Financial Impact of Divorce

As my husband and I approach our 40th anniversary in two weeks, I have been thinking a great deal of the blessings of a long marriage in both financial and non-financial terms. That will be the subject of my next blog. Today, I want to talk about the devastating financial impact divorce can have on both members of a couple. This was on my mind even before I read the sad announcement today that one of the world’s wealthiest couples is divorcing.

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Bill and Melinda Gates are ending their marriage after 27 years. Their wealth is staggering, and both of them will emerge from the divorce with more money that most of us can comprehend. Hopefully, they will amicably divide their great resources and continue to be generous in their philanthropic endeavors.

For most couples, however, divorce negatively impacts their finances and significantly lowers their standard of living. The costs of obtaining a divorce are staggering. In a relatively amicable dissolution, it is estimated that each partner incurs legal fees in excess of $10,000. Those costs can be much higher if the proceedings are hostile and protracted. Considering that the average household savings in the U.S. is about $42,000, a divorce can wipe out 50% or more of the savings accumulated by the couple.

With their savings significantly depleted and about half of the income they previously enjoyed, each member of the couple must strike out on their own. There are now two rents to be paid and two sets of utility bills. Each spouse winds up with a considerably lower standard of living. There will likely be additional childcare expenses, and perhaps travel expenses, if one spouse moves to a new city or state. Many divorced people struggle for years to achieve the standard of living they enjoyed while married.

Women are hit particularly hard, as they are often the custodial parent. The non-custodial parent typically helps with some of the expenses by paying child support. However, there is often resentment by both parties. It is very rare for either parent to be satisfied with the child support mandated by the courts. The custodial parent struggles to meet the needs of the children, and the non-custodial parent struggles to make the child support payment and provide for his or her own needs. This is not God’s plan, and it is not good for either the parents or the children.

Of course, the devastation of divorce is much more-far reaching than just the financial impacts. And the blessings of a till-death-do-us-part union are much, much greater than the financial blessings. God’s Word tells us that marriage is for life. When Jesus was questioned about divorce, He responded, “Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’ For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10: 5 – 9)

If you want God to bless you in both your marriage and your finances, it is important to make decisions that honor God. That includes loving your spouse and doing all that you can to have a long, prosperous marriage.

Miraculous Provisions

The story of the loaves and the fishes is likely the first story that pops into your mind when you consider how God miraculously multiplies the offerings we present to Him. It is a truly amazing story. A small boy offers his lunch of five small fish and two loaves. Jesus blesses the food and has the disciples distribute it among the thousands of hungry people who have come to hear His words. After all have eaten–five thousand men plus women and children–the disciples collect the leftovers and find that they have more remaining by far than they began. The disciples collected the broken pieces and filled twelve baskets. This story is recounted in Matthew 14: 13 – 21.

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What makes this story even more impressive is that Jesus replicated this miracle sometime later. In the second instance, Jesus fed four thousand men, plus women and children, with seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. This time seven baskets of food were remaining after everyone had eaten. (Matthew 15: 20 – 39)

These miracles took place in two different regions but likely within a short period of time. One can overlook the disciples’ skepticism in the first instance that they could provide food for such a large group of people. After all, they barely had enough food for themselves. However, on the second occasion, the disciples were again ready to send the hungry people away. Jesus actually set them up by stating, “I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.” Matthew 15: 32. Rather than responding in faith, the disciples failed the test. “His disciples answered, ‘Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?’” (v. 33)

It is easy for us to criticize the disciples’ lack of faith. We think they should have learned from the first extravagant multiplication of the offered food that Jesus was capable of multiplying resources and meeting any need, no matter how great. How could have even questioned Jesus’s ability to feed the crowd?

Yet, we are guilty of similar lack of faith in God to meet our needs. God has met our needs time and time again, and we still doubt that He will come through for us in the next “crisis”. Our car breaks down and we fret about how we will be able to pay the mechanic for the repairs. Our hours get cut at work, and we worry about covering the rent. The list goes on and on–a medical test indicates a health problem, the stock market plunges, we hear rumors of layoffs at work, or we don’t get the promotion we had prayed and hoped for–and we fall apart. It feels as if our world has collapsed.

Like the disciples, we ask something along the lines of, “The need is so great. How can it be met?” We need to remind ourselves of all the times God has come through for us in order to increase our faith that He will come through again. God knew us long before we were conceived. He knows that our memory are short and that we have to remind ourselves daily of God’s faithfulness to us. That is why He commanded the Israelites to set up memorials to remind themselves and their children of how God had brought them out of Egypt and blessed them. “Now the people came up from the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they camped in Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. And those twelve stones which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal. Then he spoke to the children of Israel, saying: “When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What are these stones?’ then you shall let your children know, saying, ‘Israel crossed over this Jordan on dry land’; for the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed over, that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” (Joshua 4:19 – 24)

When you ask God to provide for your needs, take note of how He answers you. Record these answers in a blessings journal. Read the journal frequently to remind yourself of God’s goodness to you and to increase your faith. Share these blessings with your children and together thank God for the way He has provided for you and your family. God has never failed you, and He never will.

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How Will You Use Your Economic Impact Check?

By now you have likely received your third economic impact, or stimulus, check from the government. The stated intent of these checks was two-fold: to assist those whose income has been negatively impacted by covid and to stimulate the economy and support small businesses.

If you are one of the estimated 18 million people currently receiving unemployment checks, then you probably need the money to meet basic needs for your family. And, of course, you should use the money to meet those needs.

However, if you, like me, have maintained your pre-covid level of income, the stimulus check represents extra money. How will you use this money? Many people are saving the money or paying down debt. In fact, estimates are that more about 71%% of the money distributed in the first round last spring was put into saving or debt reduction and another 18% was used for essentials. That left 11% to go back in the economy. Of that, 8% was spend on non-essential items and 3% was donated to charities. (Ben Wick, https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-stimulus-checks-savings-pay-debts-federal-reserve-cares-act-2020-10)

While it is wise to save and pay down debt, those actions do not help to stimulate the economy–and get people back to work–nor do they help our neighbors who are in need. I encourage you to consider using this third round of stimulus money in more altruistic ways.

In case you need them, here are some ideas:

  • Tithe. For most of us, this money represents an increase. God asks us to give back to His work 10 percent of our income.
  • Donations to Food Pantries. Many people in your community are relying on food pantries to meet their basic needs. Donations are up, yet there is still a significant need.
  • Purchase gift certificates from local restaurants and small shops. These businesses are still struggling and can benefit from the cash influx. My husband and I have bought gift cards that we have no intention of using. We consider the purchase of the gift cards to be donations to help ensure that our favorite restaurants and shops are still operating post-covid.
  • Donate to campaigns to help local shops and restaurants. Many small business are running fundraising events on social media platforms.
  • Shop with independent businesses. One of favorite expenditures has been ordering fresh seafood directly from fisheries. We’ve had salmon and king crab from Alaska, oysters from Pugent Bay, shrimp from New Orleans, and lobster from Maine. The seafood has been shipped directly to our house. It is fresh and delicious, and we are helping fishermen who revamped their business models when their restaurant sales declined.
  • Donations to funds to help pay for childcare and other services for lower-income workers. Many of these workers are struggling to pay for care for children who would normally be in school while they work.
  • Gifts of appreciation to front-line health care workers. Health care professionals in our area are working full-time schedules and then volunteering additional hours to vaccinate the public. There are many ways you can show your appreciation to them and support your local small businesses.

Of course, we are all praying that the vaccines work and coronavirus is soon a passing memory. In the meantime, pray and thoughtfully consider how you can help those in your community who are facing financial challenges from this pandemic.

Honoring God with Your Money

My new book, Honoring God with Your Money, is now available on Amazon. This book is a study of what God’s word says about money, wealth, charity, greed, tithing, savings, and much more. It includes principles of budgeting and steps for getting out of debt.

Cover of Honoring God with Your Money, by Susan E Ball

If you are stressed by financial decisions or an inability to manage your money, this is a great book for you. God provides us all with resources to provide for our families and to bless others. Money is intended to meet your needs, not cause you more stress.

As you honor God by managing your money well, tithing, and blessing others, God will bless you. He has promised that in Malachi 3:10, “‘Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,’ Says the Lord of hosts, ‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.‘”

This is a great book for small group studies and Sunday school classes, as well as for young people graduating from high school or college and going out on their own for the first time and newly-married couples. For those who want to teach this in a group setting, I have developed teaching materials. These include activities, discussion ideas, and examples to enhance the lessons. Teaching materials are free and can be obtained my emailing me at susan.ball5@aol.com

I pray that God will use this book to bless you as you honor Him.

Money Can Buy Happiness

There’s a famous saying, “Money can’t buy happiness.”  There are many studies that show that having and spending lots of money does not increase happiness.  Michael Norton, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard University, disagrees with that statement, with a caveat.  He says that money can buy happiness IF you spend it right.

How do you spend it right?  By spending it on others.  He did experiments a few years back in which he gave small amounts of money to different groups of people.  Some were instructed to spend it on themselves and the rest were told they had to spend the money on someone else.  Regardless of whom they spent the money on or the amount of money they spent, all who used the money for someone else reported higher levels of happiness at the end of the experiment.

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I love it when scientists, or social scientists in this case, prove the Word of God.  In Acts 20:35, Paul told the Ephesians, “I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

“It is more blessed to give than to receive” is really another way of saying that you can achieve happiness by sharing your money with others.  And, of course, giving doesn’t only involve money.  You can be blessed by sharing your time, talents, and attention with others.  Not all of us have the financial resources to give away large amounts of money. But we all have something we can give.  And, as this study affirmed, even giving small amounts of money can bless someone and increase your level of happiness.

Further more, generosity brings blessings.  Proverbs 22:9 tells us “Whoever has a generous eye will be blessed,” and Proverbs 28:27 says, “He who gives to the poor will not lack.”

I would encourage you to look for opportunities each day to bless someone else with your money, time, or talent.  In this way, you will ensure that your days are blessed and filled with happiness.

 

Paul’s Admonition to be Generous

This morning I read 2 Corinthians 9 during my morning devotions.  Paul devoted the entire chapter to encouraging the Corinthian church to be generous and to fulfill the commitment it had made to assist poorer Christians in Macedonia.  Paul had been bragging to other congregations of the generous gift the Corinthians had promised, and he wanted to insure that the gift would be ready when it was needed.

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As Paul continues through the chapter, he encourages them that God will bless them as they bless others and tells them that it is impossible to out-give God.  Although Paul is speaking specifically about being generous with our money, his words also apply to being generous with people in many other ways, such as love, service, time, attention, guidance, and forgiveness.  Paul says that our obedience in generosity will in enrich our lives and allow God to be even more generous with us, and it will cause people to give thanks and honor to God.

In the final verses of this chapter, Paul writes, “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.  And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9: 12 – 15, The Message)

How can we not be generous when we read stirring words like these?  Generosity towards others blesses us more than it does the recipients and it brings honor and glory to God.

How has God blessed you after you demonstrated generosity?

Blessings from Generosity

God has always instructed His people to be generous to the poor, and He has promised to bless those who obey this instruction.  When God freed  the Israelites after 400 years of captivity in Egypt, He set down rules that they were to follow in order to maintain a right relationship with Him.  Included in those instructions was the command to open their hands to their poor brothers and to willingly lend to those in need, in order to meet their needs.  In return, God promised to bless all the works of their hands.

“If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother,  but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs….You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand. For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.’ ”         Deuteronomy 15: 7 – 11

 

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God continues to bless His people today, as we show generosity and care for the poor in our communities.  Those who open their hearts and their pocketbooks receive many blessings in return.

Chief among these blessings is happiness.  In “The Paradox of Generosity,” authors Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson report that generosity is associated with increased personal happiness, a sense of purpose, and overall better health.  This should not be surprising to Christians, as God promised happiness to those who are generous: “He who despises his neighbor sins; But he who has mercy on the poor, happy is he.” Proverbs 14:21

God promises many other blessings to the generous.  These blessings include: 

  • Abundance   “The generous soul will be made rich, And he who waters will also be watered himself.” Proverbs 11:25
  • Financial Repayment “He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord,
    And He will pay back what he has given.” Proverbs 19:17 and “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”Luke 6:38
  • Bountiful Harvests.  “But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” 2 Corinthians 9: 6
  • Needs will be Met  “He who gives to the poor will not lack, But he who hides his eyes will have many curses.” Proverbs 28:27
  • Blessings “He who has a generous eye will be blessed, For he gives of his bread to the poor.”  Proverbs 22:9

My desire is to honor God in the way that I live my life.   In Proverbs 14:31, God makes it clear that we honor Him when we obey His command to be kind to those in need. “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Make, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.”  Proverbs 14:31

I encourage you to make it your desire to honor God, and to reap the blessings promised from Him, by being generous to those in need.

Saving, Spending, and Gratification

Do you remember as a child saving up your allowance and birthday money to buy something special that you really wanted?  Perhaps it was a bicycle or a video game system.  You probably had a jar or a piggy bank that you put money into every time you got your allowance.  You asked your parents and neighbors if you could do chores to earn some extra money to help you reach your goal a bit faster.  Every so often, you dumped out you collection of dollar bills and change and counted it carefully to see how close you were to reaching your goal.  Finally, you had enough. With great joy and anticipation, you went to the store to make your purchase.  You treasured the item you had worked so hard and so long to be able to obtain.

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If you ever did this, then you understand the principle of delayed gratification.  The things which we work hard to obtain mean more and bring greater satisfaction than those things that come easily and without sacrifice. You worked hard and you waited to get your dream item until you could pay for it.  And, in return, you had the reward of owning it without being indebted to someone else.

As an adult, you have access to credit cards and payment plans that were not available to you as a child.  As a result, you may have fallen into the habit of buying immediately anything that catches your interest.  Many times the pleasure of the purchase is gone before the item is fully paid off, and on occasion, before you even get the item home.  Our closets and storage rooms are stuffed with clothing we don’t like and items which we didn’t need.

Saving and waiting are two words that many of us don’t like to apply to our lives, yet there are tangible rewards to be achieved by incorporating them into our spending decisions.

  1. Lower levels of credit card debt.  By delaying a purchase and saving up the money to pay for it, you will keep you consumer debt in check and lower you overall level of debt. This saves you interest, improves your credit score, and allows you to have greater access to financing when you really need it.
  2. Fewer extraneous purchases.  People who are saving with a goal in mind are less likely to spend money on small extravagances. They recognize that any money not spent can be added to their savings and help them achieve their goal sooner.
  3. Fewer regrets about purchases.  Saving up for a purchase allows you plenty of time to decide if you really want and need the item, which will result in wiser purchase decisions.
  4. Greater enjoyment.  Delayed gratification truly does lead to greater satisfaction.  When you finally are able to purchase the item, it is debt-free and you have thought through the purchase decision carefully.

If you are trying to improve your financial situation, employing the tactic of delayed gratification is an important first step to get you on the right track.

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Dreams Denied by Too Much Debt

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Every day I meet with people who dream of opening their own business, and far too often, they will not be able to fulfill their dreams due to the inability to manage their finances and to having too much debt.   The median household income in America is about $54,000; in the area in which I live, it is nearly $83,000.  That is $29,000, or 53%, higher than the norm. Yet, many of the people I meet with are living well beyond their means and are saddled with debt.

For example, I recently met with a man whose annual household income was more than 4 times the median at $220,000.  He has done somethings right–he has a government pension and he has invested on his own into a retirement plan.  However, he is drowning in debt.  He has children in college and owes more than $100,000 in student loans. His credit card balances, car loans, and consumer debt total nearly $200,000.  He came to us hoping to borrow $300,000 to open his dream business.  He wrote a great business plan, he had the right management team lined up, and he was willing to inject some of his retirement funds into the business.  However, no bank was willing to give him a loan due to his overwhelming debt.  I doubt that he even realized how deeply he was in debt until we required him to complete a personal financial statement.  It is likely that much of that debt represented purchases made with little forethought and for possessions with little lasting value.

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Unfortunately, this is not a unique story.  I see it time and time again.  I had one client tell me recently that the bank should understand that going into business was her plan for getting out of debt and improving her family’s financial situation.  Life does not work that way.  Opening a business is risky, and banks will only loan money to those who have proven that they can manage money. Of course, they also have to have a good plan.  But, no matter how wonderful your idea is or how great the potential of your proposed business, you cannot borrow money to start a business if you don’t have good credit, moderate to little debt, and your own money to invest in this business.

Your dream may not be to own your own business.  You dream may be to retire at an early age, to become a missionary, to buy a vacation home, to leave your children with a large inheritance, to donate millions to charity, or something else entirely. Whatever your dream, it will be difficult to accomplish if you do not manage your money well and live within your means.

Making a budget and sticking to it is the first step to living within your means.  Budgeting allows you to (1) discover where your money is going, (2) determine what level of expenditures is appropriate for your income, (3) develop a plan to pay off your debts, and (4) start building a nest egg to make your dreams come true.

Budgeting isn’t glamorous, but it pays big dividends.  As Proverbs 21:5 tells us “The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty, but those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty.”    Make a commitment today to start budgeting and managing your money, so that your dreams will not be deterred by excessive debt.

What dreams are you being held back from fulfilling do to too much debt?  How can you make changes in your spending to make your dreams come true?

 

If you need help with budgeting and money management, please see my earlier blogs on “Honoring God With Our Money.”

Proverbs 31 and the Ten Commandments of Thrifty Living

The Christmas season is a time for being generous and gathering with family and friends.  However, after the holidays are over, many people find themselves saddled with significant debt accrued by giving gifts and throwing parties that went beyond their budgets.  Even as we seek to be generous and shower affection on our loved ones, we must remember that the true spirit of Christmas is celebrating the birth of Christ and sharing God’s love with those around us.  Being generous and sharing with others does not require one to go into debt.  It does, however, require some time, effort, and planning.

Today I am sharing some ways you  “Applying Proverbs 31 to the Ten Commandments of Thrifty Living”.  The ‘commandments’ in bold were created by the author of this list–I found it many years ago and I no longer have any idea who authored it.   The Scriptures were included in the list and are from the New International Version. The application of these principles are my own ideas.  I believe these principles are still valid, and if you apply them to your holiday planning and spending, you will be able to have a meaningful Christmas celebration while staying within your budget.  

Applying Proverbs 31 to the Ten Commandments of Thrifty Living

1) Roll up your sleeves.  “She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.”   Proverbs 31:17

Convenience items can save time but cost more.  Sometime the trade off is worth it as the time saved may be more valuable than the money spent.  Be wise in choosing convenience items that give you a good value for your money and do truly save time.  Likewise, paying others to things you are able to do will save you time but cost you money.  Make wise decisions about what taks you should do yourself and what tasks are worth paying someone to do for you.

2) Organize your world.  “She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.”  Proverbs 31:27

Organization helps you save time and money.  Organize shopping trips to accomplish multiple tasks while out to save gas and time.  Organize online shopping to ensure that you get free shipping and don’t have to pay rush delivery charges to get gifts delivered by Christmas.  To get ahead for next year, organize holiday decorations and leftover gift wrap and cards so they can be stored properly and be found easily next year.

3)  Provide for each day’s need.  “She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family.”  Proverbs 31:15

Caring for your family should be your first priority.  Don’t let the business of the holidays interfere with taking care of the day-to-day needs of your family.  It easy to get so busy that we end of eating out a lot and making multiple trips to the store for groceries and other necessities, both of which can wreck havoc with your budget.

4) Waste not; share your excess.  “She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.”  Proverbs 31:20

The holidays are a good time to clean out closets and give away items no longer needed.  They are also a good time to share generously with others what God has given to you.  I set aside a portion of my Christmas budget each year to buy new gifts for one or more children whose families need a bit of help. There are many, many ways you get share with others in deed.  A few ideas are:  donate unwanted items to Goodwill or similar organizations, buy new toys and clothing for children in need and donate through the Salvation Army, and pack a shoebox with small gifts to be donated to children in improvished countries through Samaritan’s Purse.

5) Discover your creative genius.  “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.”  Proverbs 31:26

God has endued each one of us with creativity, although we each express it differently.  Pray and seek God’s direction in using the creative gifts He has given you to bless others.  I enjoy knitting and knit Christmas stockings as gifts.  I have friends who bless others with homemade jams, jellies, and baked goods.  If decorating is your talent, your gift to a friend could be to help her decorate her home.  Handmade gifts can save money but do require an investment of time, so plan ahead and be organized.

6) Learn prices.  “She sees her trade is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.”  Proverbs 31:18

Don’t fall for ads declaring that something is marked down 50% or more.  Many stores mark prices up before the holidays to give the illusion that you are saving more money than you really are.  The Internet and phone apps make comparison shopping easier than ever.  Check prices on the items you need before you go out shopping.

7) Presentation is everything.  “She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.”  Proverbs 31:22

You can make even simple meals special by using nice dishes and decorating the table to be festive.  You can make your home welcoming and inviting by adding inexpensive decorations, such as lights and tinsels, to your entrance. Simple, inexpensive embellishments can dress up your presents. Presentation does not have to be expensive to add a nice touch to your home and gifts.

8) Adjust your attitude.  “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.”  Proverbs 31:25

Don’t let the holidays cause you to become overwhelmed and stressed.  If you get too concerned about buying everyone the perfect gift or creating the perfect holiday, you will wind up not enjoying the holidays.There is no such thing as a perfect holiday, anyway.  Remember Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ and a time to spend with friends and family. Keep your focus on Christ and you will have a more satisfying holiday.

9) Out with impulse.  “She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.”  Proverbs 31:16

Plan your shopping before you leave the house.  Know how much you plan to spend on each family member and stick to your budget.  Impulse shopping leads to overspending and often to being less satisfied with your purchases than planning ahead and sticking to your plans.

10) Honor God.  “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”  Proverbs 31:30

Everything we do should honor God. When our focus is on God and celebrating the birth of His Son, our celebrations will truly be meaningful and enjoyable.