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Are the Holidays about Gifts or about Memories?
December, 2005 - Issue #14
Give 'til it hurts? OK, stop! It hurts! Hurricane Katrina and Rita, a historic earthquake in Pakistan, even a tsunami of biblical proportions... And now the holidays are here? Is my watch fast?

The holidays are a deep conspiracy, designed to rock us back and forth into a sublime sense of our year, without a care for ourselves. Every month has a holiday (yes, check it out) and I will swear there is intelligent design at work here.

Now, as we smell the cool air when we rise, and turn up the heater after the coffee has been put on, the conspiracy becomes clear; Halloween is there to stir up our nerves, Thanksgiving is the family "thud" that we need to calm us and settle us in and Christmas is the warm fuzzy that carries us to the inevitable conclusion for 2005 that our credit card bills are due in 2006.

Now, remain calm. Remember, don't beat the messenger. I don't make the rules; I merely remind you that 26-percent interest on a cash advance "does not a college fund make."

How are we to break this ongoing cycle if Madison Avenue advertisers continue to tell us that we just don't have the latest and greatest? Do you really need that new "whatever" or is something mundane like setting aside $50 dollars a month for a college fund getting in the way of your instant gratification?

Happy holidays!

I'm not a Scrooge, I swear. I love the smell of turkey and stuffing at my mom's house, baked with rosemary (the kind with celery and onions). Add to that, the old faithful apple pie.

But how will you cross over this season, how will you change? Will it be this year that you make homemade gifts? Or give flowers? Or even announce that they'll be no gifts because mommy and daddy have a better plan; they want to change the way they live and save for a college fund or even a buy a home, the place to remember the smell of your own stuffing in?

We have 80 years, maybe. Isn't it time to make memories?

Some suggestions we have are to buy small gifts for those folks that you know as acquaintances or family you see often. Or flip that - surprise those you don't see enough and lighten the prize for those that are "used" to your generosity.

Of course a budget is always the first step.

Another suggestion is to take advantage of the "six months same as cash" deals out there and then set aside the full amount of the purchase every month. Divide the amount by six so that it is paid in full before you get hit with the interest. In this way you have used their money to buy something and avoided the interest.

Perhaps a few hours wrapping others' gifts will pay for your holidays this year. Merchants are putting up signs for help as you read this. Perhaps buy your gifts on December 26 when they are on sale, especially if your family party is after the official holiday.

Remember, it's the experiences we remember that sustain us. Do you recall the toy that your father gave you on that really cold Christmas in 1972, or the smell of his cologne as you faked sleeping when he carried you in from the car after the party at Aunt Jeannie's?

Save money this year; at least try. See the big picture. Grow a little. Give to yourself.

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Arif Halaby is president of Total Financial Solutions. E-mail him with questions, comments or suggestions at ahalaby@tfswealth.com.
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