Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2016: Do We Just Hit Delete?

It's been a rough year by many accounts. Racial problems, natural disasters, car and train crashes, a country in upheaval over the presidential election. But, what if we search for the good in this year?

  • The first ever flower grown in space happened: An orange Zinnia:
  • Tigers, Manatees, and Pandas have been increasing in population and are going strong.

  •  The decision has been made: Harriet Tubman will be the first female pictured on paper money in the US; she'll be on the $20 bill.

  • Heart disease deaths are down by 70% in the US.
  • The Bucket Challenge of 2015 raised enough money for researchers to locate the gene that causes ALS. This will be a huge help in finding a cure.

  • Summer Olympics in Rio!!

  • New babies joined our world: There are about 350,000 children born each day, every year, in the world. Each of them (like each of us) can potentially be of help to the world: Will one of them cure a fatal disease? Find a way to achieve peace in the world? Invent new technology that will revolutionize how we live?
  • However you felt about the Presidential election, it was held peacefully, and the transition to the new president in January will go off as it always does. This is not true of every country in the world. The fact that people are free to express themselves about the election is also not something that's possible in every country. We can still be proud of that.
  • There were birthdays, weddings, and holidays celebrated as there are every year. Friends and families gathered to grill, dance, play games, and enjoy one another's company. Don't forget these things when you think the year was a waste.
  • There were loved ones reunited after years apart; family members discovered and met, old friends resolved their differences and renewed their friendships. 
  • And when tragedies occurred, people rallied to help. You may have lost a loved one yourself, but most likely there were family and friends that came together to help soften the blow.
  • Plenty of caring people still exist in the world: doctors, nurses, veterinarians, social workers, teachers, those taking on causes to fight for: there are heroes, if you look for them
  • Those who serve in our armed forces: these are folks to be thankful for all year around. 
If you're reading this, then you have the gift of sight and the knowledge of reading. Are you reading it on your phone? Be aware there are many people who have none of those perks. I venture to guess you are warm and well-fed and have a home where you sleep, unconcerned about your safety. All of these are very good things.

So before we toss 2016 out and slam the door on it, let's keep in mind it wasn't all bad. And 2017 will be even better!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Gift Ideas For Financially Challenged College Students

OK, Christmas is looming and you want to give people something. Anything. And your bank account says:

You don't have time, you don't have ideas, but mostly you don't have money. What to do....
Here are some ideas you might find helpful.....Most of these should be well under $5.00
  • A really large bar of chocolate or any kind of sweets, or nuts, or gum, or chips. Imagine if you got an entire bag of Kisses or M&Ms that was all yours.
  • Any kind of small container like a mug or a big measuring cup full of small candies.  Wrap the whole thing up with plastic so the candy doesn't spill. Nuts are another good filler.
  • *Be considerate of friends who are trying to lose weight or have health concerns, as to what foods you give as gifts.
  • 2 liter bottle of soda and a small bag of chips. Believe me, it will be consumed happily.
  • Coloring book and colors or pencils. Yes, for adults. Some days adulting is hard.

  • A $1 vase with a single red carnation (maybe 2, if you're feeling wealthy) and some greens. Tie a ribbon around it to make it festive. Have at least a little water in the vase when you give it.
  • A nicer pen than you might normally buy, something colorful or with soft grips.
  • CD of great music you've made yourself. Make an interesting looking sleeve or jewel case insert that gives the tracks.
  • Stocking cap. Everyone tends to lose them, and if not, you can always use a spare.
  • Small package of really good coffee. Alternately, hot chocolate or tea. You can get powdered apple cider, as well.
  • One Christmas tree ornament
  • A vase or a straight-sided glass full of candy canes
  • A bar of really lovely soap. These often come wrapped in an attractive box and cost about $4.00.
  • Calendar--desktop, blotter style, small to hang up, large to hang up, mousepad
  • Planner for next year

  • Air fresheners, for the car or the home.
  • A pair of socks, maybe two pair.
  • Magazine and a snack.
  • Book. There are so many types of books, there's bound to be something they'll like (See what I did there?)
  • "Sample size" lotion, hand sanitizer, or other items, maybe in a cloth bag
  • Small zippered bag for pencils, coupons, keys
  • Key chain or key chain ornament
  • Cleaning cloth for phone or Ipad screens
  • For someone who lives in another state, a pile of postcards from your hometown. They're about 30c apiece. These have been seen at Hallmark.
  • Candle, or for safety's sake, some battery operated tealights
  • Batteries--who hasn't run out of these?
  • Print out some recipes for food you've always gotten compliments on, tie with ribbon. There is a template for recipe cards in Publisher, or you can download one.(Bonus: if you search 'Index Cards,' they also suggest flash cards. Can you use those for studying?)
  • New deck of playing cards, possibly with something to play for
  • For a fellow student, simply think of things you'd like or can use: a small package of hand wipes? Fresh supply of decent pencils or pens? Snacks for studying? Paper clips? Lanyard?
  • Journal and pen
  • Small frame with a poem or small symbol in it, or a tiny drawing you've done
  • Puzzle
  • Sheet of 10 stamps
  • Make handmade cards-with a bit of imagination, you can make several for not much money
  • Print some of your better photos at about 20c apiece at the 4x6" size.  Frame one or use it to make a card.

Where, one may ask, does one find such items?
  • Dollar Stores--and use them for wrapping and ribbon as well
  • Goodwill: Containers for treats, and also books, decorations, vases candle holders-you can also find things that were originally from Target with tags still attached, for a bargain, too
  • The grocery store--you'll be surprised what you can get for under $5, even under $3 
  • The grocery store will often have single flowers for under $2.00.
  •  Half Price Books: Their clearance area is a feast of great books, many of which are under $5 and often under $3. (be open to a book strictly for fun!) They also carry magazines, CDs, and movies at reduced prices. This is another great way to Go Green.
  • Barnes & Noble always has displays of books for under $10, and sometimes under $5.
  • Drug stores can often have simple and inexpensive items you can give others
  • Look in the 'Travel Size' bins, many stores have them. A little bit of something nice is a good treat.
  • Bullseye's Playground at Target (formerly their Dollar Spot) has items for $1, $3, and $5.
  • Michael's has bins of small items for $1.50 apiece--they might be helpful in making or wrapping small gifts
  • You can order photos online or using your phone and then pick them up at Target and other stores
Don't forget, part of your gift is presentation. Without spending much, you can dress up almost anything with a colorful box and/or bag, and ribbon. Simply tying a bow around something can make it seem more like a gift. Making a "to and from" tag to hang from the ribbon adds a nice touch as well. If you have a shredderful of paper, you can use the shreds to cushion a gift. You can use strips of fabric instead of ribbon, or wrap an item in a kitchen towel for a gift wrapped in a gift.

But remember: it really isn't about the gift, it's the gesture. And if nothing else, you can simply tell your friends and family that you can't afford to do gifts this year but you would love to spend time with them. They'll be fine with it. Really. They're your friends and family.


Monday, December 5, 2016

Merry Broke Christmas!!

Anybody can relate to the phrase: I can't afford it. Especially college students.

What do people actually spend on Christmas in the U.S.?

Here are some rather startling statistics:

To start the 'holiday season,' did you know people spent $350 Million on pet Halloween costumes last year?

Americans usually spend about $600 Billion on Christmas. Here is a rough breakdown per family:
  • Tree                     $  42.00
  • Cards and postage   32.00
  • Decorations             73.00
  • Food                        95.00
  • Travel                    960.00

Black Friday stats:

  • Amount spent on both Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, and Black Friday:   $4.45 Billion
  • Amount of that which was spent online       $2.72 Billion
What people are buying most of this year:
  • 4K TVs
  • Legos
  • Shopkin Dolls
  • Barbie Dream Houses

Some more stats...
  • Amount of business done using cell phones:   $1222 Million
  • Average amount spent per each person in the U.S.  $300.00
  • Amount the average family spends overall each Christmas   $750.00
  • Sadly, the amount usually spent in a year on books per family    $111.00  (not textbooks)

And your wallet says, "???!!!!!!

Here's an idea to help spend less and have gifts mean more: Narrow your categories. Maybe each child, for example, will receive:
  • One thing he/she needs (socks, pajamas)
  • One new pair of mittens and/or winter hat
  • One soft thing (teddy bear, blanket)
  • One thing to create with (paints, building)
  • One book
  • One thing the child simply wants

Remember the items you charge, you will indeed have to pay for. Be sure you do this infrequently, and plan to pay it off just as soon as you can. Use a credit card with a low interest rate but still avoid charging anything. It's too easy to amass a big debt, and you really cannot buy happiness.

Consider next year stashing away a certain amount every month so that by next Christmastime, you have a couple of hundred dollars to spend in cash. Lower what you consider 'needs'---you can still give, just give less and give more of yourself. Spend time with people, not money.

  • $10/month x 10 months (gives you time to shop ahead)   $100.00
  • $15/month x 10 months                $150.00
  • $30/month x 10 months                $300.00

See how it adds up? Some banks will set this up for you, or you can simply do it on your own as a monthly payment. Keeping it in the bank will help you resist the temptation to dip into it before you need it for Christmas, but you could keep it in an envelope on a high shelf.

The best way to spend less-sometimes- is to make simple gifts for people. Are you a good photographer? Have one of your pictures printed and framed for a gift. Do you cook something delicious? Food is always appreciated, and homemade is always better than store-bought. Can you build a simple item of wood? Sew? Knit? Do a craft? You might find an interesting glass jar and fill it with candy or other treats. Make a unique card to go with it, and you have a perfectly lovely gift. The satisfaction of giving something you worked on can be much better than wasting money, plus you can work on it at will and not have to fight the crowds in the stores-and not have several hundred dollars of credit card debt to deal with after the holidays.