed the scene on behalf of the consumer when it comes to gift cards in several ways. For example, gift cards sold after Aug 22, 2010, can’t expire in less than five years. The law also bars issuers from charging an inactivity fee unless the card has been dormant for at least 12 months. In the past, some gift card issuers deducted inactivity fees after only 30 days. Issuers are also barred from charging a fee to replace a lost or stolen card.

Even though these restrictions can do away with a lot of unpleasant surprises, it’s not all smooth sailing, there are still some drawbacks that people should be aware of. The first area is purchase fees. If you decide to give someone a gift card from a credit card or bank, then you need to expect to pay more than the face value of the card. All eight of the general purpose cards included in Bankrate.com’s annual gift card survey charge between $3.95 and $6.95.

Why do credit card and bank issuers charge these fees? What kinds of services do they pay for?

They do pay for a variety of services, including the infrastructure that allows gift card holders to check their balances online. To contrast that with retail cards, none of the 46 retailers and restaurants in the Bankrate survey charge a purchase fee for their gift cards. Some retailers go even further, offering customers a gift or discount with the gift card purchase.

Beware the Ghost of Christmas Future

There are still areas where you should consider the future in purchasing your gift card. While the CARD Act restricts inactivity fees it doesn’t eliminate them. Consumers who allow them to languish for a year or longer could still get hit with fees, which are typically subtracted from the value of the card. Most of the general purpose cards in the Bankrate survey charge a $2.50 per month inactivity fee if the card isn’t used after 12 consecutive months. But this is primarily true for the credit card and bank based cards, not for retailers and restaurants.

Isn’t there suppose to be full disclosure at the point of sale for any kind of gift card and how do you decipher these disclosures, they can be really confusing?

All of these disclosures, as mandated by the CARD act are now suppose to be on the back of the gift card itself. The info is supposed to include fees, expiration dates, and a toll free number. In July, though, Congress agreed to extend the disclosure deadline until Jan 31, 2011 for gift cards produced before April 1st. So this holiday season consumers won’t get in on that part of the good deal. This is because Congress granted a reprieve. You would think it would be a good idea, especially during the holidays, to have full disclosure for the consumer. But the gift card industry would have had to destroy 100 million gift cards, which might have had a negative trickle down effect for the industry, and would have also made it virtually impossible for card manufacturer’s to meet retailers’ order in time for the holidays. So be aware of the fact that the cards you buy this holiday may have some outdated information on them. You can find the correct information through websites that the retailer will give you as well as signage and advertisements.

Ellie Kay

“America’s Family Financial Expert” (R)