Seriously, If You Don’t Have The Money, Don’t Buy It!

‘Tis the season for buying, buying, buying. And then, if you’re like the typical consumer, you’ll spend the better part of next year paying, paying, paying for it! My suggestion? If you don’t have the cash set aside specifically for purchasing holiday gifts, then don’t do it. It really is that simple.

I know you worry about what your family and friends will think if you show up empty handed, and I know that your kids might whine for a few minutes on Christmas morning. But there are plenty of ways to enjoy the holiday without expensive gifts. Instead of shopping, spend time together caroling, baking cookies, and spreading good cheer. A cheerful attitude is easier to come by when you aren’t stressed out by spending money you don’t have.

But you say you’ve bought the gifts already? And wrapped them? It’s not too late — unwrap them, return them to the store, and have the cashier put the credit back onto your card. This year, try giving your love instead.

Happy Holidays!

Video: How To Stay Out Of Debt, a funny Saturday Night Live piece starring Steve Martin.
(Email subscribers, you’ll need to visit my website to view the embedded video.)

The Economy Relies Upon You Being A Good Consumer!

thanksgiving turkeyYou are an individual. But you are also a member of a global community. Most important of all, you are a Consumer. As a member of this community, it is your DUTY to consume.


Because the system would collapse if you stopped spending and the consequences would be AWFUL. The system that runs your country relies upon you being a Good Consumer. This film will show you how:

I jest, of course! Before you head out at the break of dawn this Black Friday to gobble up merchandise, do yourself a favor and watch this fabulous video. (Email subscribers, you’ll need to visit my blog to view the video embedded in this post.)

Should you choose to go shopping anyway, perhaps you’ll remember the turkeys you watched here and it’ll help you curb your spending. Or print the following list of questions and suggestions and review them before exchanging your hard-earned dollars for crap products:

Before you buy, ask yourself:

  1. Will I change my mind? Advertisers and retail stores are notoriously skilled at making shoppers believe that they need something– even when it isn’t true. When I find an item I want, I leave the store to think about it for a day or two. During this brief period of time, I usually find that I stop wanting it.
  2. Can I buy it for less? Comparison shop. Find it on sale. Negotiate. Look for a recycled one in the newspaper, at garage sales or consignment stores, on ebay or craigslist. Avoid the mall. I bought all of my daughter’s Christmas gifts through craigslist last year and filled the space beneath the tree for a total of $30.
  3. How long am I willing to pay for Christmas? Your loved ones would rather spend quality time with you during the holidays than have you run up your credit card balance and pay for it all year long. Give the gift of time instead.
  4. Can I trade something for it? Swap with a friend, neighbor or family member. Ask a seller if she wants something you have in exchange for the item or service you desire. We’ve traded plumbing repairs for health club dues, computer work and pizzas. Create a toy exchange with other parents. We’ve traded “new-to-you” toys for our kids.
  5. Can I borrow it from someone? Borrow books, music and movies from the library. Ask your neighbor if you can use her seldom-used yard tools or specialty cooking appliances. Just make sure you are willing and able to repair or replace damaged or lost items.
  6. Can I share the expense with someone? Co-op with your neighborhood to buy one set of yard maintenance equipment. Consider car-sharing. Ask your babysitter for a reduced hourly rate for watching your child along with another.
  7. Can I cut back on another budget item instead? If what you want to buy doesn’t fit into your budget, choose to spend less on something else for awhile. Use the money you’re saving on that budget category towards what you want to buy instead. I often cut back on dining out the month before a vacation because I’d rather use the savings generated to enjoy special meals at our travel destination.
  8. Can I sell something to come up with the extra money? Sell an item you no longer use, then use the money to purchase the item you want. Try a sales listing on craigslist, ebay, community bulletin boards or your local classified ads. Here’s an idea for toy-hungry kids (or adults!): declutter, hold a garage sale, then buy something new with the proceeds. Better yet, make “found” money go further by using tip #2 above.
  9. Can I make a green choice? Look for products that make less impact on our environment. Choose a less toxic alternative, one with less packaging and more recycled content, or something that can be reused for something else when you’re done with it.

So don’t be a turkey… Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Don’t miss anything: Subscribe to receive free email or RSS notifications every time I publish something new.

Read More:

How To Revolutionize Your Spending Habits

Giving holiday gift cards? Give someone the power to change lives!

5 Things The Marshmallow Test Can Teach You About Money Management

How to Make Money Management a Family Affair

Debt Is Slavery

photo credit: Zellaby

Plan A and Plan B

In response to my recent post, Will your parents’ financial decisions leave you holding the bag?, Steve wrote,

I agree with the premise that a person’s retirement should be taken care of before saving for a child’s education, but saving enough for one’s own future seems to be a moving target.

When does a person ‘have enough for retirement’? I am 27, with a 6 month old baby. Besides $15,000 in student loans (@ 2.6% interest rate), and a mortgage, my wife and I are debt free. We contribute to our 401k’s up to the match, and we contribute $100 a month to a Roth IRA. Since we are so young, we feel secure in our ability to save enough for retirement, so we also contribute to a 529 plan for our child.

Even though we feel secure, anything could happen at any time. Maybe one of us gets injured, and we can not work anymore. Maybe this happens to both of us. We never know, therefore I am inclined to save more. But when is it enough? If I max out my 401k, is that enough? I am 27…I may have 60 years of life left…$15,000 will not be enough if something happens next year.

I struggle with the concept of taking care of myself first, then take care of others, when there exists so many potentially negative unknowns. If I am not saving for my daughter’s education…should I not be giving money to charity? Take care myself first, right???

What is the sweet spot for annual saving for yourself, vs saving/giving to others?

Yes, the future holds many unknowns, making it difficult to be completely accurate with long-term financial planning. This deep recession, for instance, has all but destroyed many well-laid plans. The key, however, is to plan for the best while preparing for the worst. In other words, create Plan A and Plan B.

Plan A is what you hope to have happen. You hope that you’ll remain healthy and able-bodied, fully employed, happily married, able to donate money to charity, and able to save for your child’s future as well as your own.

Are you saving enough? It all depends on how much you spend now and what you anticipate spending in the future. Plug your financial considerations and planned life events into a Lifetime Financial Planner software or an Excel spreadsheet and tweak it until the numbers work.

Plan B considers what could happen; the what-ifs. You, your wife, or your child might become ill or disabled. Your marriage might not last and your assets and income could be divided in half. You might join the growing ranks of the unemployed. You might hurt someone in a car accident, get sued and lose all of your savings and everything you own.

How can you protect your finances from catastrophic incident? Buy high-deductible insurance policies, namely disability insurance, term life insurance, personal liability insurance, health insurance. Maintain and improve your job skills. Run a sideline business from your home. Consult with an attorney for additional “what-if” planning.

Additionally, save as much as you can today while you are young. Use your youth to exploit the power of compounding growth. And stay far, far, far away from consumer debt so that if something bad were to happen, you and your family could afford to live on little income.

Where does charity come into play? This is a very personal choice. Until I knew that our financial future was firmly on solid ground, I chose to donate my time rather than my money. I’ve always served as a volunteer in one way or another and not only does this help others, but it improves my set of skills, introduces me to a network of new people, and makes me feel great. This crazy busy world needs more of the gift of time from volunteers.

Should you contribute to your child’s 529 Plan? Most of us have heard a flight attendant recite these words as part of their safety spiel prior to departure:  “Please secure your own oxygen mask prior to assisting children or others”…

Will your parents’ financial decisions leave you holding the bag?

Emma Johnson from MSN Money pitched me the link to her recent article, Will you end up supporting your parents?, and I have to confess, her article brought up very uncomfortable memories for me.

15 years ago, my mom and I started having conversations about how she planned to handle her retirement. She’d admittedly not been very savvy about her personal finances. I was often concerned about her financial misbehavior. Deep down, I knew she was counting on someone to rescue her: either a man or me.

My mom and I would often brush the tension away with good-natured ribbing. We used to joke about how when she was broke and too old to work,  my husband and I would build her an apartment in the hay loft above our horse barn, and when she became too old to climb the stairs, we’d haul her up with a hoist and pulley system. That was good for a few laughs — until she turned 59 and was diagnosed with a debilitating disease that forced her into early retirement.

She lost her business, her ability to work, her minimal home equity. With no savings set aside, she quickly became dependent on others. The stress of her illness and the burden of her financial needs ravaged the relationships between her and her boyfriend, and me and my siblings.

In her article, Emma Johnson asks difficult questions:

Will your parents’ financial decisions leave you holding the bag?

Is it ever too early to meddle in your parents’ financial affairs? Is it your responsibility to plan to care for people who are still working and able to save and invest on their own behalf? What if their financial needs compromise your lifestyle or your security? And what if your folks should have known better than to leave retirement to chance — and yet have?

Ultimately, my mom’s poor financial behavior became our burden, and while I was glad that I was able to help her, the situation caused undue stress.

Many of my coaching clients are parents raising young children, are deeply in debt, and have little or no money set aside for retirement. Yet most of these parents contribute regularly to their children’s education fund(s). While I appreciate the desire to provide their kids with a college education, I worry about their family’s future in the long run.

Take it from me — the financial burden of caring for your elderly parent(s) — ones who failed to save for their own retirement — is much more daunting than paying for your own college tuition.

So parents, please take care of YOUR financial future first. Then — and only then — contribute towards improving your children’s future. This is not selfish behavior; this is one of the most loving things you can do for your entire family.

Giving holiday gift cards? Give someone the power to change lives!

Be careful where you choose to buy gift cards this year. The recession has walloped many businesses, causing them to close their doors. Considering the weak holiday sales most have experienced, more are likely to fail in the new year. The last thing you want to do is spend your hard-earned money on a gift card that becomes worthless before your loved one can use it.

Big business isn’t the only sector suffering this year. Non-profits, small businesses and families around the world are struggling. So here’s a gift suggestion for you: purchase gift certificates and give your loved ones the opportunity to sponsor a business operated by the working poor. Help these individuals and communities make great strides towards economic independence.

Here’s how’s microfinance program works:

  1. Purchase gift certificate(s) online for as little as $25 each. Print your gift certificate — or save time and postage and email them to your loved one.
  2. Your loved one gets to select a specific entrepreneur in the developing world and uses your gift to fund a small 0% loan – empowering the entrepreneur to lift themselves out of poverty. Each pre-screened entrepreneur is hard-working and hopes to create a sustainable livelihood.
  3. Your loved one watches the entrepreneur’s small business grow over the following months via email updates and gets repaid as the business succeeds.
  4. As the loan is repaid, your loved one can withdraw your gift to spend as they wish, or they can recycle your gift and lend again (and again and again)!

I’ve given several of these gift certificates to others and they have been well received. My holiday tip for you — avoid the traffic and crowds and give someone the power to change lives!

Accept my lender invitation by clicking here. Fill out the short form, then click on “Kiva Gifts” at the top of the page. Tell Kiva your gift certificate recipient’s name, then print and/or email the certificate to your loved one.

Happy Holidays!

CNN Inspire Summit

CNN honored me with an invitation to participate as a featured guest panelist at their Inspire Summit: Women’s Empowerment Conference held at the Turner – Time Warner building in Manhattan last week. The program was moderated by Kyra Phillips, anchor of “CNN Newsroom”, and opened with special guest Whoopi Goldberg.

Eight women (including me) followed Whoopi’s down-to-earth, humorous and entertaining opening to share our stories and humanitarian projects that evening. Our panelist interviews concluded with the L’Oreal Paris Women Of Worth Awards.

Meeting all of these amazing women was such a thrill! Everyone’s dedication towards their special projects and causes was incredibly inspirational. The experience served as a reminder that when we follow our passion, anything is possible.

Here are abbreviated introductions of the women Kyra Phillips (CNN anchor) interviewed in front of a live audience:

Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg, multiple award-winning actress, comedienne, producer and television host, is also well-known for her humanitarian efforts on behalf of children, the homeless, human rights, education, substance abuse and the battle against AIDS. Whoopi is a Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations.

Incidentally, wearing jeans, a baggy shirt and bright yellow rubber shoes, Whoopi shared why she dresses for comfort rather than high style. In a nutshell, feeling comfortable makes her happy, and when she’s happy, the people around her, in turn, feel more comfortable and happy. Makes perfect sense to me! What else makes Whoopi happy? Toto toilets. I guess you had to be there…

Molly and Carly Houlahan, Hives for Lives

Molly and Carly Houlahan, ages 16 and 14, launched Hives for Lives four years ago when their beloved grandfather died of cancer. These sisters wanted to honor his memory by raising money to find a cure. They raise bees, harvest the honey, then spin, filter and bottle it by hand. Their honey is now being distributed by nine Whole Foods regions and they’ve raised $150,000 towards a cure so far. Way to go, girls!

Patricia Hall, H2O for Life

Patricia Hall, after participating in a variety of volunteer service projects in Africa and witnessing the plight of women and girls caused by lack of water and sanitation, was compelled to bring water projects to schools in third world countries. Patricia is a teacher in Minnesota. H2O for Life was formed in 2007 after overwhelming student response to the first service learning project she initiated in her school. H2O for Life has now grown to over 80 school projects during the current 2008-2009 school year.

Majora Carter, The Majora Carter Group

Majora Carter, a South Bronx native, pursues resources and ideas to improve the quality of life in environmentally challenged communities. She founded Sustainable South Bronx and implemented the Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training program — a green-collar job training and placement system – seeding communities with a skilled workforce that has both a personal and economic stake in their urban environment.

Jessica Flannery,

Jessica Flannery is co-founder of, the world’s first peer-to-peer online microlending website. Kiva makes it possible for internet users to lend money to specific entrepreneurs in developing countries, empowering these individuals to lift themselves out of poverty. Since I pledge my blogging profits as loans to the women I find on Kiva’s website, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to meet one of the masterminds behind this brilliant online organization!

Jen Smith, Millionaire Mommy Next Door

Jen Smith learned to make, save and spend money in ways that she and her family find rewarding. Now financially-free, she’s on a mission to inspire and empower other families through financial education so they too can enjoy the life they want to live. She freely shares her recipe for success, happiness and wealth on her blog. As part of her commitment to our world-wide community, Jen pledges her blogging revenue as 0% microloans, through, to small businesses operated by working, impoverished women in developing countries.

Eve Ensler, Vagina Monologues

Eve Ensler, playwright, performer, feminist and activist, is best known for her play The Vagina Monologues. In 1998, Ensler launched V-Day, a global non profit that has raised over $60 million for women’s anti-violence groups.

Doris “Granny D” Haddock, Political Activist

“Granny D”, at the age of 90, walked across America to rally against the influence of big money in elections. At 94, she ran for U.S. Senate. Since then, she’s given speeches around the country to promote campaign finance reform; specifically, public funding of elections. May I live as long and as strong!

After the Summit event, my family and I stayed in New York City for three additional days to sight-see. I was in NYC during the same week last year when I appeared as a guest on The Montel Williams Show, but this was the first visit for my husband and daughter. Coming from a small western city, Manhattan is an eyeful –- especially for a three-year-old during the holiday season. We rode the (free) ferry past the Statue of Liberty, navigated the subways, ate dim sum in Chinatown, strolled around the historic Seaport Village and enjoyed views of the Brooklyn Bridge, weaved between the tall buildings and narrow streets around Wall St and the NY Stock Exchange, visited the Museum Of The City Of New York, checked email from the magnificent NY public library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street (marble, stately columns, European-like painted ceilings, amazing two-story carved wood bookcases), gawked at the ostentatious Christmas display windows and mega-caret diamonds along 5th Ave, stomped on the Big Piano at FAO Schwartz toy store, watched kids get their American Girl dolls dolled up at the store’s “Doll Hair Salon”, dropped in on a Santa convention, rode the carousel at Bryant Park, and saw disturbing pictures of dead people at the International Center of Photography.

What a marvelous trip!