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
www.elliekay.com

Give Courage to our Heroes and Heroes at Home on #Giving Tuesday

Courage is one of the main characteristics of the service members that we serve in our free Heroes at Home Financial Event and in our Money Millhouse podcast.

Those who are currently serving volunteered to serve during a time of war and that requires courage. But their families, the Heroes at Home need courage as well. I’ve sent a fighter pilot spouse into harm’s way and now we have three sons who currently serve. Two are infantry officers in the Marines and Army, and the third is a fighter pilot in the Air Force. It was ok when they were at their respective service academies or in training. But it’s a different story when they are deployable.

While it’s hard to send off a spouse, I have to admit that it’s even harder to send a child. I stop breathing for the months they are deployed. Because I know my infantry sons will be involved in air assault missions and facing firefights. They are all home now, but even writing this brings tears to my eyes as I know they will deploy again. I spend a lot of time in prayer for their courage and their safety.

We’ve taken our tour all the way around the world and when we were in Alaska several years ago, I spoke to the spouses of the Army Stryker Brigade, who were deployed. Their military members had suddenly been extended from a year to 15 months. It became a debacle because 1/2 of the troops came home and were immediately redeployed, while the other half stayed in harm’s way.

I was called, on an emergency basis, to talk to these spouses and as a veteran spouse and mom of family who has deployed into harm’s way in Afghanistan and Iraq, I spoke from experience. The President sent the Secretary of State to speak to these spouses and he spoke in the afternoon while I spoke in the morning.

I didn’t mix words as I told them that when their military member is deployed into the theater, they have one role and that is to tell their spouse , “I love you, I’m proud of you and I will be all right.’” This is NOT the time to vent on them, tell them about troubles, or say negative things. Spouses can vent with a trusted friend, a chaplain or even their puppy dog—but it’s important to NOT vent on the military member when they are deployed. The reason is because they are there to do a job. They took an oath to serve our country and do their duty.

If a military member is distracted because of issues at home, then distractions can lead to accidents and accidents can lead to loss of life. So the best thing a Hero at Home can do is be supportive when their military member is deployed.

As these young spouses left the event, they said, “Now I know what I need to do.” We gave them hope that day as well as a plan of action.

Three days after our team left Alaska, I received a phone call from the Alaska event organizer. One of the young moms who was in the audience was given notification that her husband would not be coming home, not for Christmas or forever. As she was notified, she said, “I’m so glad that I went to the Heroes at Home event because the last time I spoke to my husband on the phone, I was going to vent on him. I was so mad that the Army had extended them during the holidays. My husband is my best friend, I tell him everything. But instead of venting, I can live with the fact that the last words I ever spoke to him were, “I love you, I am proud you and I’m going to be all right.”

Yes, a Hero at Home is courageous and that is what you are if you are a military family member reading this blog. Thank you for your courage.

For the rest of us, how can you help bring courage to a Hero at Home?

One way is to donate to what we are doing, so that we can continue to give these brave men and women in uniform this very important message from America,

We love you, we are so proud of you and together, we will be all right.” 

Ellie Kay

Thanksgiving Traditions

Thankful Traditions

The Kay family photo for Woman’s Day magazine.

Not every “savings” can be measured in dollars and cents. One of the things we emphasized in our family is the saving of memories. Our Thankful Tree was featured in a Woman’s Day magazine one year. It took two photographers 8 rolls of film and four hours to get one 3 x 5 photo in the magazine. Joshua was missing for one roll of film and we didn’t notice until we saw him making faces from behindthe photographers and we asked, “What are you doing back there?”

The tip we gave is how we’ve stayed in touch with family and friends during this holiday. On November 1st, we made a Thankful Tree on poster board and put it on our wall or front door. The tree was bare because the leaves that we made out of construction paper have not yet been gathered. The leaves have the person’s name on them and say, “Papa is thankful for _________.” But we left the tree bare at the beginning of the season to teach the children how barren our lives are without the giving of thanks.

We made and sent the leaves to friends and family around the world along with a self-addressed envelope. When these envelopes came back, the children got excited as they took turns opening them. At dinner that night, we read the leaf and give thanks along with those who are thankful and put the leaf on our tree. By Thanksgiving Day, we had a tree full of thanks. We carefully saved the leaves in an envelope marked by the year and kept all in our Thanksgiving decoration box. Each year, we read the leaves from past years.

We never know when this year’s leaf might be someone’s last, or which family might have a new leaf on next year’s tree. So we give thanks.  These days, we gather “thankful comments” from facebook, email and twitter, but the point is we are connecting with friends and family in a meaningful way.

This holiday, what are YOU thankful for?  Besides our health and our family, we are thankful for two weddings this year, healthy grandchildren, and the chance to be together during the holidays.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Ellie Kay

 

Holiday Travel Hacks by Bethany Bayless

Ah, the Holidays—it’s the most wonderful time of the year! Also the most expensive—especially when you don’t live near your loved ones. Holiday travel can be awesome or awful. Here are a few tips that can help when it comes to booking your travel.

  1. Avoid Peak Days: Don’t travel on peak days. Guess what—Everyone is flying those days! They are by far the most expensive days to fly. For Christmas, those days are December 22, 23, and 24. For New Year, it is December 29 and January 2. Look at your schedule to see if you are able to tweak your travel days just a little to get the best price on flights.
  2. Travel Early or Late in the Day: Another thing to keep in mind is that the cheapest flights are generally the first and last flights of the day. Don’t be afraid to adjust your sleeping schedule just a bit by flying super early or super late. These are going to be the cheaper flights.
  3. Do your research: Use apps like Hopper to find the cheapest days to fly. They will even keep you alerted to when it comes time to buy at the cheapest rate. With Holiday travel, buying sooner rather than later is always advised.
  4. Shop Around: When it comes to flying, use those dates you got from Hopper and plug them into a site like skyscanner.com, or go directly to airlines sites. Southwest only posts on their website—so make sure you check Southwest for the prices they have on flights. Keep in mind, also, that though Southwest is not always the cheapest fare, your bags will always fly for free. That can make all the difference!
  5. Send Presents Ahead: If you can get away with it, don’t check a bag. We know the holidays mean lots of presents. Think ahead—use Amazon Prime to ship directly to the people receiving them or the house you will be staying in, or send them ahead of time. It will save you headaches when it comes to sweating your connections or losing your bags. It will save you time, and sometimes it can even save you money!

What are some of your favorite tips and ways to save money when it comes to Holiday Travel?

Bethany Bayless is a popular speaker, blogger and emcee. She worked in Europe for a non-profit organization before becoming the Director of Communications for the non-profit, Heroes at Home. Her work can be found at WanderlustforLess

Holiday Travel Planning Guide – Hint: Buy Early

BGadmin

 

One of my favorite things to do when I have my adult children home is to go to church. We always went as a family when they were growing up and having them join in when they are home brings back great memories. The last time they came home, I stood in our row with Jonathan and Joshua sitting next to me and fought back tears of gratitude. At the end of the service, the music swelled loudly, our cue to leave the sanctuary and make room for the next service in our large church.

Bob and I got separated from the boys in the exiting crowd and when I looked back to see where they were, I was stunned to see the two boys wrestling in the aisles. Jonathan had Joshua in a headlock and Joshua was trying to punch him in the kidneys to break the lock.

Oy vey. Some things never change. “We were just having some fun!” they declared as I grabbed them by the ears and they straightened up.

Family times are the best times.

They Kay family loves to get together for the holidays, but travel can be expensive. Knowing when to buy those airline tickets can mean the difference between paying cash for your holiday travel or going into further credit card debt.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are still weeks away, but October is the month you should look to book flights for both holidays.

In fact, travel app Hopper recently released its Holiday Travel Index which includes data on when to fly and buy for both holidays. Here’s a few findings I found from the study:

  • Although Thanksgiving travel is expensive (even more so this year than last — domestic flight prices are currently averaging about $325 round-trip compared to $288 last year), prices won’t vary much during the month of October. You can put it off for a bit, but make sure you book your Thanksgiving flights before Halloween.
  • If you wait to book your flight until after Halloween, it will cost you about $1 per day, every day that you wait. Prices will then begin spiking closer to $10 per day during the final two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.
  • Unlike Thanksgiving prices, holiday flight prices tend to rise more steadily as Christmas approaches, and then spike heavily in the last two weeks.
  • The best time to book Christmas flights this year is the first weeks of October. If you have to wait to buy, make sure you watch prices closely, as they will fluctuate and then start spiking moderately 15-25 days prior to departure. They will spike dramatically (about $7 per day) in the final two weeksleading up to Christmas.
  • If your plans are flexible, you can save the most money by leaving on Tuesday, December 19 and returning Thursday, January 4

Keep in mind that it’s important to budget for holiday travel in conjunction with all the other expenses accrued during the holidays.

In our family, we value experiences over things. This means we will spend money to get kids home and spend less on their gifts once they get here. After all, it would be boring if we didn’t have Jonathan and Joshua fighting in the church aisles during the holidays.

Teaching Children Generosity During the Holidays

Parents want their kids to learn how to give back to others, but sometimes it’s a challenge to know how to do that effectively.

When my kids were growing up, from the time they were toddlers, they worked alongside us to gather groceries for the local food pantry, they were with us as a family when we collected used coats from the neighborhood for the homeless shelter and they helped us buy toys for the Marine Corps “Toys for Tots” program, handing them off to a handsome Marine in the store. The result is that they grew up thinking of others during the holidays and today, they give back in proactive ways to communities both home and abroad.

 

The first Tuesday of December is “Giving Tuesday” when there is an effort across the nation to give back to our communities. This year, my family and I participated in Walmart’s Holiday Sing to Salute Military Families campaign by singing classic holiday songs! Who would have thought that teaching your kids to give through song could be so much fun? This is a nationwide campaign that encourages the public to sing a portion of a classic holiday song while capturing it on video, and then post the video on social media channels to show support for members of the military and their families. Through these actions, Walmart will donate up to $1 million to Fisher House Foundation, which for the past 25 years has provided a home-away-from-home for military and veterans’ families whose loved ones are in a nearby military or veterans hospital. In my visits to Fisher House and my work with them, I’ve seen how important this is to military families.

The goal of the donation is to help Fisher House Foundation fund a full year of lodging for military families staying at Fisher Houses on U.S. military bases. Additionally, Walmart launched the campaign with a $500,000 donation to Fisher House Foundation.

From now until Dec. 22, the public can participate by taking the following steps:

  1. Create a holiday greeting or video of one or more individuals singing a portion of a classic holiday song.
  2. Post the greeting or video on a public Instagram, Twitter or YouTube account with the hashtag #Sing2Salute. If you’re posting on YouTube, make sure the hashtag is in your video’s title and post description.
  1. In the post, tag a friend and call on them to participate.

As always, your posted content should comply with the guidelines of the social media platform you choose. For each public post on Instagram, Twitter or YouTube using the hashtag #Sing2Salute during the campaign, Walmart will donate $100, up to $1 million, to Fisher House Foundation. To learn more about Walmart’s Holiday Sing to Salute Military Families campaign, review rules for participation and see featured videos, visit www.walmart.com/sing2salute. To see my family’s salute, take a look here or follow me @elliekay .

Another way my kids and I are giving back is through the Greenlight A Vet campaign to help create visible support for veterans nationwide. We can show support for veterans this season by changing one light bulb in our home to green, raising awareness on social media, volunteering and serving with veteran groups in their community, or starting a mentor/mentee relationship with a veteran.

Additionally, parents and their kids can celebrate the Red Kettle Campaign’s 125th anniversary this year. Participating stores, like Walmart stores and Sam’s Club locations nationwide, will host red kettles and bell ringers throughout December. Have your kids put in their coins and explain to them that this act of giving will provide food, clothing, shelter, financial assistance and other services to those in need.

Ellie Kay

Thanksgiving Traditions

Thankful Traditions

The Kay family photo for Woman’s Day magazine.

Not every “savings” can be measured in dollars and cents. One of the things we emphasized in our family is the saving of memories. Our Thankful Tree was featured in a Woman’s Day magazine one year. It took two photographers 8 rolls of film and four hours to get one 3 x 5 photo in the magazine. Joshua was missing for one roll of film and we didn’t notice until we saw him making faces from behindthe photographers and we asked, “What are you doing back there?”

The tip we gave is how we’ve stayed in touch with family and friends during this holiday. On November 1st, we made a Thankful Tree on poster board and put it on our wall or front door. The tree was bare because the leaves that we made out of construction paper have not yet been gathered. The leaves have the person’s name on them and say, “Uncle Steve is thankful for _________.” But we left the tree bare at the beginning of the season to teach the children how barren our lives are without the giving of thanks.

We made and sent the leaves to friends and family around the world along with a self-addressed envelope. When these envelopes came back, the children got excited as they took turns opening them. At dinner that night, we read the leaf and give thanks along with those who are thankful and put the leaf on our tree. By Thanksgiving Day, we had a tree full of thanks. We carefully saved the leaves in an envelope marked by the year and kept all in our Thanksgiving decoration box. Each year, we read the leaves from past years.

We never know when this year’s leaf might be someone’s last, or which family might have a new leaf on next year’s tree. So we give thanks.  These days, we gather “thankful comments” from facebook, email and twitter, but the point is we are connecting with friends and family in a meaningful way.

This holiday, what are YOU thankful for?  Besides our health and our family, we are thankful for a new baby in the family, a newly commissioned LT, a son on the USMA Color guard, a Marine who safely came back from Iraq and for a daughter who just got engaged.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Ellie Kay

 

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