5 Options to Avoid Debt Next Christmas

A client of mine recently mentioned that he had dropped $7,500 on gifts this Christmas.  That’s a lot of money.  This man has a large family, and he had a very good business year. Maybe he was making up for leaner Christmases during covid, or perhaps he wanted to celebrate a great increase in the volume of his business.  Either way, he spent a lot of money.

5 options to avoid debt next Christmas with a Christmas background

Americans tend to spend more money on Christmas presents, food, decorations, and trees than they have saved, and wind up dealing with after-Christmas debt each January.  Here are some numbers that illustrate this:

Average spending per couple$1,864
Average money spent on each child$330
Average cost for a Christmas tree$200
Average after-Christmas debt$1,242

 If you are an average family who spends $1,864 all-in for Christmas, you need to save $155 per month to avoid being in debt in January. Of course, you do not have to spend that much on Christmas, and you should not unless it fits into your budget.  Whatever amount you decide that you can spend for Christmas 2023, you should start saving now.  That is easier said than done, and it is unlikely to happen without plan. 

What are your options for starting to set aside money now for Christmas 2023?

  1. Christmas club account. Christmas clubs allow you to set aside an equal sum of money each week, month, or paycheck. Money cannot be withdrawn without penalty until November.  The interest rates are on the low side; however, the plan is simple, it pays interest, and payments can be deducted from your paycheck.  This was popular when I was a child, and I had such an account for many years.
  2. Opening a savings special account just for Christmas.  The idea is the same as the Christmas club, but you have access to the money at any time. So, you must be able to resist the temptation to withdraw the money for other expenses that arise during the year.
  3. Creating a sub-account in an existing savings account.  A sub-account allows you to save money for special events, such as Christmas, by automatically transferring money each month or pay period.  To learn more about savings sub-account: https://www.iwillteachyoutoberich.com/blog/tip-using-sub-savings-accounts-for-unexpected-expenses/#:~:text=What%20is%20a%20sub%2Dsavings,each%20of%20my%20sub%2Daccounts.
  4. Budgeting the money.  If you have great self-control, you can simply budget the amount you need and not spend it on other things.  Most people don’t have that much self-control so another option will work better.
  5. Buy presents throughout the year.  This is the strategy that I employ.  I start shopping in the summer for gifts for my eight grandchildren.  This allows me to pay for gifts a few at a time. This method works well, if it is done in conjunction with a budget.  You must track your spending and stay within your budget.

Budgeting is important to manage your finance and control your spending on all categories.  If you struggle with budgeting, I have many blog articles on creating budgets under the Finance tab.  I have also published a Bible study, Honoring God with Your Money, to help you learn and implement godly principles of money management.

Make Tax Time Simple With These Tips

Income tax returns are not due for three months, but your preparation should start now. Here are my tips to make tax time easier for you.

  1. Get a large envelope (11″ x 14″) to put your tax documents in.
  2. Watch the mail for envelopes marked “Important tax information enclosed. For now, put these documents into your envelope.
  3. Gather tax information that was provided during the year and put into the envelope.
  4. Make a quick estimate of your deductions. For most taxpayers, the largest deductible expenses will be home mortgage interest and charitable donations. Add those values. If the sum is much lower than your standard deductions, then don’t bother with adding up your other deductible expenses, unless you had extraordinary health care costs for the year.
  5. Be prepared to get a smaller refund, or to owe more, this year. Tax law changes may result in you having a larger tax liability.

Tax information being sent out in January includes:

  • W-2’s and 1099’s for earned income
  • Social security payments
  • Mortgage interest statements
  • 1099’s for dividends, interest, retirement income, and IRA withdrawals
  • Statements on rental income and expenses from property managers
  • 2021 state income tax refund statements
  • Receipts for charitable donations larger than $75

Other tax information was provided to you during the year. This includes property taxes you paid on homes, vehicles, motorcycles, and boats. You likely received receipts throughout the year for donations that you made to charities that were less than $75 each and donations of non-monetary goods and services made to charitable organizations.

The 2022 standard deduction levels were increased, making it less likely that you will benefit from itemizing. The 2022 standard deductions are:

  • Married couples filing jointly = $25,900
  • Heads of households = $19,400
  • Single individuals and married couples filing separately = $12,950

Major Tax Changes for 2022:

  • Smaller child tax credits and credits for child and dependent care. These credits were temporarily increased by the American Rescue Plan of 2021. They have now reverted back to 2020 levels.
  • Charitable donations are no longer deductible without itemizing. The American Rescue Plan allowed up to $300 for a single taxpayer and $600 for a married couple filing jointly to be deducted without itemizing.
  • Income from side hustles will be reported to the IRS. To be fair, we were always supposed to report ALL income earned from side jobs and hobbies. New regulations will require all third-party payment processors, such as Etsy and PayPal, to send 1099’s to all vendors who have generated more than $600 in revenue in a calendar year. Recently, the IRS announced that it will postpone enforcement of this regulations for one more year. This year, 1099’s will only be sent to vendors who earned more than $20,000 or had 200 or more transactions.

So, watch the mail for tax documents and start reviewing your paperwork for information that will be needed to complete your tax return.

Oh, and while you’re thinking about taxes, get an 11″ x 14″ envelope and write on it “2023 Tax Info.” Use it to collect receipts for donations, property tax bills, and other documents received during the year. This will give you a head start for next year.

Watch for blog in early February on preparing your information for your accountant.

5 Changes To Instantly Save Money

Inflation has slowed to 7.1%. Still, Moody’s Analytics estimates that the average family spent $396 more per month this fall than they did in 2021 for the same goods and services. The Census Bureau calculated the median household income at the end of 2021 as $69,021. The average worker received a raise of 4.8% in 2022. For a family earning $69,021, the raise was $3,313 for the year, or $276 a month. That translates to a take-home increase of about $201. After paying $28 tithe on the extra salary, they have an extra $173 per month. That’s a nice sum, but it falls $223 short of the average increase in monthly costs.

If you are in this situation, now is the time to rework your budget and try to cut $223 from your normally re-occurring expenses. If you manage your money well and live below your means, you likely have some room in your budget. However, it is still important to examine your expenses and make cuts where you can.

Here is a plan to cut on spending without feeling deprived.

  1. Cut back on technology expenses. Most home today have an internet and cable television plan, in addition to a cell phone plan, and perhaps a landline telephone. The average household spends $116 on internet and cable and another $114 on cell phones, and many spend much more than that. This is a good time to research your options and see if you can find a more economical plan. Tom’s Guide offers an analysis of the best cell phone plans for 2023 to help you make a wise decision (https://www.tomsguide.com/best-picks/best-family-cell-phone-plan, and cabletv.com has analyzed the best home internet plans (https://www.cabletv.com/blog/best-cheap-internet-packages). Let’s assume for this example that you are able to reduce your technology expenses to $170 per month, saving $60.
  2. Reduce streaming services. Two-thirds of all American households subscribe to Netflix, sixty percent to Amazon Prime, and nearly half to Hulu and Disney+. The cost of these plans is about $42 per month, plus the costs of any movie rentals that are not covered by a plan. When you are researching cable television packages, try to find one that includes free movies that you enjoy. If you do so, you can cancel these subscriptions and save $42 per month. Even if you don’t find a plan with free movies, you can cancel two or three of these subscriptions and save up to $27 a month.
  3. Reduce food waste. RTS (Recycle Track System) estimates that the average household wastes $1,866 in food each year. That’s more than $155 per month. The biggest culprit is produce which goes bad. Meat and dairy products are also highly perishable. Reduce food waste by planning meals before you shop and making a point to use perishable food items in a timely manner. We will assume, that with some effort, you can reduce food waste by $80 per month.
  4. Unplug appliances and electronics when not in use. Estimates are that the average household could save $15 per month by unplugging the coffee pot and other kitchen appliances when not in use.
  5. Reduce money spent eating out. Fast food prices jumped about 15% in 2022. The average lunch out now cost more than $11 for one person, while a sit-down lunch will run closer to $20 with tip. If you cut out two fast-food lunches and one sit-down lunch per month, you will save $42 per month.

These five changes will save you enough money to make up for the loss of purchasing power from inflation. If you find that you need, or want, to reduce your spending more, coffee and beverages on the go are another source of potential savings. A large soda or a cup of regular coffee at a drive-up restaurant will cost you $2 or more, while a specialty beverage could cost you $4 – $6. If you buy one beverage each workday, you are spending between $44 and $132 per month. This amount could be significantly reduced by brewing coffee at home and buying other beverages at the grocery store.

God expects us to be faithful stewards of the financial resources He entrusts to us. Money allows us to meet the needs of our families and bless others. However, it can be a cause of great stress if it is not managed properly. Prayerfully ask God to help you budget and manage your money, and rely on Him to meet all your needs.

To learn more about how to honor God with your money and build treasure in Heaven, please click the Finances categories tab to find many blogs on money management, budgeting, and stewardship. My book Honoring God with Your Money is a great tool for financial money management. Click here to sign up for my quarterly newsletter on managing your money: newsletter signup

If you have never accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you may not understand what it means to rely on God to meet your needs. Please click on Basics of Salvation in the tool bar above to learn how you can accept the wonderful free gift of salvation.

Why You Should Record God’s Faithfulness in 2023

The Lord instructed Israel to create records and memorials to commemorate His blessings and to remind future generations of God’s faithfulness. “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.’” (Exodus 17:14) God was telling Moses to share with the next generation how He had saved Israel and to record it in a book for future generations.

In Joshua 4, the Israelites crossed over the Jordan Sea into the Promised Land. The Lord had Joshua command one man from each tribe to take a stone from the River bed. They constructed a memorial from the stones. The memorial was to remind future generations of God’s faithfulness. “That this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.” (Joshua 4:6-7)

This is a good idea for us today.  I encourage you to take note of when God blesses you and to record those blessings in a journal. Your blessings journal will serve as encouragement when you face challenging times.

Photo by Kristin Ball, Giraffe Tower Photography

My grandmother recorded blessings daily on sheets of paper. She usually just wrote just one sentence or a few words. We found many sheets of recorded blessings after she passed away. She clearly set aside time each day to reflect on how the Lord had blessed her that day. Some blessings were financial, but many more blessings of encouragement. She often recorded that a friend had dropped by for a visit or someone had offered to take her to the store (she did not drive) or to church. This exercise instilled in her a spirit of grateful and a recognition that God is working in our lives daily. These notes encourage me many years later.

I encourage you to develop a habit of pausing at the end of each day to reflect on how God has watched over you and blessed in that day. Writing down a blessing or two is a great way to end the day. Your record of blessings will one day serve as a reminder to your children and grandchildren to depend on the Lord and to fully trust him.

Perhaps you don’t have a personal relationship with God and have never considered that He loves you and that He blesses you daily. He does, and you can experience the joy of knowing Jesus Christ as your Savior and having your sins forgiven simply by admitting that you are a sinner and accepting Jesus Christ’s death on the cross as punishment for your sins. Please click on Basics of Salvation in the tool bar above to learn how you can invite Jesus to be your Lord and Savior.

Reflecting on My One Word

The My One Word campaign encourages people to choose a word that reflects what God has shown them He wants them to focus on in the coming year.  It is time to prayerfully consider your word for 2023.  My One Word for 2022 was Praise.  I have focused on praising God for who He is, what He is doing and has done, and the promise of what He will do.

Praise is the theme of many psalms. So, I spent much time in the book of Psalms. A friend gave me a copy of the two-volume work Thou Art with Me by Abie Kulynych. It is a reflection on God’s heart and nature as revealed by the the psalms. These daily devotions helped me to meditate on the depth of God’s love for us. I highly recommend these volumes. https://smile.amazon.com/Thou-Art-Me-Revealed-through/dp/1735592609/ref=sr_1_1?crid=N7122RM4VYYU&keywords=thou+art+with+me+abie+kulynych&qid=1672503951&sprefix=thou+art+with+me%2C%2Caps%2C1132&sr=8-1

cover of book, Thou Art with Me, by Abie Kulynych.

For 2023, my One Word is Reflect.  Reflect can mean to give back or show an image of; as a Christian, I want my words and deeds to reflect Christ.  Reflect can also mean to ponder or meditate, as in meditating on God’s Word.  The verse I have chosen for the year that embodies these combined ideas is Psalm 77:12. “I will also meditate on all Your work and talk of Your deeds.”

I encourage each of you to select a word that God has put on your heart to be your focus for 2023,. Great resources to help you find your word and grow through your word are available from My One Word (myoneword.org)

Logo for My One Word campaing.  Tag line, Change Your Life with Just One Word.

Prayerfully consider the word God is putting on your heart and then please share your word and why you chose it.

What is your One Word for 2023?

Tips for Good Time Stewardship

Christmas is a few days away, and 2023 is just around the corner. As you consider changes you will endeavor to make in the new year, make a plan to be a better steward of your time. Managing your time well will relieve stress and provide you with more time for God, your family, yourself, and activities your really enjoy.

The tips below are designed to help you become a better steward time. They are modified from suggestions given by Emilie Barnes in her book, “Keep It Simple for Busy Women.” Emilie has gone on to her heavenly reward now, but her tips for organization and time management are still timely.

Tip 1: Avoid trying to do too much. Make a to-do list for each day. Prioritize the items on your to-do and do those that are truly necessary. Some things may not get done, and some may be postponed. Prioritizing will help to ensure that the important tasks are the ones which get done.

Person holding a note pad and pen, writing a to-do list.
Photo by Meruyert Gonullu on Pexels.com

Tip 2: Make a plan and stick to it. The plan should align with the priorities you set in above. And be prepared that plans often go awry. By having a plan, however, you will be able to get back on track. “The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty, but those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty.” Proverbs 21:5

Tip 3: Do not put off the things that you must do. Some things simply must get done, and it is often the best plan of action is to tackle those things early in your day. It will give you a sense of accomplish and will remove that burden from your list.

Tip 4: Say “No.” You can not do everything you are asked to do. Prayerfully consider whether the task you are being asked to take on is something the Lord wants you to do. If it is not, then He has someone else prepared to do the task. When we try to do tasks that are not ours to do, we deny someone else the blessing of serving in that role.

Tip 5: Delegate. Delegation applies to work and to home. If you are a supervisor, you need to empower your employees to handle some tasks on their own. In your home, divide up tasks with your spouse, and begin training your children to be responsible for some age-appropriate tasks. Emilie is quick to point out that when you delegate, things may not get done exactly as you would like. Restrain from re-doing the tasks or criticizing. Learn to let go and compliment what got done well.

Start each day in God’s word and ask Him to direct your footsteps. “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9

Open Bilbe on a breakfast table.
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If you have never considered that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, you may not have experienced the joy of knowing Jesus Christ as your Savior and having your sins forgiven. Please click on Basics of Salvation in the tool bar above to learn how you can invite Jesus to be your Lord and Savior.

For information about my novels and my Bible study, Honoring God with Your Money, see https://smile.amazon.com/stores/Susan-Elizabeth-Ball/author/B0047P60V2?ref=ap_rdr&store_ref=ap_rdr&isDramIntegrated=true&shoppingPortalEnabled=true

Letters to Mother from College

Title of book, Letters to Mother from College, and a picture of a college dorm on a southern campus

New Book—just published 

My newest book, Letters from Mother from College, is now available on Amazon. 

Will Polly discover God’s plan for her life in a small southern college?

Letters to Mother from College was inspired by the letters my mother wrote home during her first two years of college.  Mom was the only child of a single mother, and they were very close.  At 17 years of age, Mom left her home in Pennsylvania to attend a small college in a small Southern town.  Everything was new and different, and Mom wrote about her experiences in frequent, lengthy letters.  It appears that my grandmother kept every letter my mother ever wrote to her.

We discovered the letters after my grandmother passed away.  Mom wanted to toss the letters, but I took them and kept them for “safe keeping”.  Occasionally, I considered ways to share the letters with my siblings.  I began reading them in order a few years ago, after my own mother had passed,  and they were enlightening and engaging.  The letters inspired me to write at story, and I simply needed to add some details.

The letters provided the framework for the novel.  Many of the details were added from family stories that my mother told us or were fabricated from my imagination.  However, the primary elements of the story are the actual experiences my mother had as she adjusted to college life and being away from her family for the first time.

I hope that you will enjoy this look at college life in the 1950’s.  Polly discovered that God was directing her path and had a wonderful plan for her life.  God also has a wonderful plan for your life.  I pray that you will open your heart to the Lord and allow Him to direct your footsteps.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, whohave been called according to his purpose.”  Romans 8:28

If you have never considered that God loves you and created you for a purpose, you may not have experienced the joy of knowing Jesus Christ as your Savior and having your sins forgiven. Please click on Basics of Salvation in the tool bar above to learn how you can invite Jesus to be your Lord and Savior.


Speaking the Word of God

I read a very sad, yet hopeful, story today about a man had suffered great pain and how he was helped by Christian speaking Scripture to him. It was a reminder that Christians need to regularly read the Bible and spend time in prayer so that we are ready to share Christ with those God puts in our path. My mother referred to this as being “prayed up.”

Scott Smith do not have a personal relationship with God when his daughter was raped in a high school bathroom. The attack filled the family with pain and anger. As Smith sought justice for his daughter, he met a Christian man named Jon Tigges. Tigges befriended him and invited him to travel across the country with him. Tigges was going to share with other conservatives ways to defend their constitutional rights. Smith decided to accompany Tigges, as he felt it would give him an opportunity to share his story.

Smith found that most people already knew his story, and over and over, the Christians he met prayed the same prayer for him. The prayer was Ephesians 6:10 – 13, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

Man and women sitting on a couch while reading the Bible. Each person has an open Bible, and the man is pointing to a Scripture in the woman's Bible.
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels.com

Smith found peace through the words and Scriptures shared with him by the Christians he encountered on this trip. He came to the conclusion that the purpose of the trip had been for these Christian people to share God’s message with him. He learned to put his trust in God, and God replaced his anger with peace. Smith is now walking with the Lord, because Christians spoke God’s word to him.

Speaking the word of God is the most powerful tool we have. It can help to overcome despair, bitterness, loneliness, anger, and a host of other negative emotions. People across this land are hurting, and they need to hear the word of God. The word of God is light and life. It offers hope to a dark world.

Ask God today to provide opportunities for you to share His word with those you encounter. Read your Bible, prayer, and be ready to share the word of God.

hands folded in prayer atop an open Bibel
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

One Nation Under God

A friend of mine post daily on Facebook the Pledge of Allegiance, along with a picture of an American flag. The pictures are different each day, and they always are in a beautiful or unique setting. Recent flags have reflected fall and harvest season and have been set in rural areas. At other times, he posts flags flying in major urban areas, small towns, commercial districts, military bases, and everywhere in between.

Photo by Jessica Lewis Creative on Pexels.com

In his own way, he is reminding us that America is one nation under God. Americas come from different backgrounds and ethnicities. We are a nation of different cultures, skills, talents, and passions. But we are all Americans. And we are one nation under God.

This morning I had a strong desire to hear the hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.” I went to YouTube and found many versions. I chose one by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. It is amazing, and I highly recommend it. As powerful as their version of this beautiful hymn is, it was their church members that made the biggest impression on me. Thousands of people of various skin colors and ethnicity were standing in close proximity and worshipping God with their whole hearts.

It occurred to me that this scene was being repeated over and over all across America this morning. In hundreds of thousands of Christian churches across American, tens of millions of Christians gathered to worship God and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Tens of millions more joined in virtually.

Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

Those who oppose Christianity try to convince the world that Ameria is not a Christian nation any longer. In fact, a former president stated that not too many years ago. But he, and they, are wrong. More than 63% of Americans identify as Christians. We are the majority, and this is a nation created by God as a Christian nation.

Christians need to remember that our country was built on a solid foundation of belief in God our creator and Jesus Christ our Savior. We need to look at each person we encounter as either a child of God or as a person who needs to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. We need to let the light of Christ shine brightly in us. Jesus told his disciples, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” Matthew 5: 14 – 14

Commit to being the light today and every day. Those living in darkness need the light that can only be found in Jesus.

Praise

At the beginning of the year, I chose “praise” to be my One Word for 2022.  I have endeavored to making praising the Lord my focus of the year.  I have made an effort to read the Psalms faithfully and post verses emphasizing praise on my Facebook page.  So, I do not believe that it was a coincidence that God led a friend at church to give me a book that explores the Psalms in some depth.

Woman's hand held up in worship
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The book, Thou Art with Me, is in two volumes of about 350 pages each.  That’s a lot of pages, and I found it a bit intimating.  When would I have time to read the 700-page tome?  But I felt an urge to begin reading it last week.  I pulled Volume 1 from the shelf.  To my surprise and delight, the volumes contain short (3 – 4 pages) essays—one or two per Psalm.

I had just read Psalm 113, so I decided to start there. I replace Volume 1, took down Volume 2, and flipped to the commentary on Psalm 113, which was titled “Praise.”  Again, I was reminded that there are no coincidences when we listen to the Holy Spirit.

The commentary by author Abie Kulynych was insightful and instructional.  Kulynych explained that Psalm 113 – 118 are called the “Hallel Psalms” and that hallel means praise.  They were sung as part of the Passover celebration.  The Passover was an event that demonstrated God’s power and His love for His people.  It is certainly worthy of great praise and celebration.

As the true Passover lamb, Jesus provided us with an even greater reason to praise God.  Jesus’s death extended the protection of the Passover to the Gentiles.  His blood covers our sins and allows us entry into Heaven, if we accept His free gift of salvation.

Bible and hands folded in prayer
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Kulynych goes on to explain hallal further.  He says its literal meaning is “to be clear,” and it is a call to pay attention—to listen and learn more about God and His character.  Jesus’s death on the cross tore the veil that blocked us from seeing God.  Through Jesus, we are able to see God in His glory.  He explains this using 1 Corinthians 2:9,10, “But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, or ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.’  But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.  For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.”

God sent the Holy Spirit to helps us to know God and to know God’s will for our lives.  Kulynych writes, “If you are in Christ, then the Holy Spirit is in you, and if the Holy Spirit is in you, then your eyes have seen, your ears have heard, and your heart has received the things which God has prepared for those who love Him. God has made Himself clear.”

Kulynych ends his essays with, “Praise is so much more than the fruit of our lips; it is the revelation of God’s heart.”

Wow!  I am inspired even more to make Praise the focus of my life, not only in 2022, but always.  I want God to reveal more of Himself to me, so that I can live a life that reveals God to others.

Abie Kulynych books, “Thou Art with me,” Volumes 1 and 2 are published by City of Refuge Fellowship, Burlington, NJ. To learn more about this church, see www.cityofrefugefellowship.org.  The books are available for purchase on Amazon.

If you have never considered that God loves you and created you for a purpose, you may not have experienced the joy of knowing Jesus Christ as your Savior and having your sins forgiven. Please click on Basics of Salvation in the tool bar above to learn how you can invite Jesus to be your Lord and Savior.

The cross of Christ
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
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