Monday, October 25, 2010

The best gifts are simple, caring or memorable

Why is it that gift giving, a social ritual intended to bring joy to those we care for most, often ends up causing so much discomfort? We fret about what to buy the person who has everything. We buy because we feel pressured or obligated to do so. We worry that the gifts we buy won’t be enough (or the right size). And we buy what we cannot afford.

To understand a little bit more about these issues and to offer some practical advice on how to make the best use of a gift budget, I decided to turn the tables, so to speak. I canvassed my co-workers, friends, and family and asked them a simple question: Given the opportunity, what would you like the gift givers in your life to know about you?

As I collected their responses, a few themes began to emerge. The first of those themes centered around people explaining what they don’t want: a gift the giver cannot afford, no matter how beautiful or useful it might be. Along the same lines, others said they don’t want anything extraordinary or expensive; they’d prefer practical gifts they would rather not buy for themselves. “If I ask for socks or dishcloths,” said one friend, “it’s because I really want them.” (New socks, in fact, were another prevalent theme.)

This sentiment, of receiving practical, even consumable gifts, was echoed by others as well. “The gifts I appreciate the most are those I do not have to store or find some place to put,” declared one of my co-workers. Specifically, respondents mentioned receiving a quarter of beef every year, wood to build a small deck, and flower bulbs and seeds as gifts that continually remind them of the giver.

Still others explained the pleasure of receiving gifts that say, “I know you,” even if those gifts cost almost nothing. Surprisingly, my husband says the best gift I’ve ever given him was serving him biscuits and gravy, his favorite breakfast, in bed. Someone else told me that a birdhouse made from materials salvaged from her parents’ house is among the most treasured gifts she’s received. Another friend, who relishes the sheer pleasure of opening gifts, reflected on a time when someone gave her 40 small gifts to celebrate her 40th birthday. None of the gifts were expensive, but together, they made a big impression on her.

Gift recipients also cherish personal presents that illustrate how well gift-givers know them. A handmade shooting bench for the marksman, a photo album chronicling a family trip, or garden herbs for a cook’s countertop all fit the bill, according to those who shared their gift savvy with me.

Experience gifts, such as tickets to a dinner theater, a day at a water park, or a wine- tasting event, rated highly among respondents, too. These types of gifts have the advantages of being both consumable and personal. One of my own most memorable gifts was tickets to see musician Arturo Sandoval. I can still recall watching in amazement as the band’s drummer pounded the bongos so feverishly that I thought he might pass out.

Some liked surprises, when it comes to gifts, while others preferred more predictability. But above all, gift recipients said what they really want aren’t presents that are costly or complicated, but simple things that help them make lasting memories or that just say, “I care about you.”

Simple, caring, memorable. Keep these words in mind this holiday season. Thoughtfully investing your time and gift-giving budget in those you love will be a joy for you and those on your gift list.

CCCS/ACCE –American Center for Credit Education

Carey Denman


(605) 348-4550

Thursday, October 21, 2010


North Charleston, SC - Halloween tricks or treats come along only once a year, but the consequences of financial decisions usually last far past the next spooky holiday. Options that seem good on the surface, if not handled properly, can have long-lasting negative consequences.

To understand how a seemingly good financial move can work against you, Family Services, Inc. encourages consumers to review the following to see if their actions are resulting in a welcome financial treat or a trick to be avoided.

· Discontinuing the use of credit

o Treat: Living on a cash basis means that you never overspend or pay interest on your purchases. Typically, people who pay with cash save 20 percent over those who charge their goods and services.

o Trick: At some point in their life, most people will need access to credit. Consumers will be well-served by creating a thick and positive credit file. To do so, it is necessary to have at least three open and active lines of credit.

· Automatic bill paying

o Treat: Arranging for your payments to be sent to creditors before the due date means you’ll never have a late fee or a dinged credit report.

o Trick: If you neglect to balance your check register and the automatic payment results in an overdraft, you’ve defeated the purpose.

· Bundling of services

o Treat: Consumers can often enjoy a significant savings if they use the same provider for their land phone, cell phone, cable and Internet services.

o Trick: If you use the savings from the bundling of services for a larger, more expensive plan than you really need, it’s no savings at all.

· Co-signing on a loan

o Treat: You can help another person establish credit, rebuild credit, or purchase something beyond what they could on their own credit worthiness.

o Trick: The co-signer and primary borrower are equally responsible for payment of the loan. As well-meaning as people are, things happen. Never co-sign on a loan unless you can afford to solely take over the payments.

· Balance transfers

o Treat: With a lower interest rate, you can repay the debt sooner and save the money you would have paid with the higher APR.

o Trick: Faulty thinking leads you to believe that since the interest rate on the new card is so low, it won’t hurt to charge a few things. Before you know it, the introductory period with the low rate has expired, and not only is your original balance not paid off, but it’s higher than when you began.

· Reward Cards

o Treat: You can earn miles, airline points, or even cash back with reward cards.

o Trick: Reward categories often change each month, resulting in fewer rewards than hoped for. Further, some people tend to spend more simply to earn the rewards. If you can’t pay the balance in full each month, a reward card is probably not for you.

· Closing unused accounts

o Treat: Streamlining your finances makes them more manageable. Also, less plastic in your wallet equals fewer temptations to spend.

o Trick: Closing an account will lower your total credit line, potentially making your debt ratio worse. Further, you’ll lower the longevity factor of your credit score.

· Opting into overdraft protection

o Treat: You’ll avoid the embarrassment of having your purchase denied at checkout.

o Trick: Overdraft protection is expensive, particularly for those who routinely overdraw their checking account. This false sense of security is only putting a band-aid on the true financial problem: spending more than you make. Even if the overdrafts result from legitimate purchases such as food or medicine, it is a better option to get to the root of the continued financial distress and solve it.

· Freezing your credit file

o Treat: A frozen credit file is a layer of protection against identity theft since no one can open a new account in your name without you first lifting the security freeze.

o Trick: There may be fees associated with this service, and you may have to wait days for the account to be “unfrozen,” which can be inconvenient if you want your credit file to be immediately accessible for instant credit. Others who may be denied access to your credit file include insurance companies, landlords, employers who need to obtain a background check, cell phone companies, and utilities.

· Purchasing extended warranties

o Treat: An extended warranty can provide you with peace of mind.

o Trick: Some items are inexpensive or have a very good track record, thus you don’t need to pay for a warranty on them. If the item under warranty does break, you may be asked to jump through some difficult hoops to activate the warranty, or the warranty may not cover what you thought it did.

“Consumers should thoroughly research and fully understand the risks and benefits to any financial decision they make,” said Michaele Pena, Consumer Credit Counseling Program Director (a division of Family Services, Inc.). “Simply because an offer sounds appealing, doesn’t mean it is.”

Don’t get spooked by your financial decisions. Reach out for help from a trained and certified NFCC Member Agency counselor. To find the Agency closest to you, dial toll-free to 800-232-6489, Ext. 7802, or go online to www.fsisc.org. For assistance in Spanish, call (800) 682-9832.

Contact: Michaele Pena, CCCS Director

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest serving national nonprofit credit counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest quality financial education and counseling services. NFCC members annually help close to three million consumers through 850 community-based offices nationwide. For free and affordable confidential advice through a reputable NFCC member, call1-800-388-2227, (en EspaƱol 1-800-682-9832) or visit www.nfcc.org.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The best gifts come from paying attention

When I look around my home, I catch glimpses of the gifts my family and I have received from my nieces and nephews—the star-shaped jewelry box made in an art class and given to celebrate my 30th birthday, a decoupaged egg, and brightly colored hand-knit scarves. Virtually everything is handmade. The small clay sculptures one of my nephews crafted, for example, are each in a shape befitting the recipient. Mine is in the shape of a carrot as a nod to my love of gardening; my husband’s is a football to represent his affinity for the game.

Each gift bears the stamp of the giver. One of my favorite gifts is a laminated bookmark with a picture on it of a cow jumping over the moon. On the backside, the giver signed his name. Below that is a wayward bug that got caught up in the craft project, smooshed flat in plastic laminate and forever serving as a reminder of the boy who gave the gift.

These treasures, simple as they are, embody the true spirit of gift giving. These are gifts given without compulsion or guilt. And they reflect the givers’ careful thought, the power of their keen observation, and their ability to work within the resources available to them. If only we were all so adept at that kind of gift giving.

Instead, we tend to give gifts out of compulsion, worrying that they won’t seem like enough. Or we choose the most expedient or more expensive option, for the sake of time or appearances. And too often, we fail to work within our resources and end up overspending on gifts.

Before the Christmas shopping frenzy begins, I want to pause and view gift giving through the eyes of a child. I never once had a conversation with my young nephew about loving my garden, yet he was in tune enough with my interests to make me a handmade gift that literally said, “I know you.” I want to do the same for the people in my life.

If you haven’t already, start paying close attention to what the people on your gift list want and like. What are their goals and hopes? What excites them? It’s a simple exercise that sometimes gets overlooked. When you have this information, you can start thinking about the type of gift that makes your gift recipients feel most alive, and will be most satisfying for them to receive.

By intentionally looking at your friends’ and family’s hopes, dreams, talents and hobbies, you could come up with a wealth of gift ideas that will truly please those on your Christmas list this year. If finding gifts that fit your loved ones’ goals and hopes seems too overwhelming, start smaller. Take your cues for gift ideas from favorite colors, foods or music, for instance.

Gifts given with thought and intention don’t necessarily have to be expensive. In fact, they can run the gamut from store-bought to thrift-store finds to handmade goods. For the people “who have everything” and seem impossible to shop for, consider a gift of time or service. Give the gift of tickets to a concert you’ll attend together, or a gift certificate to wash your grandparents’ car, or the gift of babysitting for a busy mother.

Now, before the full crush of the holiday season is on us, start thinking about your loved ones and begin formulating gift ideas. Next week, I will talk more about how to plan your budget and shopping carefully to give gifts from the heart without overspending.

CCCS/ACCE –American Center for Credit Education

Carey Denman


(605) 348-4550

Friday, October 1, 2010

Bargains are good but memories are priceless

The Latest ACCE Money Tip:

"Last weekend, I stopped at an auction, edging my way into a garage packed full of boxes and piled high with almost anything you can imagine—a vintage cherry pitter, crumbling hat boxes, dusty books, lamps, tools, picture frames, and linens. Auction novice that I am, I could feel my pulse quicken and heat rising in my face as I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with other buyers, clutching my bidder number in my clammy hands.

I bid on, and won, a number of items, at prices that made me inwardly congratulate myself. It wasn’t until hours after I got home and unloaded my things that my buying high started to dissipate.

I didn’t overspend, and I scored some interesting and useful finds, but now I had four full boxes of stuff that I had to sort through, clean, and find a place to put. More than that, it was strange to think about how it might feel someday to have all of my belongings laid out on a table for strangers to scoop up at the highest bid. And the initial novelty of buying something new can fade so quickly that it’s almost shocking.

The auction helped to remind me (again) that ultimately, it’s not possessions, but experiences I add to my life that give me the most pleasure. The contrast—between the short-lived buzz of spending money and the lasting satisfaction of rich experiences—seems that much more poignant when I reflect on how I spent the rest of that weekend with my family.

I watched as my children darted around a free kids’ carnival, with a face-painting booth and enough jumpy-type toys to leave them laughing and breathless. Later, my 4-year-old son got to indulge one of his truest loves: balloons. He stared in awe as he watched ballooners set up for an early-morning launch, literally squirming with excitement. I have a dozen photographs that capture the pure joy he felt in being so close to something that lives large in his world.

Amazingly, he still had enough energy to join the rest of the family on an afternoon hike on a trail near our house. He and his siblings rambled along uneven paths and collected sticks, shiny rocks, and brilliant, red rose hips. The baby bumped along happily in her stroller. We all collapsed into our beds, enjoying the kind of rest that only comes from this kind of tired.

We hit yet another nature trail the next day, where we navigated a bridge so high it made my stomach lurch and where we followed the path to the sounds of rushing water. The image of my ever-determined 2-year-old negotiating the slippery side hill by himself is still fresh in my mind. So is the feeling I had when we rounded the last bend of the path to see a cascading waterfall. We were close enough to feel the misty spray, offering cool relief on a warm fall day.

I reflect on these moments with such detail because they are etched into my mind, because they are already powerful memories, and because I want to remind myself that what I truly want is to invest my time and money in relationships and experiences.

As poet Carl Sandburg once quipped, “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent . . .” How do you want to spend yours?"

CCCS/ACCE –American Center for Credit Education

Carey Denman


(605) 348-4550