Category Archives: Preparation

Seven Things to Do Now to Save for the Holidays Next Year

According to the National Retail Federation, the average American will spend approximately $700 on Christmas gifts and goodies this year. For some people, maybe that doesn’t seem like a lot of money. But these days, I don’t have that kind of extra money to spend in one month. And I prefer not adding to my debt just to add to someone else’s material possessions.

My parents had to buy for six children plus each other. But I don’t remember so many “other people” expecting something simply because they happen to be in your life. I remember my mom putting something in a card for the mailman, and my dad would always get a bottle of whiskey or some other liquor for the guys who picked up trash. But even with all that, I can’t imagine they spent anywhere near $700! Of course those were different times. It seems now, we’re expected to give something to our kids’ teachers, coaches, babysitters, and our own co-workers, neighbors, hair stylist or barber; not to mention friends, and family members.

I’m single. I don’t have to buy for kids, and all but one of my 19 nieces and nephews are young adults; some starting families of their own. We live in six different states so I don’t feel the pressure to try to buy something for everyone. But when you add buying food for the parties, gas for traveling; gifts, wrappings, and decorations, the spending can still creep up on you, especially if you have a growing list of friends, business associates, coworkers, and church community groups.

So how do you make and keep a budget and still find ways to have fun and enjoy being with friends and family over the holidays? Planning!

 “Failing to plan is planning to fail!” 

So here are seven things you can do to save for the holidays now, and plan for the holidays next year!

1.  Join a Rewards Program. Better Yet, Join Several of Them!

I know some people don’t like reward programs. I’ve never really understood why. Maybe they think the business is tracking them. Newsflash. If you’re online. If you have an email, or are on social media. If you have a cell phone. You are being tracked. Joining reward programs now gives you coupons later. Not only do many businesses give free treats, discounts, savings on gas, or money to spend for things like your anniversary date and birthdays, but many have special higher discounts and giveaways during Christmastime. silver ornament

I got this ornament from World Market this year, just for being a rewards member. No purchase necessary! 

2.  Buy Hostess, Teacher, and Coaches Gifts Throughout the Year.

Nothing says you have to wait until Black Friday to start shopping for Christmas. When you see sales or drastic discounts on items that would make a good gift, go ahead and buy it — in March; in July; in whatever month you discover it. The person receiving the first isn’t going to ask if you got it at the Labor Day sale! Spend time during the year also looking for store closing sales. With the right timing, you can find items for as much as 75-90 percent off!

3.  Host an Ornament and Decorations Exchange Party.

This one can be fun. You know how every few years you decide your tree looks boring or you want to change up the way you’ve been decorating the house over the years? Well, have some friends over with the directive for them to go through their Christmas boxes and collect the ornaments, wreaths, decorations — anything they no longer use year-to-year. Everyone brings the items they’re interested in getting rid of, and spreads them out across the table. Then everyone goes around and picks through things that the other person no longer wants. At the end of the night, not only have you managed to squeeze in another girls’ night, but all of you go home with new ornaments, different decorations, and fresh ideas to deck your halls!

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4.  Have a Pot-Luck Dinner Party.

Instead of taking on the burden of planning and paying for a dinner party yourself, make it a potluck. Pick a theme, have everyone bring a dish that works with the theme, and you provide the Christmas atmosphere of music, lights, and smells. Don’t worry about buying a candle; just boil some cinnamon and cloves on the stove! By sharing the parts of the meal, no one person is footing the entire bill. And that also means less time in the kitchen cooking and baking.

5.  Save Christmas Gift Bags to Use Again.

Okay, I know most of you are probably already doing this, but if you’re not, you need to start! There’s no shame to reusing gift bags. Just remember to remove the name card from it. I actually save colorful tissue papers as well. Again, when you’re packaging it up for someone, they aren’t going to know or even care when or if you bought the bag that their gift is in. I think I’ve even returned the same bag to someone the following year. It was perfect for their gift. So why not? 

6.  Buy Christmas Cards, Wrappings, and Ribbons at the End of the Season.

The best deals on holiday items is right before the holidays (when they’re trying to get rid of last year’s inventory), and right after the holidays, (when they don’t want to store any remains of this year’s inventory). Make room in your attic, closet, or garage, and pick up items that are drastically marked down. That will be one less thing to worry about the following year, and you would have saved yourself a lot of money.

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7.  Make a List. Check it Twice!

Create a list and put people’s names in the order of priority. Stick with your list of who you’re buying a gift for, and in what price range you’re spending. That way you don’t end up leaving anyone out, but also, controlled discipline of not adding more people to your gift list later. Budget even what you’re willing to spend on food items for those parties, and which events (movies, theater, light shows) you’re spending money on. Then try to find things to do with your friends and family that are free.

Cutting back and spending less, doesn’t have to mean not having a great time over the holidays. I think it forces creativity and thoughtfulness. But remember that the first step to not over spending is planning. The next step is sticking to your plan. Look for other ways to save money and still have a wonderful Christmastime!

 

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The Cost of Higher Education

I was recently talking with two parents whose children are heading off to college.  One was dealing with financial aid issues and was concerned about the amount of debt his son might have to deal with after graduation. He acknowledge that he and his wife would be helping out, but that the costs of school exceeded what they’d be able to outright pay for. And since his son didn’t make high enough grades for any academic scholarships or grants, they would need to rely on various financial aid packages.

The other one expressed how happy he was to be dodging that bullet since his oldest had chosen to take advantage of a relatively new program in the state of Tennessee called the Tennessee Promise. With this program it provides FREE education at a community or technical college for two years, with the student graduating with an Associate degree. The advantage of this program is in not only allowing students a free education, but since most of the courses are General Studies classes, those wanting to go beyond an Associate to get their Bachelor’s degree, can apply to an in-state 4-year university to take the remaining two years of course work. This means they have two years longer to save up enough money to continue their education, if they’d like, or seek employment in the area of their two-year studies, and not have the burden of student loans to pay back.

To me, any parent living in this state, who doesn’t have $80,000 to pay for their student’s 4-year college tuition is kinda crazy for not to taking advantage of their kid receiving free higher education for two years; and cutting that financial commitment almost in half, should they choose to continue!

I understand a parents desire for their child to be able to choose where they want to attend school, just as much as they should be allowed to choose what it is they want to major in. But if the alternative is cleaning out your retirement funds, or having to prolong retirement for many years beyond your original plan, then I think looking at other resources needs to be on the table. 

The first guy was also struggling with the notion of his son declaring himself as independent. It seemed to bother him that a student could do that, or worst, that parents would want their kids to do that so that they don’t have to pay for their college education. So I interjected.

“You do know that there’s no law in this state that mandates a parent having to pay for their child’s college education?” I asked. 

Higher Education is a privilege not a mandate or a right. 

While I wish everyone who wanted to attend college could do so, and I wish our country could figure out a way to make it more affordable, if not free, it is still not a parent’s responsibility to empty their 401K, take out huge loans, or take on a second job just so they can pay for their kid’s education. Not only is it not their responsibility, but it can be dangerous for someone in their mid-50s, as was the case for him, to risk their financial future, especially being that close to retirement, in order to pay for their child’s education.

I went on to remind him that while some people can, and do pay for their children’s college; many parents don’t even have the luxury of choice in ever having had an education fund for their child, and they don’t make enough money even now to pay the tens of thousands of dollars tuition has grown to; even at state schools.

The other guy said his family fell into that group. “As sad as I am that I can’t, I just told my daughter that there was no way her mom and I could afford to pay for her college tuition. The money just wasn’t there. But fortunately for us, she was actually interested in attending a community college first any way. We were lucky.”

Sadly, I’ve heard too many accounts (and know of some personally) of parents trying to find money anywhere they can to pay for their student’s education, only for that student to not do well in school — either from not being ready for the demands of higher learning, or being away at school, or from just not caring or taking school seriously enough to try.

At the end of our conversation the first guy recounted a story of someone he knew who paid for her son’s first year of college, and after he managed to fail both semesters, she put the financial burden on him to continue forward and participate in the cost of his own education. The last time he checked, his friend’s son was doing quite well in school; even talking about the lessons he learned after blowing his first year, and the difference it’s making being responsible for it all himself.

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I think if parents have the means, and the desire to pay for their children’s college education, then they should do so. For some friends of mine, it’s almost like an insult to them not to provide that for their kids. At the same time, I don’t think other parents who can’t afford it, should be made to feel bad about needing financial assistance, or having their student declare independence, in order to qualify for the various grants and loans they would have access to apart from their parents. 

It does come down to money, planning, and sometimes, just being able to adjust to a new normal, and being alright with it.

 

 

Yep, It’s Time to Go Back to School

It’s that time of year — again. While many families in the northeast, midwest, and the west coast are celebrating the midpoint of their summertime, with backyard cookouts, trips to the lake, and the kids being gone for another week or two away at camp, many southern state families are spending these final days of July shopping to replace the clothes and shoes their kids grew out of since last fall, and hectically going through the school district’s mandatory shopping list, in preparation for a return back to school soon.

In Tennessee, as with most southern states, students return to school before the end of August. In the Middle Tennessee area, which includes Nashville, students will be back to school by the first week of the month! Can you even imagine?

For one of the neighboring counties of Nashville, the busses will start rolling out this Wednesday, August 1. And almost all of the other area counties will follow less than a week later, with returns on August 6, 7, and 8! So if you sense a little panic from your southern Facebook and Instagram friends with kids, now you know why.

Fortunately, this is also Tax-free weekend (July 27-29) for the state of Tennessee. For those whose states may not offer this, it is a weekend once a year when parents can stock up for the school year, buying clothes, shoes, school supplies, and even computers, and pay no sales tax. In a state where the sales tax is 9.75%, that shopping bill can add up really fast. But so does the savings, if you plan ahead and do most, if not all, of your shopping during this time period. I mean, imagine a college student being able to save almost $100 for that $1,000 computer they need, by just choosing to purchase it this weekend versus next!

And now that parents are tasked with buying supplies for more than just their own child, planning your shopping adventure is even more important.

This is an actual list of school supplies for one of the local elementary schools:
  • Colored Pencils – Box(es)
  • Crayons – 24 Count
  • #2 Yellow/Wood Pencils Sharpened with Erasers, 24 Pack
  • Glue Sticks
  • Scissors
  • Ruler 12″ Standard/Metric
  • Protractor
  • Pocket Folders
  • Pens
  • Composition Notebook Wide Ruled
  • Spiral Notebook Wide Ruled
  • Package(s) of Sticky Notes
  • Box(es) of Facial Tissues
  • Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, Canister(s)
  • Package(s) of Filler Paper, Wide Ruled

A Middle school list in the same district looks like this:

  • Pens, Blue
  • Pens, Black
  • Pens, Red
  • Pencils, #2
  • Package(s) of Cap Erasers
  • Package(s) of Filler Paper, Wide Ruled
  • Notebook paper
  • Package(s) of Graph Paper
  • 1″ Binders
  • Write On Dividers
  • Composition Notebook Wide Ruled
  • Highlighters
  • Dry Erase Markers
  • Colored Pencils – Box(es)
  • Hand Sanitizer – Bottle(s)
  • Canister(s) of Disinfecting Wipes
  • Box(es) of Kleenex Facial Tissues
  • Paper Towels – Roll(s)
  • Duct Tape
  • Hot Glue Gun Glue Sticks
  • Package(s) of Index Cards
  • Box(es) of Reclosable Storage Bags
  • Package(s) of Printer/Copier Paper – Colored
  • Masking Tape
  • Package(s) of Plastic Cups
  • Box(es) of Plastic Forks

So don’t just shop. Shop wisely.

  • Shop at the right stores.  Find the ones that have the lowest price on the things you need.
  • Use coupons. As you see, the school supply lists have grown way beyond pencils and paper. Look for store or manufacture coupons for those paper towels, toilet paper, disinfecting wipes, and Purell that many schools now require.
  • For your student heading off to college, check out yard sales and online sites where you can find inexpensive desks, chairs, bookcases, and other things for their dorm room and apartment.
  • And don’t be too embarrassed to shop at discount stores and places like Goodwill, where they also offer special discounts on top of their lower prices, including a 10% Student Discount on Sundays; a 10% Senior Adult Discount on Tuesdays; and 10% Military discount on Wednesday. Again, every little bit helps!

When it comes down to it, making the most of your time and saving the most of your money, requires some planning and preparation. But your bank account will thank you for all of the dollars you save. And you’ll thank yourself when that money comes in handy later; usually unexpectedly.

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Not Another Women’s Conference!?

As we close out another important month — National Women’s History Month — I couldn’t help but take the timing of the ending of March to announce the kickoff plans of Catching Raindrops in Water Buckets “house events” later this year!

My “adjusted lifestyle,” hasn’t just been about journaling and starting a website. It has been about making some real changes in my life that impact how I am living. Our finances are a big part of the way we live. There are financial issues you control (spending, utility usage, entertainment and luxury items, etc.), and there are financial issues you can’t control (the economy’s impact on your 401K, increase in property taxes or insurance, loss of a spouse or loss of a job, and many other things.). Regardless of the source, when something impacts your financial life in a negative way, you’re the one who suffers the financial consequences. Those consequences can be huge and long-lasting if you don’t face the reality of your new normal and make some adjustments.

The impact can be even harder on those who only have one income. Whether it’s a married couple with a stay-at-home spouse, a single person with no family or roommate, or an older couple in retirement, when your “normal” changes, you have to change with it, or get caught up in the financial repercussions.

One of the things I learned through the process of going through my last nine years of change, along with decades of watching my own mom figure out how to make ends meet during trying times; especially with a large family, is that planning is key.

People plan to finish school; plan to go to college; and plan to get a “good” job. But most people don’t plan, financially, for what happens when one of those other “plans” get interrupted. Ignoring the possibility that it can happen doesn’t change the reality when it does. So why not be ready.

Notebook mockup

 

The Catching Raindrops in Water Buckets conference is designed to Inform, Educate, Encourage, and Challenge women of all ages on how to plan for a successful adjustment when life throws unexpected surprises at them. 

INFORM attendees on ways to save money, stretch dollars, and invest wisely simply by planning ahead.

EDUCATE attendees on resources available to offer assistance during their adjustment period.

ENCOURAGE attendees to try new things; be creative in finding or creating secondary sources of revenue.

CHALLENGE attendees to step out of their comfort zone; start a new business; turn a hobby or a passion into extra income.

While we can’t control many of the circumstances that may happen to us, we can have some control over how well prepared we are to handle those stops, detours, and many times life-altering events when they happen.

We’ll be kicking off the larger conference (launching in 2019) starting first with doing small group house events. 

Ultimately, the conference is designed for women to meet, network, learn, feel encouraged, and for some, to come to the realization that they need to stop trying to live the lifestyle they used to know, and start learning how to live a changed life, adjusting to their new normal

Stay tuned!

When Stores Close, Where Do People Go?

Back before the Christmas holidays, I remember hearing news about the toy store company, Toys R Us, closing some of its stores. I didn’t take a serious note of it; first, because I don’t have kids, and my youngest nephew is 16 years old. So it’s been quite a while since I’ve shopped in any of their stores. Second, news of the closing of “some” of their stores was not unlike the reoccurring news of Kmart, Sears, Macy’s, even Sam’s Club. It had become an all too real part of the news cycle. Another month, another retail store filing bankruptcy, mostly to reorganize, and in the process, closing several of their stores.

But then earlier this month, that news changed. It was no longer just some stores closing, but rather, news broke that the company planned to sell or close all 800 stores in the US. The part that jumped out to me in the articles I read was that as many as 33,000 employees would be affected!

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From what I understand, Toys R Us had declared bankruptcy back in Fall 2017 because of an almost EIGHT BILLION DOLLAR debt it was struggling to pay. Let that sink in… Other than the position we’ve allowed ourselves to get into as a country, where else do you hear about a business continuing to operate for so long with that kind of outstanding debt?

One of the things that came to mind was wondering how many employees took any action upon originally hearing about the company’s bankruptcy? How many people in upper and middle management pulled out their resumes and started working on updating their information? Or who of the hourly employees started looking for other places hiring in their community? How many even knew or gave thought about the financial instability of their company — even though the information was readily available and reported on?

Perhaps it’s hard to say with certainty what any one of us would do, given the same scenario. Or maybe you DO know, because you have already been in this situation. But I ask these questions because I’m curious as to why people stay in a place, making little effort to seek alternative employment, when they know the clock has already started ticking down towards the day when they will lose their job. An announcement that a company you work for is closing should signal that it’s time to get serious about making a change; preparing for reality — the new normal that’s about to fall up you. 

One article I read talked about the gap between the time when some people can apply for unemployment, and the timing it takes to actually start receiving an unemployment check. And while that money is there for such a time as this, it won’t be the same amount as what most soon-to-be former employees have become accustomed to living on. By its design, it’s suppose to just tie people over until they find that next job. For some, they’ll have one the day their store closes. For others, it may take weeks or months.

So my question for you is, how prepared are you if you were to find out today that you will no longer have your job by the end of the year? Or by the end of the month? Maybe even by the end of the week?

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In a list posted by Clark, a retail and consumer news site, some of the other stores scheduled to close at least some, if not all of their stores this year, include: Abercrombie & Fitch, Foot Locker, Best Buy cell phone stores, J.C. Penney, Bon-Ton, Sam’s Club, Macy’s, J. Crew, Gap and Banana Republic, Teavana, and Michael Kor’s. Additionally, Ascena Retail Group, which is the women’s clothing retailer that operates the brands Ann Taylor, Loft, Dress Barn, Lane Bryant, Justice and several others. (https://clark.com/shopping-retail/major-retailers-closing-2018/)

How Are You Using Your Water Buckets?

You’ve heard us talk about “water buckets.” It’s even in the name of the website. But have you ever wondered what we’re talking about when we refer to them? Do you know what your water buckets are and how are you using them?

Your water buckets are those things you use to catch the “rain” of blessings that you’ll need to sustain you, not today, and maybe not even tomorrow, but at some point in the future.  Preparation is one of the keys to success. While you can’t know every possible bad scenario that could happen in your life, you can have a plan to better prepare yourself for how to deal with those circumstances as they come.

Everyone should keep water buckets around. Maybe it’s maintaining your own savings account after you get married; or learning how to turn your hobby into an income stream for your family. Perhaps as a single adult, you decide to take in a roommate so that you put the extra funds away for that emergency. Or as a family you purchase a house with the purpose of turning part of it into income property to help you pay your mortgage off early. Water buckets are ways to save money and resources today so that you have them to use later when you unexpectedly need it.

If you’ve been through a divorce, and suddenly found yourself dealing with the shock of returning to just one income; or your spouse carried you on their insurance, and now you’re having to pay for your own, along with the mortgage, and that new car that at the time seemed like a good idea — then you understand the concept of having the advantage of having something in those buckets to help with your transition.

Maybe you’re single, just lost your job, and now there’s no second income to fall back on; no one else to help pay those bills or provide some of the health benefits that you just lost. Or you and your spouse figured you’d “get around” to getting life insurance when you got older, only now they’re gone and you’ve had to use all of your savings to pay funeral costs.

Perhaps you still have your job, but with the cost of everything increasing, you’re just barely making enough to cover your monthly expenses, with no room for anything else. But then the brakes go out in your car, and there’s no coworker or bus line within 10 miles of where you live, offering no alternative but to some how get the car fixed.

If any of these scenarios sound familiar in your life or with someone you know, then you understand that life is full of unexpected surprises and unplanned stops in the middle of places you never imagined. And while we can’t control some of the circumstances that may happen to us, we can control how well we’re prepared to take on those events when they happen.

Being prepared for life’s unexpected turns means being willing to create and then implement a plan now, so that you are where you need to be, have what you need to have, or are on your way to accomplishing steps to help you if or when a crisis hits.

So when it’s raining outside, the grass is looking green, the flowers are colorful and all the trees are thick with foliage, don’t worry about your neighbors or friends looking at you strangely because you’ve placed your water buckets around the house to fill up. Maybe they haven’t checked the forecast to know that there’s a drought coming. Be thankful that you’re going to be ready for it.

There’s No Goodbye in Friendships

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I had a nice visit with a good friend the other day. She is moving away from my hometown, so this was our last time together for a while. Funny thing is that what I call my hometown, truly is the place where I feel the most at home (high school, college, friends, family, etc.), however, I haven’t lived there in over 20 years! But ever since I left, I have made it a practice to visit, typically two times a year; always making time to see my close friends each time I’m in town. And now, she won’t be there.

As we sit back relaxing on a cushioned daybed, I stare out into the backyard from her screen porch, and wonder, why haven’t we done this more often. Mango tea in one hand, and no bugs to swipe away with the other, I am enjoying watching the birds bounce around on the large crepe myrtle, which has lost most of its flowers, but whose greenery still provides a safe haven for the tiny birds to play. In the distance, I can hear what must be squirrels jumping tree to tree; or perhaps it’s the rabbits she says have made themselves at home in her yard. It’s a beautiful sunny day; but hot and humid, as I remembered a South Carolina June day is suppose to be. The ceiling fan in the porch makes it tolerable, but of course, I’m here for the conversation anyway.

Lisa is unusually calm today. I expected to find her running around trying to take care of last minute things; maybe even stressing out that everything wasn’t going to get done in time. But she was just the opposite. Since it was her husband’s new job that initiated the move, she’s had the benefit of having his company handle everything for the move. So as the two women inside continue to wrap and pack up boxes in the kitchen, and the five or six guys continue to carry furniture out onto the large moving van, she had the time to sit and simply chill out with me for an hour or so to talk.

It’s been about a year since she first got word that this day might be coming. I remember the first time she asked for general prayer, that they would know which path they should take with some opportunities coming their way. The final determination was made months later; right as school was getting underway. So that meant making other decisions based upon their son’s school as well. The delayed time for departure, I think, gave her some extra time to prepare as much emotionally for it, as she had to do physically and logistically.

I think that sometimes we forget about the emotional toil that major life changes can have on us. People often only consider the financial challenges or physical changes that might be ahead. And while we may all be impacted differently when our lifestyle is forced to go through a change, we are, nonetheless, all still impacted! Preparing for your new life mentally and emotionally is just as important as all of the logistics you might handle to prepare physically. It’s definitely not an area you should neglect as you make plans for your new normal.

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Before I left, I picked a bowl of blueberries from her backyard one last time (and threw them in a salad later that day). Jokingly, I told her I would be back next summer to meet the new owners, just so I could help myself to the blueberry bushes.

I’ve alway loved what they did with their backyard, filling the landscape with peach trees and blackberry bushes. Though the pending move made her skip planting a vegetable garden, it has in the past been just as spectacular as the vast array of carefully planted daylilies, and black-eyed Susans; mums and daisies; azaleas and multiple magnolia trees. It’s a Southern girl’s dream yard!

So of course I said yes when she offered me some of her hundreds of daylilies, and then gave me a large container herb garden filled with everything from chives to rosemary; mint and oregano. Graciously, I promised to take good care of it all.

Best news of all…she’s actually moving about 350 miles closer to where I live now!