Best Time to Buy Christmas Lights

christmas lightsPreparing for the holiday season often entails more than simply purchasing gifts and cooking for family, friends and loved ones. If you want to get even more creative to celebrate the year’s festivities, investing in Christmas lights and decorations is highly recommended. Christmas lights are sold all year round, but vary in pricing depending on when you choose to shop and the type of lights you are interested in. Shopping for Christmas lights at the right time can make a drastic difference in the overall investment that will be required to decorate your home this year. Go her for more info if you are ready to buy some Christmas lights for cheap.

The Best Time to Shop for Christmas Lights

One of the best times to shop for Christmas lights is immediately after Christmas and the New Years holidays themselves. Because the holidays are over, stores will often hold clearance sales to help with getting rid of stock that is no longer needed. You can also find great deals on Christmas lights if you choose to shop on the day after Thanksgiving, also known as “Black Friday”. Shopping on Black Friday may be hectic and stressful, but it is also a way to save more on lights than any other day of the year.

Finding Christmas lights around the actual time of Christmas may be pricier because they are in high demand and sought after by consumers, especially as the holiday nears. It is best to shop for Christmas lights in the off-season, whether you choose to do so immediately after Christmas itself or even in the springtime after the winter weather breaks. Conducting an adequate amount of research on various locations and shops will help you to save even more before you choose the lights you want for your house this year.

Where to Shop for Christmas Lights

Shopping for the Christmas lights you want to use in your home is possible by checking local superstores, drug stores and even Christmas-themed stores. You can also find savings for the Christmas lights you are interested in by shopping right from home, online. Browsing online for the Christmas lights you want to use in or outside of your home allows you to compare colors, light sizes and styles before you make a purchase.

Additionally, shopping for Christmas lights online will give you the opportunity to compare multiple retailers to help with finding the best prices possible before you place your order. You can compare and view photos of Christmas lights online whether you are looking for single or multicolored options to fit with any theme you desire for your house’s outdoor or indoor appearance, allowing you to fully customize the way your home looks.

Searching for Christmas lights in the off-season is the best way to save money while also having more options to choose from that are in stock and not in demand at the moment. Shopping smart can help you to save on the investment you make with the Christmas lights you have in mind so you have more to spend on loved ones for the holidays.

photo by Accretion Disk

First Steps in January to Sorting Out Your Debt

JanuaryJanuary is often a depressing month for many of us. We are still in the depths of winter, Christmas and Hogmanay have both been and gone and worst of all, we are left with the expectation of a series of hefty bills at the end of the month. From high energy bills to the credit cards you used to fund those special Christmas presents, it’s easy to be daunted by it all. The key is not to let it get to you, and to follow our tips on how sort out your finances in January!

1) Firstly, sit down at the start of the month and try to find out how much your bills are going to be. For your energy bills, try looking online- most suppliers have a system that allows you to check how much you owe. Even make a note of your meter reading and compare it to the value on your last bill, so you can estimate how much it will cost you come the end of January. This will help with the next stages. You should also look up extraneous bills, such as credit card bills, etc.

2) Next, have a look at how much money you are going to have coming in this month, from benefits, income support or your wages. This will make up your income.

3) Then, make a list of all the essentials you need to cover for living expenses in January (this is where looking up your bills comes in handy). Bear in mind that you should only include your essential bills such as energy and mortgage etc. Try to account for as much as you can though and also be sure to think long and hard about whether what you’re spending your money on is an â˜essential’ or a luxury. This will make up your expenditure.

4) Once you have both of the above, then you can sit down and compare your income to your expenditure.

5) Whatever you have left over is what we call disposable income. This is where you can see how much money you have to service any credit card bills or loans etc. that you’ve taken out. You should be able to estimate how much your minimum repayment bill will be by comparing the balance of your card/ new purchases with your terms and conditions.

If your disposable income doesn’t cover the cost of paying towards your various credit cards/ loans then you know that have to do something about it. You can sometimes speak to your lender and ask about extending your loan period or maybe having a payment break, but often this is difficult to get. If you are in serious trouble then you need to seek some expert advice. Your Debt Expert offer free and impartial debt advice on a range of topics. So if you follow our guide, and still find yourself panicking, try out the debt calculator from Yourdebtexpert or give us call and we’ll help you sort out your finances.

For more Debt news and advice follow Peter Dean on Twitter – @your_debtexpert

photo by aunto

Four Reasons a Gift Card Might Make the Right Christmas Present

christmasThere are some of us who are procrastinators when it comes to buying Christmas gifts. Some of it is due to tight schedules or absent-mindedness that often comes with the holiday season.

Others simply have trouble finding the appropriate gift for a friend or family member. After all, how do they know someone else isn’t getting the same gift?

Fortunately, a gift card is one of those presents you can get that’s easy to find and simple to pick up for anyone you know.

Gift cards have often received a bad reputation. I used to see them as one of those gifts you get for people as a polite way of saying “I really don’t know you well enough to find a real present.”

As I’ve gotten older, however, and have bought more presents for adults, I’ve come to see gift cards as a viable present. In some instances, it has advantages over other types of gifts.

1. It’s simple and easy

Unlike other presents, such as a new video game or electronic device, you don’t have to worry about it running out of stock. I’ve never run into trouble finding a gift card at the grocery store, and if you can’t find one there you can always go to the website for the specific card you’re looking for. Rather than have to drive out somewhere to find it in a crowded store or shopping mall, you can buy it from your desk at home.

You also don’t have to figure out the cost. It’s about as straightforward as you can get. If you’re looking for a $50 gift card, it’s going to cost $50 exactly.

2. There’s no hassle

Gift cards don’t require any fancy wrapping. A small bag, or an envelope which usually comes with the gift with the purchase, is all it takes. As a person who is nopt what you would call skilled in the art of gift wrapping, this allows us to bypass a somewhat tricky and annoying part of the process.

Also, you don’t have to be concerned about getting them the same gift as someone else. One year, three different people, myself being one of them, bought the same movie for a family member. Yes, it was a failure to communicate, but also could have been avoided we had just bought that person a gift card. And if you do happen to buy the same gift card as someone else, it only means the person gets to spend more money at the same place.

3. It allows you to get a gift for someone you don’t know well enough to buy a specific gift for

Gift cards make it possible for you to buy something for a relative you aren’t acquainted with sufficiently enough to get them a certain type of suit or dress, but you know where they love to shop enough to get them a gift card there. Rather than accidentally buy them the wrong thing, you’re able to fulfill the point of a gift – expressing your appreciation for someone – without having to take a shot in the dark, so to speak.

Additionally, this also helps when you know what they want, but don’t know all the exact details, such as the size of a television or the clothing, or even the version of a movie they are dying to watch on that TV.

Essentially, it’s a personalized way of handing someone else cash.

4. You still give the person freedom to choose how to use the gift

Gift cards work well with adults because, I’ve observed, their idiosyncrasies make them much harder to buy things for than children. Kids tend to be less attentive to finer details than adults, which makes it easier to figure out what they want and not have to know much else about it.

For example, my grandparents knew my brothers and I loved video games, so they bought us a Nintendo 64. They didn’t have to inquire whether we wanted that or a Sony Playstation. For an adult video gamer, however, you’d have to ask, and as we all know, there’s no better way to reveal what you’re going to get someone for Christmas than to ask them about it discreetly.

Gift cards have worked well with me personally when it comes to books. When I was a kid, my parents knew my literary tastes well enough to know what books to buy. But as I’ve gotten older, instead of buying the books specifically, I’ve receive gift cards to various bookstores where they know I can find those titles.

Adults also like the volition to get things for themselves. They can be extremely finicky, even when it comes to Christmas gifts.

Another problem you avoid using a gift card is you rarely have to worry about the person returning the gift because it doesn’t work, doesn’t fit, or isn’t what they wanted. Unless you’re absolutely certain, there is always the risk that it will get returned. This happens most often with clothes. As a kid, the common motto I heard when getting clothes was “Oh, if they don’t fit you can always return it.”

I do have to state, however, that gift cards aren’t a silver bullet or one-size-fits-all for everyone. They don’t work well with those who want little tiny gifts that appeal directly to their personalities and demonstrate how well you know them. Others aren’t as sentimental and are perfectly fine with a gift card.

Naturally, a little bit of research is in order before you decide to get one for someone.

photo by paparutzi

5 Ways to Avoid Spending Unnecessary Money During a Natural Disaster

natural disasterWatching Hurricane Sandy ravage East Coast the last few days has made me wonder, and hope, that the millions of residents in those areas were properly prepared as their electricity, Internet, and phone systems went down.

Although not at all comparable in terms of damage or devastation, the situation reminded me of the 2008-09 snowstorm, which hit Washington state, where I live, particularly hard. Power was knocked out, and in some communities they were not able to get electricity back for weeks. The high level of snow (at least for the area) left roads and street blocked, making it difficult or impossible for vehicles to get inside, which meant many stores were either closed or in short supply of critical goods.

Working as a helper clerk at the local grocery store during that snowstorm, I can tell you the first place people go in a natural disaster, depending on the severity, is their nearest store â“ if it’s still operating. And the shelves can cleaned out within hours.

The trouble is, most people don’t prepare for a disaster until the effects – no electricity, transportation, Internet or pluming – have already begun to occur. This ends up thinning their wallet, as they have to either make large purchases of goods they might have bought for cheaper prior, or they have to go outside the area to find necessities, which can incur even higher costs.

Fortunately, my family, always one to perk up earnestly whenever a potential storm is on the horizon, was well prepared and managed to relax somewhat during the snowstorm, rather than participate in the mad scramble to find what we needed to wait it out.

Since we are approaching the winter season, here are a few tips I’ve learned from my experiences that will help you prepare and spare you from spending unnecessary amounts of money in the process.

1. Buy what you need before you need it

The Boy Scout motto is to “Be Prepared.” Natural disasters are one of the many things the motto refers to. Whatever the type of natural disaster is most frequent in your region, the most important thing is for you be ready for it well before it comes.

This means having it planned out. It means having a well-stocked cellar, garage or pantry of emergency food; the best is nonperishable food with extra-long expiration dates that don’t require refrigeration, freezing, or cooking.

And for the majority of you, don’t forget to buy coffee you can make without electricity. Trust me. You don’t want to have to wait for four hours to get an espresso. After the storm had subsided, my grocery store had the only operating coffee store in the Lake Hills area of Bellevue. Word got around fast., By the time I showed up for work at 9 a.m., the line stretched out to the back of the parking lot. Our manager ended up taking coffee off the shelves to continue making it because it was the one item people couldn’t use at the moment.

There are also other less noticeable but equally important items people tend to overlook. For example, during the fall and summer my family would borrow a truck and pick up free wood whenever we saw it advertised outside people’s homes, usually after they had had a tree cut down and didn’t want to pay to have it taken. We would then bring it back to our house, chop it up and stack it in the backyard.

During the snowstorm, we were able to maintain a constant fire to warm our living room and cook our food on the fire stove, while other people were forced to either use expensive emergency generators to cook and heat, or they had to buy overpriced wood at stores.

2. Stock up on additional provisions when they’re on sale

When weather reports first indicated that a massive snowstorm might be headed our family, my family hurried to the grocery store and filled up a large cart full of everything we would need, in addition to what we already had in stock, in case we were stuck inside the house for a while.

In addition to food, we also bought candles and blankets and lots of batteries. You do not want to roam around a dark house in the middle of the night because you forgot to stock up on Energizer Bunnies.

The key is to buy when they’ve on sale rather than at the last minute. Shop smart by going to discount stores and thrift shops for warm clothing.

Keep an eye on sales during regular weather season. Don’t just think of what you need to buy at the moment. Think of what you may need in six months that happens to be on sale right now.

Ultimately, shopping in advance, when there are good deals, sales, or discounts, will save you money because you get it when it’s cheap, not when you absolutely have to have it and are forced to pay through the nose to get it.

Or, worse, you will end up having to drive for miles to actually find what you need and pay much higher prices when the supply is impacted.

3. Fill up on gas in anticipation of high prices

As soon as the snow started to fall my dad drove all our cars one by one to the nearest gas station and filled them up. He also brought along containers in the back of the cars, which he filled up as well. The reason for this is because the roads were blocked and gas trucks could not resupply the gas stations, which meant there was going to be a shortage within a day or two. The last thing you want during a disaster is to run out of gas at the very moment you need to get out of Dodge, so to speak, or when someone requires your help. Running out of fuel limits you to using bikes, if the terrain permits, or walking on foot. In the snow, as was in our case, this can be slow and painstaking or simply not practical.

You also save money when you buy gas before, rather than after a disaster, due to price fluctuation. In 2005, right before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, we filled up as much gas as we could, right before the oil refineries were hit and prices skyrocketed, as well as in late 2008 and early 2009, when the price of oil per barrel had dropped down to $35.

4. Have sizable cash reserve at home in lieu of credit/debit cards

During a disaster, telephone lines and connection to the Internet can get cut off, making it impossible to verify PIN numbers for debit cards or use credit cards. Having a sufficient reserve of cash helps protect you from losing access to your money at a time when you need it the most. You can also go to the bank and withdraw additional funds before the disaster hits if you feel you will need more. In the event of an extreme situation, where is no electricity, your only option may be cash when all power has been knocked out.

5. If you expect damage, prepare all necessary paperwork necessary to document it for insurance claims

If the storm appears likely to or is guaranteed to cause damage to your home or property and you have insurance, you want to ensure (I’m not sure if the pun is intended or if there’s even a pun there) that you have all your T’s crossed and your I’s dotted. Become educated about the type of natural disasters in your region and what to do if it damages your property.

Know the steps you have to take afterwards in order to submit a claim and what your insurance will actually cover in such an event. Know what number to call, who to speak to, and what information to provide.

Being aware beforehand will help make your life less stressful than it already will be, especially if the damage is catastrophic. It is also less likely the insurance provider will fight the claim if it’s done correctly, which saves you both time and money.

photo by georgiaema

Ideas for Inexpensive Christmas Gifts for Young Children

christmasTimes change, but some things never do.

A kid’s expectations during the Christmas season is one of them. All of them eagerly await the day they get to finally open those mysterious packages sitting underneath the Christmas tree. The younger they are, the more hyperactive and loud they can be about it.

This, unfortunately, can put a big pressure on parents to figure out what they can get for their kids.

Electronics seem to be all the rave for gift ideas, even for younger children. For a parent with less-than-desired allowance for presents, this can sound discouraging.

Don’t be mistaken. Whether it’s the 21st Century or the 11th, a three-year-old boy will always enjoy playing cops and robbers with a police hat, badge, whistle, and plastic club – even if the whole set cost $3 and will break within a year.

As a matter of full disclosure, I have no children. But as a former child of 18 years experience, I, in addition to my parents, realized a few things from our own Christmases that young parents now might be able to think about when they shop around for gift ideas; I also intend to employ them when, God willing, I get around to having a family.

One of them is to have enthusiasm for what you buy. Kid’s are very impressionable. If you are excited to give them a gift, they will be naturally excited.

Generally speaking, the younger the child is, the more these suggestions apply.

Quantity matters over quality

Your five-year-old boy is not going to care how much their new race car cost or what brand of model airplane you bought. Whether their action figure is made in China (providing it has no lead in it) or the good ol’ USA, it’s not going to be a blimp on their radar screen yet.

What this means for you is that you can buy them lots of small presents, particular ones from thrift stores, dollar stores, or the small toys you see at the checkout at grocery stores, and they won’t know the difference. Young children are easily entertained, so the smallest gift can occupy them for a long time before they grow bored.

As to what to buy, that really depends on their interests. Regardless of what it is, it’s better to get a lot of inexpensive presents rather than a big one. Most of the time, I got so excited about the first present my parents had to coax me into opening the second one (which was usually the pricier one, ironically)

Just to give you an idea of what my parents bought, here are a few inexpensive gift ideas and where you get them (these may not be necessarily great girl presents)

Hot Wheels (grocery store/thrift store)
Plastic soldiers (thrift store/dollar store)
Action figures (retail)
Styrofoam airplanes (thrift store/retail store)
Toy knight armor and sword (costume store/thrift store)
Costumes (costume shop/thrift store)
Walkie Talkies (retail/thrift store)

My parents bought my brother and I a small police car that changed color in hot and cold water. To a three-year-old, this was the coolest thing ever.

Just don’t let them find out about something called Power Wheels….it took my dad several Christmases to convince us it wasn’t going to happen.

Stuff the stockings

In addition to presents, my parents also crammed our stockings full of little goodies. The only thing that gets kids more revved up during the Christmas season than presents are sweets.

The good thing for you is that sweets are cheap and easy to come by.

Here are a few thrifty must-haves that were always found in our stockings

Bubble Tape
Book of Life Savers
Candy canes
Child’s favorite candy
Peppermint candies

If your vision of a jolly Christmas involves your child(ren) running around the house with their favorite present while blowing huge bubbles of bubble gum and getting a sugar high before the Christmas ham is fully cooked, you can’t go wrong with this.

Go for toys with lights and noise

Ultimately, kids love anything that makes noise. While this does include video games and electronic devices, it also includes police cars, fire engines and talking action figures.

They love interactive toys. It’s in their nature.

If there is a button that makes a sound, they will push it until you take it away and regret ever buying it….and then the next Christmas rolls around and you end up buying another toy just like it because it’s guaranteed to be played with relentlessly.

Last Christmas, I bought my two-year-old second cousin a Batmobile that rose up on the hydraulics with the push of a button. It also had a separate button that fire off missiles and made explosion sounds.

Needless to say, he played with it the whole night I gave it to him, and then some.

Inexpensive versions of this include cap guns (if they’re mature enough for their age; I wasn’t) nerf-guns, train sets, remote control cars (there is one available on for $9)

Get them a gift that reminds them why we celebrate Christmas

This is most important gift you can get them. If you don’t get them anything else for Christmas, get them something that will point them to God.

At the end of the day, Christmas is not about presents. It’s about the birth of Christ.

Due to our culture’s emphasis on the secular aspects of the holiday, this has to be reiterated repeatedly as they grow up.

My mother happened to be a music teacher and directed my private school’s Christmas programs every year, so it was hard for my brothers and I to forget it.

If your child(ren) are too young to read, get them a Bible-theme coloring book or a nativity scene puzzle you can work on with them. Anything that will teach them about Jesus.

One Christmas my parents bought me a children’s Bible. I couldn’t read, apart from a few words, but it got me interested enough to have them read it to me until I could read it on my own.

Like I said before, children are easily impressionable, even at an early age. The earlier a parent starts, the better.

photo by paparutzi

Saving Dos and Don’ts: 14 Ways to Cut Back Spending

on saleEven if you’re making a decent paycheck, saving money can be difficult when you don’t cut back on spending. Reducing your expenses isn’t always easy, but there are some small ways that you can keep your spending in check and put more money into your savings account.


1. Sign up for Loyalty Programs

Most grocery stores offer reward card programs that entitle their members to discounts and coupons. They may ask for your email address so they can send you coupons. If you decide not to sign up to receive emails, then all you need to sign up is a phone number. It’s quick, easy, and can save you a lot of money. The only downside is that the cards will take up space in your wallet.

2. Give Handmade Gifts

Learning how to make a few simple crafts means you can make thoughtful gifts for loved ones around the holidays. Not only will your friends and family be impressed by your considerate present, but you’ll avoid overpaying for something you could have made yourself.

3. Have Friends Over Instead of Going out

If you find yourself going out frequently, try switching up your routine by having a fun dinner with friends at home. It’s much less expensive to host a potluck or group barbecue instead of visiting a restaurant. It’ll be just as much fun as going out, and chances are your friends will reciprocate soon.

4. Learn Basic Mending

It’s easy to throw out damaged clothes, but if you know a little basic mending knowledge — hemming pants and skirts, sewing on buttons, adding patches — you can repair them instead. If you can fix up torn clothes, you’ll end up spending a lot less on new clothes.

5. Quit Smoking

Expensive habits, like smoking, can end up eating away at your budget. At more than $5 a pack, cigarettes cost a lot, but give you nothing in return. In fact, they may end up costing you a lot more in the long run, considering how detrimental they can be to your health.

6. Visit Yard Sales

If you’re hunting for odd and ends or used furniture, check out local yard sales. Often the clothes, items, and furnishings folks give away are in fine condition and cost very little. And if the prices are a little too high for your taste, haggling might not be out of the question.

7. Go to the Library

Many still believe that libraries are dusty old tombs lined wall to wall with books, but there’ve been leaps and bounds in what public libraries offer. Most of them offer the newest best sellers and DVDs — including new releases and popular series.


1. Get Cable

While keeping up with the latest shows is great fun, cable is expensive. Many companies charge their customers over $100 a month for the full package. Consider drastically less expensive online alternatives: Netflix ($8/month), Hulu Plus ($7.99/month), or Amazon Prime ($79/year). All offer a wealth of shows and movies for much less than cable.

2. Make Big Purchases Without Waiting 30 Days

The thirty day rule is designed to help you decide whether you want to buy something new. Before spending your money on an item that you don’t really need, let it wait for 30 days. You may find that your urge to purchase has decreased once you’ve given it a little time to reflect.

3. Buy Lunch Every Day

Instead of going out for lunch every day, try bringing a packed lunch. It’s much less expensive to buy groceries and prepare food for yourself the night before rather than spend $10 every day. It will also be easier for you to eat healthily when you pack food for yourself.

4. Go Shopping Without a List

Visiting the grocery store without a list is an easy way to overspend on items that you don’t need. Make up a list of all the food you need at the beginning of the week, and make a point to visit the supermarket only once a week. Cross items off your list and make sure not to stray from what you already decided upon.

5. Throw Away Leftovers

At the end of a meal, don’t throw away the excess food. Instead, put it in plastic containers and keep it for later lunches and snacks, or combine it with other meals.

6. Shop to De-Stress

Many find themselves turning to shopping as a way to release stress. It may feel great to buy yourself a few new things when you’re down, but it puts an unnecessary dent in your wallet. Instead of shopping, try going to the gym, curling up with a good book or TV show, or taking a hot bath.

7. Drive When You Can Take Public Transportation

With gas prices rising, driving keeps getting more and more expensive. If you live in a city with a decent public transportation system, consider taking advantage of it. It will cost much less to ride the bus or subway than fill up your tank and drive through city traffic.

Sometimes, the smallest tricks can make the most difference when it comes to your savings. Make your best effort to cut back your spending and keep more money in your savings account.

Donna Parshall writes articles for Check n Go about online commerce, responsible borrowing, investment, and budgeting. Visit their site to learn more about Check n Go payday loans and other services like installment loans.

photo by VectorPortal

Avoid the Dangers of Using a Credit Card this Holiday Season

christmas debtMany people fall victim to holiday credit card pitfalls every year due to a lack of knowledge about credit, in addition to failure to adequately prepare for holiday shopping using a credit card.

Should you open a retailer branded credit card?

One of the major pitfalls of holiday credit card usage is that consumers often get convinced by retailers to open a department store branded credit card in order to realize about 10 to 15% savings on purchases at those retailers. While these savings may be tempting, most people don’t realize that the credit cards offered by these retailers generally feature a very high interest rate. If you, as a consumer, plan to carry a balance on this new credit card at all, then you will lose the amount of money that you originally saved by opening the card, and more. In addition to these high interest rates, opening new lines of credit too often in a small period of time has the potential to damage your credit score. As a rule of thumb, respectfully decline when retailers ask you if you want to open a new credit card with them to receive a discount on your purchases.

Set yourself a holiday shopping credit limit

Consumers can avoid putting too many gifts on credit simply by setting themselves their own personal limit, and keeping track of what they buy. For example, a consumer could set a personal limit of $500 to spend on credit during this holiday season, and when they reach that limit, they have to stop putting purchases on their credit card and instead start paying in cash. While its always tempting to spend a bunch of money to buy your friends and loved ones gifts, they will understand if you simply cannot afford to spend outside of your means. If you’re looking for a good way to monitor your spend, many credit card companies offer free mobile apps that allow you set up alerts that notify you when you’ve reached a certain spend.

How can using a credit card for your holiday shopping benefit you?

Using a credit card for your holiday shopping, however, can definitely benefit cardholders because of the vast amount of rewards that can be gained by putting purchases on your credit card. You should compare rewards credit cards in order to maximize the rewards you will receive based on your spending habits. As long as you know you can afford to pay off your balance without incurring large interest fees, you should put your holiday purchases on your credit card because most credit cards offer some sort of reward for each dollar spent.

photo by paparutzi

How I Paid off $6,000 In Credit Card Debt

credit card debtI didn’t have credit card debt for long. I didn’t suffer for decades. I never had creditors calling me, and I wasn’t in bad enough shape to get turned down for a loan. Yet, I still felt the weight of it every day. That’s the reality of credit card debt. Whether it’s $500 or $50,000, it’s still a nagging feeling, something extra on your to do list, and something that’s quite difficult to improve if you’re not willing to change habits and get in the right mindset.

How It Started

I got my very first credit card at age 22 for one purpose and one purpose only: to buy my husband (then fiance) his wedding ring. I didn’t have the money to buy something so expensive at the time, so I wanted to put it on a zero percent card and pay it over time. Of course, you probably know how it goes. Something that started out innocently enough grew into putting gas on it here or there and then we used it to fund a little bit of our honeymoon, etc. I’m not proud of how it started, but I do like to be honest about it.

When It Got Worse

We were managing our debt well enough and always paid above the minimum. I suppose I always felt that I was trying to get it back to zero, but I never sat down to figure out how much it would take. We both had steady jobs and were never late on a payment. Then, my husband decided to apply to medical school. We spent hundreds in application fees, and then when he got into a Caribbean school, we lost his income.

The Peak

As someone who is a personal finance blogger now, I shake my head knowing exactly what we did wrong. We didn’t track anything we were spending, which is just absolutely amazing to me now, as someone who plugs everything we spend into an excel spread sheet throughout the month. But that’s now, and we’re talking about then. We had good jobs and a comfortable life, but we didn’t have enough in savings, and we certainly didn’t have enough for international plane tickets to send the hubs to school. At the peak, we both maxed out a $3,000 card each.

Chipping Away At It

Before that $6,000 peak, we were actually trying to pay it down. Like I said, I was always aware of our debt, and I often felt the weight of it. I always paid above the minimum, and even managed to knock out a credit card for a TV we owned prior to my husband going back to school. (Yes, I know. Credit card for a tv = bad. My how things have changed.)

18 Months of Work

It wasn’t until 18 months ago that I laser focused my efforts on this challenge. For 18 months straight, I focused heavily on paying it off. I wanted it gone. I wanted it out of my life. We were accruing student debt due to my husband’s medical school tuition, and I didn’t want the credit card debt to get out of hand too. I started working as a freelance writer on the side. It was slow at first, but a year later, I am able to add a considerable amount of extra money to our monthly income. I have used this extra income every month to slowly pay off the debt.


I was hoping for victory by the end of this year, but it came sooner in the form of a promotion at work. That first paycheck was all I needed to finish off the credit card debt once and for all. I’m actually very proud of myself. While my husband certainly contributed to these efforts by not spending needlessly and not complaining about modest meals, I feel as though this is a personal victory too because it showed me how much can be accomplished with good old fashioned hard work. We now have $500 extra dollars a month (an amount I had been paying on our credit card debt for almost 10 months). It’s time to go to the next goal, which is paying down our student loan interest and maybe saving for a vacation. We’re so excited, relieved, and proud to be here saying we’re credit card debt free. If we can do it, we know anyone else can.

Who else is working on their goal of being debt free?

photo by vectorportal

Giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s is a Christian Duty

give to caesarMany verses in the Bible are misquoted, misinterpreted, or taken out of context or their contextual meaning. Some of the worse violations in this regard involve Jesus’ statements concerning money and finances.

Among the most misquoted is “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

The quote is taken from a story that occurs in several Gospels, including Mark, specifically 12:13-18, as well as Luke. For clarity’s sake I will use Mark’s version to provide a quick summary.

In the story, Pharisees and Herodians are sent to speak to Jesus. The Pharisees were a traditional, conservative sect within Judaism at the time, and the Herodians most likely some sort of a political entity friendly to the family of Herod Antipater, who was tetrarch of Galilee at the time.

First, they flatter Jesus by calling him a man of integrity and pretending to be authentic and ingenuous about their concern for the law and following God. They then ask him whether they should pay taxes to Caesar or not.

Jesus immediately accuses them of hypocrisy and demands to see a denarius, which was a Roman coin. After they produce one, Jesus asks them whose inscription is on it. When they reply it is Caesar, Jesus answers, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.”

Mark writes “they were amazed at his answer.” In Luke’s Gospel, the men were “astonished by his answer, (and) they became silent.”


It is important to contextualize the situation.

At the time of this story, Jesus had entered Jerusalem for the Passover on a donkey during the triumphant entry, which is now called Palm Sunday. The large welcoming he receives made his enemies jealous, as well as concerned he would attempt to rebel against the Roman government and bring disaster down on them.

To get rid of him, the religious and political enemies of Jesus attempt to trap him in his own words – similar to a modern day political “gotcha!” question.

One important observation to make is the intent of the men who ask the question.

Luke’s account (20:20-26) describes them as spies who hope to catch Jesus in something he said to hand him over to the government.

Thus, the question they asked him was strictly to trap him in a no-win situation.

Had Jesus answered they were not required to pay taxes to Caesar, it would have qualified as preaching rebellion against the Roman government and would have been appropriate grounds to have him arrested by the authorities. In fact, during Jesus’ eventual trial, many of the Jewish chief priests would later falsely claim to Pontius Pilate Jesus had preached this.

On the other hand, had Jesus replied they should pay taxes to Caesar, the spies would have then used his answer to stir up a mob and have him stoned or killed. Roman rule over Palestine was extremely unpopular among many Jews during the time, which is why the region suffered from so many insurrections, rebellions and revolts. Many Jews believed it was wrong to pay taxes to a pagan government and despised many of their own people for working as tax collectors, like St. Matthew, who was a tax collector before Jesus called him. Some Jews also did not consider the Romans their legitimate rulers; thus, for Jesus to say they should pay taxes would, in their mind, giving the Roman rule legitimacy and indirectly condemning Jewish nationalism.

Also, Passover was one of the most important of Jewish religious holidays, which meant the people would already be in a highly religious and patriotic mood, making it easy to manipulate them.


Additionally, if one reads the previous section before this incident, one will discover the spies were using the exact same trick question Jesus had used against them.

In both Mark and Luke’s gospels, the chief priests and elders of the law challenge Jesus’s authority to teach and preach from the Torah, since he was not a trained rabbi, and demand to know where his authority comes from. Jesus replies he would answer the question if they first answer his: Where had John the Baptist’s authority come from, men or God?

Discussing it amongst themselves, they realize they can’t answer it either way; if they say John’s authority came from God, why hadn’t they accepted his teachings of repentance? If they say his authority came from men, i.e. he made it all up, they fear being stoned by the people, who firmly believed John had been a prophet.

Thus, they aren’t able to give an answer because they lack of the courage to stand by their convictions, a fault they know very well Jesus did not suffer from himself.

So the question of paying taxes to Caesar is an attempt at revenge for humiliating them, knowing he has the bravery to say what he believes regardless of how unpopular it is.

Jesus response showcases both his brilliant wit and his divine knowledge.

In Luke’s Gospel, he immediately confronts them for their deceit, calling them hypocrites, and asks them why they intend to trap him.

Right away, he using showing them he knows their hearts and hasn’t been fooled for an instant. He also points out their hypocrisy because he knows if they were asked the same question, they wouldn’t answer it. This puts them on the defensive.

It is also significant to note whom the spies were; one group, the Pharisees, were generally opposed to the Roman government and disliked paying taxes; the other group, the Herodians, supported or at the very least were open to the Romans and most likely supported the taxation. So no matter what answer he gave, he was guaranteed to offend one of the groups.

After having chastised them, Jesus then asks them to show him a denarius. When they do, he inquires whose face is on it. When they reply it is Caesar’s, Jesus answers their question: Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.


Most people only know the first part of this quote; and even those who know the other half don’t understand what Jesus meant by it.

As I see it, the point Jesus was making is that a denarius bears the image of Caesar. Therefore, if Caesar issues a tax, it should be paid.

In other words, his answer is yes, the Jews should pay taxes to Caesar if required to.

But the other half of the answer is the most insightful. He says to them “Give to God what is God’s.”

When he says this, he is referring to mankind, which bears the image and likeness of God. Therefore, men should give what God demands of them as well. And God made it clear in the Old Testament they were to love him with all their heart, soul, and strength.

This is what makes Jesus’ answer so profound. In addition to saying the Jews should submit to the Roman government, Jesus is telling them that they should be as equally concerned, if not more concerned, about submitting to what God asks of them.

He is essentially putting God’s commandments above Caesar’s decrees and laws while simultaneously telling people to obey Caesar. He is effectively disarming any qualms the Herodians may have about his answer, while making it impossible for the Pharisees to accuse him of putting obedience to Rome above obedience to God. Additionally, he is chastising them for their obsession with money rather than spirituality.

The phrase “Render unto Caesar’s that which is Caesar’s” is often used in a very pro-statism and totalitarian manner. When used, it generally means whatever the government wants of its citizens it owns or is entitled to.

Those who use only the first part of the phrase miss the entire point Jesus made; our focus should not be so much on money and the government as it is on God. This was a direct attack on the Sadducees, Herodians and other chief priests who placed their allegiance to Rome – the government – above God. It was the chief priest who would later say at Jesus’ trial “We have no king but Caesar.”

The underlying message, however, is that Christians should “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” as long as it does not belong to God, and it would be foolish to think there is anything we could “render unto God” which is Caesar’s, i.e the government, because everything is created by God.

For Christians today, this means while we should be concerned about matters such as taxes and money, we shouldn’t become so obsessed with money and taxes to the point where we forget our obedience to God.

photo by tonynetone

How to Vacation on a Budget and Actually Have Fun

vacation on a budgetIn our culture of work a lot, then work some more,❠it can be nearly impossible to find some time off.   But taking a break, even just for a weekend, can be critical to our mental and physical health, not to mention our day-to-day productivity.   Time off allows us to relax, recharge, and come back to our regular commitments with a fresh perspective.

Even if we’re determined to take that break, though, feeling like we can afford to is another matter.   The costs of going away for just a weekend can add up pretty quickly, and financial stress can undo all the benefit your vacation might give you.   So how do you make it all work?

1. Pick your location that’s easy to get to

The cost of flights, or even train tickets, can really drive up the price of a vacation.     If you want to get away from cities, pick somewhere you can drive on a single tank of gas.   If you’d rather head downtown, consider leaving your car behind.   Try a discount bus line, like MegaBus or Bolt Bus, and get friendly with the public transportation once you arrive.   If you’re going to fly, book your flights in advance to get a lower price and use sites like Expedia or Kayak to compare airfare.

2. Use the internet to get a deal.

Discount sites like LivingSocial, Groupon, or Travel Zoo offer inexpensive travel packages that can give you over 50% off at pricey hotel and b&bs.   These will often have a certain number of meals or admission to local activities included in the cost, which makes them even more affordable.

3. Ask for a discount.

If it’s getting close to the date of your vacation, try calling local hotels and asking for a discount on room rates.   Often they’d rather book a room at a lower price than not make any money from it at all.

4. Stay with family or friends.

If you’ll only be there for one or two nights, ask people you know if you can stay with them.   You might even get a great local guide into the bargain.

5. Try camping.

Ditch the cost of hotels by camping.   Most national parks have free campgrounds; commercial venues will usually run under $20 a night.   If you have kids, setting up and exploring a campsite will keep them busy for hours, and many campgrounds have additional features like swimming pools or mini-golf for just a few dollars extra.

6. Use cash instead of credit.                      

It’s easy to lose track of how much you’re spending when it’s just being charged.   To keep track of what you’re spending on gas, meals out, and entertainment, have a set amount of cash with you and set a limit for what can be spent each day.

7. Eat out less.

If you’re going to be in the car, fill a cooler with sandwich fixings and bottled drinks.   Buy breakfast foods and keep them in your hotel.   Not every meal has to happen at a restaurant, even on vacation.

8.   Look for entertainment off the beaten path.

Museums, art galleries, national parks, historical sites, and beaches all provide low-to-no cost entertainment.   Ask at your hotel for ideas on places most tourists don’t go.   Take the family bowling or to play tennis; sporty activities last a long time and get everyone involved, but usually don’t cost very much.

9. Build in some time to relax.

Trying to fill every minute of a vacation is not only expensive, it can defeat the purpose of taking the vacation in the first place!   Instead, set aside time to relax with a good book, go for a walk around town, or take a nap in the afternoon.   It won’t cost anything, and the downtime will leave you feeling refreshed, even when it’s time to pack up and go home.

Traveling can be pricey, but if you plan carefully and, you can have a great trip that’s still easy on your bank account.

What’s your best tip for traveling on a budget?

photo by a2k