Thursday, December 29, 2011

The $0 New Year's Eve Party

Christmas is expensive and having kids to please doesn't make it any cheaper. I am dreading the arrival of the January credit card statements especially because I have a policy of never carrying a balance. I may just have to kick off the new year by dipping into my savings account to keep that policy alive unless I can limit my New Year's Eve party budget to zero dollars.

So if you are one of the (un)fortunate souls who is joining my family this year for New Year's Eve, here's a sneak peak at what the party may look like.

10 Ways to Party Like You're Broke

1. Send out invitations through Facebook. Event pages are free and easy to use. Your friends don't have to be Facebook users to get the invite. You can enter their email addresses manually.

2. Don't plan to drink alcohol unless you've still got a Christmas stockpile. Drink water or whatever else you have kicking around. Got leftover pop? Add some juice and make punch.

3. Don't shop for food. Use your holiday leftovers and comb those bottom and top shelves in your pantry for odds and ends that can be crafted into snacks for the party.

4. Out of napkins? Put out a roll or toilet paper or a box of Kleenex. It's tacky but it will make your guests chuckle.

5. If you have the urge to decorate, have the kids do some artwork. What are their dreams for the new year? Have them draw it. Or cut up your Christmas cards and make paper chains (with glue or tape) to drape across the living room. Or just keep the Christmas decorations up.

6. Dress up. Put on the fanciest clothes you have hanging in your closet. They are there anyways so you might as well use them. Go for your high heels, black ties and all.

7. Use the TV for background noise. There are always New Year Eve countdown specials on with live music and other family-friendly entertainment.

8. For kids' activities, play board or card games, have a dance party or sing-a-long and set the kids lose outside for a while with flashlights. Or, get out all the Lego and build the biggest tower you can as a group.

9. For adults, get a bunch of rocks from outside. Give everyone two rocks and a marker. Have everyone write their most special moment from the previous year on one rock and their biggest hope for the new year on the other. Have everyone share their stories and dreams.

10. Skip the made-in-China noisemakers. Go old-school and bang pots and pans at midnight.

All the best for 2012! 

Copyright 2011. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.
For reprint permission contact moneyme at telus dot net.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas Spending - Frugal or Frivolous?

How high would you score on a Scrooge-o-meter?
More than once or twice I've heard my favourite money guy, Kevin O'Leary, tell an audience that if you want to discover the truth about an organization (or individual) follow the money because "money never lies." If O'Leary is right then we should be able to use our cheque books, credit card statements and debit slips to find out where our hearts truly are this Christmas. Are you more like Scrooge or Cratchit?

Until recently, all the financial evidence pointed to the fact that I was ringing the bell on the Scrooge-o-meter. I have always been the sole parent and breadwinner for my family. Having a frivolous Christmas was never an option. Every dollar mattered. I filled stockings with underwear, bath soap, shampoo, toothpaste, and even cash. Every November I would do an inventory of household goods and use that list to make what I thought were very practical purchases that qualified (in my fiscally responsible mind) as Christmas-worthy gifts. But were they?

This year, I have a new person in my world who believes that Christmas is not about giving Mom a kilogram of bath salts or Dad a package of razor blades from Costco. No, this hardworking soul believes that Christmas gifts should not be practical. He believes that Christmas gifts should be fun, carefree and most definitely not serious. In other words, Christmas gifts should be frivolous.

That's an idea that, at first, was a bit bothersome for a frugal mom like me. I mean really, doesn't it make more sense to blow you Christmas budget on things the family really needs? Won't that turn into savings for the next fiscal year? I think so. Or should I say, I thought so.

I've realized something this year.
Frugal gifts say, "It's all about the money."
Frivolous gifts say, "It's all about the person."

So this Christmas shopping season I have taken a step back from making practical purchases and I confess that it is kind of fun to lighten up.

In the process, I've realized something else. A frivolous approach to gift buying doesn't effect the amount of money you have to spend. I have a budget and I'm sticking to it. And, though it pains me a little that not stocking up on underwear, bath soap, shampoo, and toothpaste at the tail-end of 2011 will defer the expense to 2012, I can deal with it. I want my family to know that Christmas is all about the person and not about the cash. In fact, this Christmas I may just ring the bell on the Cratchit-o-meter.

Copyright 2011. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.
For reprint permission contact moneyme at telus dot net.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The High Cost of Low Literacy at Home

The Velcro Effect Makes it Easier to Learn
I was at a literacy seminar once where the speaker pulled out a strip of purple Velcro. Several times, in the quiet of the lecture hall, she ripped the two purple strips apart and put them back together again. Rip, stick, rip, stick, rip, stick, until she finally told us that literacy in one area of life improves the "stickiness" of new "literacies" in other areas of life. The more you know, the more you will learn.

Beyond the literacy of reading and writing, we've had several different categories of literacy defined in recent years. These are new terms defined largely by social advocacy groups and sometimes picked up by the public sector. A few examples include computer literacy, media literacy, environmental literacy, emotional literacy, nutrition literacy and, of course, financial literacy. All of which are primarily promoted by non-profit advocacy groups that are on a mission to ensure that all Canadians have a chance to learn the language of money or feelings or whatever literacy a group is promoting.

It's no secret that I am on the financial literacy bandwagon and I promote teaching children and adults the language of money whenever I can. But when I think back to the Velcro effect, I can't help but turn the gaze upon myself as a parent. Literacy-focused non-profits raise all kinds of private money from corporations and individuals. They also receive government grants for their causes. Promoting literacy is expensive you need offices, trained staff, teaching and promotional materials.

While I'm sure these efforts are beneficial on some level, I can't help but wonder if that money needs to be spent at all. Can't basic literacies be taught at home? Are we parents just too busy to bother or is our own literacy too low to do the job?

I might not be an expert in computer literacy, media literacy, environmental literacy, emotional literacy, nutrition literacy, and financial literacy, but I do talk to my daughter about the basics of surfing the Net, the power of advertisements on YTV, the benefits of recycling paper, how to save her tears for times when she is really hurt, the difference between a healthy meal and junk food, and how to read a stock chart. I can do all of this for free and when I get to the end of my expertise in a particular language, I am literate enough in a general sense to know that we should consult a professional or get outside help.

The speaker was right. The more I know, the more I can learn. Rip, stick, rip, stick, rip...and it's free.

Copyright 2011. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.
For reprint permission contact moneyme at telus dot net.