December.31.11Christmas & Finances
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Money Matters with Nimi
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Picture this scene. Homes and shops decked with Christmas trees, beautiful baubles, bright lights and garlands, Christmas carols wafting through from every radio, television, I-Pod, Ipad, CD player and road side PA system, people dashing about for their last minute shopping in a general air of cheer and good will to all men….and women.

Consider yourself very lucky if you are one of those that will soon be receiving your thirteenth month salary or a Christmas bonus. The problem is that there tends to be more expense in December and January than at any other time of the year: school fees, Christmas presents, festivity, and of course new clothes, new shoes and hand bags. This all translates to a major dent on your finances and if you haven’t already put a plan in place, you will find any wind fall is all spent, even before it arrives.

Are you financially ready for Christmas? Its almost here and remember the festive season is all designed to make you spend. Have a look at our tips on what you can do with your money this Christmas.

Be a Blessing

Having money is a great responsibility because it makes it possible for us to do things for other people. Material possessions will eventually lose their shine, but through philanthropy, one can help others and even shape or save lives. It is through generosity that we attain the best relationship with our money. “Happiness comes from giving, not getting. If we try hard to bring happiness to others, we cannot stop it from coming to us also. To get joy, we must give it.” John Templeton

You can be a blessing to others by giving. By deciding to make a difference in someone else’s life, you can bring so much more meaning, value and a lasting form of happiness to your own life. The definition of a philanthropist is “someone who engages in philanthropy; that is, someone who donates his or her time, money, and/or reputation to charitable causes”. Philanthropy affords one the opportunity and privilege of making a positive impact in society. By giving to community, arts, cultural, sports, religious, and civic organizations we are able to be involved in the causes we believe in.

Determine what causes you want to support and then review your finances to decide how much you can afford to give. Will it be a one off donation this Christmas or is it something you can continue to commit to year on year. Narrow your choices down to a few charities or causes you feel comfortable with and do some research on them to ensure that their ethos and mission is in consonance with your core values; then choose say one or two to support. It is worth following up to see how your donation is assisting them. When you see the impact it is having, you will find it easier to continue to give.

Charity Cards

Several organizations promote greeting cards and gifts where the profits made are donated to charity. UNICEF readily comes to mind as it offers a range to suit all tastes. By using these cards and gifts to celebrate special occasions with your family, friends and business associates, you are making a difference in the lives of children all over the world. UNICEF has also introduced e-cards for those who prefer to send greetings by email. As the amount that actually goes to help the charitable causes can vary enormously; often only a fraction of the price paid goes to charity, do choose wisely.

Giving Financial Gifts

Think of the gift of stock as a present for the future. Making a gift of an investment in stock or mutual funds for your children is not likely to arouse as much excitement as giving the latest gadget or piece of clothing. But over time, such investments can become more valuable. In spite of all the current stock market gloom, for long-term investors, this is a good time to take advantage of falling stock prices and to pick up some excellent stocks at very decent prices.

Endowments

Do you often complain of how far standards at your old school have fallen? An endowment is a sound investment towards the future of your old college. With an endowed gift, you can provide permanent support for the educational establishment. Your gift will be invested and each year a distribution is made to fund a program or area that matches your interest in a particular field of study. Once it is officially established, you or anyone else may continue to add to its principal at any time. You may also decide to, through the title, forever link your name, or that of a family member to excellence at the college.

Give of your time

Often, people tell me they are completely broke in January as they felt under pressure to shower their colleagues, friends and family with expensive gifts. Much of this pressure is self-inflicted and many people cannot afford to compete in the spending frenzy just to impress; indeed they undermine their own financial security and start what should be a positive new year by trying to compete in the spending frenzy.

Even if you don’t have any spare money, you can still give. Giving does not mean that you must give only financially; you can give of your time and talent and volunteer at orphanages, visit the elderly, support a foundation, or participate in a charity walk. Are you a resource person in a particular field? There will be something or some talent that you have that you can share with others who are less fortunate and who will benefit from your skill.

Teach your children the gift of giving

We all love to see the excitement on our children’s faces on Christmas morning ripping the wrapping paper off their presents. The experience of receiving piles of gifts makes them believe that they musthave lots of new things for Christmas to be perfect. Try to emphasize the non-material aspects of the season, such as family and fellowship.

It is not enough to just tell our children to be charitable and kind. Our own actions in supporting others will speak louder than any thing we can say. We must guide them through a program of action so that becomes ingrained into their psyche. It teaches them a powerful lesson that their personal money or talent can have a positive effect on the wellbeing of others.

We all receive gifts that we really don’t want or need. Most of us just pack these presents away, never to be used, and build up even more clutter. Some people even throw them away. Christmas is an ideal time to clear out unwanted clothes, books and toys from crammed wardrobes – these will all be appreciated by some members of your household and certainly by various charities.

Invest in yourself

Spoil yourself a little. Since this is the season of giving, don’t be left out. You have worked hard all year so you do deserve a reward. After you have paid your tithes, give yourself a treat; pamper yourself and buy that new to die for pair of shoes or handbag, have a day at the spa, or a relaxing weekend away.

Aim to put at least half of your bonus towards your financial well-beingthis could be to pay off some of your outstanding debt or use it to start an educational account for your children. You may also use it towards achieving your medium-term goals, like going back to school or towards owning your own home. Or, why not join a good gym or take up dance classes and make an investment in your health for the coming year.

Caught up in the whirlwind of festivity, socialising and present buying, it is little wonder that we often forget the real meaning of Christmas. Let us remember to give of our resources; give of our time; give of ourselves to put a smile on someone’s face to make their life a little better.

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