How Can I Really Save Money In A Recession?


Since money really doesnt grow on trees

The financial gurus will be debating for years how we got into the mess we’re in—and how we’ll get out of it. But while the talking heads are talking, you’d like to know how to shore up your resources so you won’t have to worry about every little hiccup in the stock market. Here are time-tested strategies you can master—how to spend less, reduce your debt, make the most of your tax breaks, and finance your retirement. The idea, says William Speciale, a Boston-based adviser with the financial planning firm Calibre, is to focus on what you can control: “Little steps can really make a huge difference.”

Taxes
Forget the short form. Most taxpayers-65 percent of us, to be specific—just take the standard deduction. But you may save money by itemizing your deductible expenses. It doesn’t matter if you use an online program (like turbotax.intuit.com or completetax.com), a current tax guide, or a storefront preparer. Out-of-pocket health care charges, business expenses (including some for job searches), and charitable donations are just a few of the items you may be able to deduct. Fill out the long form, known as the 1040, and compare numbers. If your total deductions are greater than $5,450 (the standard deduction for 2008 for a single person) or $10,900 (for a married couple filing jointly), you’ll save money by itemizing when you file.

Your kids should file a tax return. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) doesn’t care how old they are. If they earn more than $5,450 in a given year (in wages and/or interest income), they have to file-even if you claim them as dependents. And if they make less than that, they should still file because they’ll get back all the money their employer withheld. Help them fill out the paperwork. It’s a great learning experience that may earn them some extra cash    Follow these 29 tips to survive the current economic crisis.

Avoid a tax refund. You may feel giddy knowing you’ll get a check from the IRS this spring, but you shouldn’t. Getting money back means you’re essentially lending money, interest free, to the government for the year. Better to have that cash in your account than lend it to Uncle Sam. So if you’ve been getting big refunds or have had a big life change (a marriage, a baby, a divorce, a radical increase or decrease in income), adjust the withholding allowances on your W-4 form. You can do that for your 2009 taxes now at irs.gov. Use the withholding calculator to determine the correct figure for you. Then print a new W-4, fill it out, and give it to your payroll department.

Avoid “rapid refund” programs. Sure, they sound great. After all, what can be better than getting your money fast? A tax-prep chain might try to get you to agree to one of these “instant” or “anticipation” options. Don’t take the bait. This is not your refund. It’s a loan—and a very high-interest loan at that. The average for 2008 was 123 percent. If you file electronically, even if it’s through a tax chain, the IRS will deposit your refund directly into your bank account within a week or two.

Checking and Savings
Make sure your free checking is really free. A lot of banks advertise it, but read the fine print. If the minimum balance is steep-thousands of dollars, in some cases—look for a bank with no minimum requirement. This could save $100 a year or more. Bankrate.com is a good site for comparing accounts. (And don’t waste $2 on ATM withdrawals at another bank’s machines.)

Bank online. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to pay bills, transfer funds, save automatically, and keep track of it all. In fact, gathering records at tax time will be a cinch. And by setting up the automatic bill-payment option, you’ll help protect your credit score. Banking online is actually safer than banking at a brick-and-mortar institution. Banks have spent a fortune to make sure their sites are among the most secure on the Internet. Besides, most cases of identity theft happen the old-fashioned way—by crooks who raid your mailbox.

Keep your money in supersafe places. Aim to amass at least six months of emergency expenses, in case you lose your job or become disabled. Where’s the best place to keep it? FDIC-insured bank savings, CD, and money market accounts are still three of the most secure places. (The government recently increased the limit it will insure to $250,000 per account until December 31, 2009.) Money market funds that invest in Treasury bills are supersafe, too, but low yielding. Internet banks and credit unions tend to pay higher interest rates, but go to fdic.gov and check to make sure they offer the same government-insured guarantee. Look into Series I bonds, or I bonds, which are just as safe and are guaranteed to keep up with inflation. They’re also free from state and local taxes (and possibly federal tax, if you use them for college costs). The downside? You can’t redeem them for at least a year. And if you cash them in before five years, there’s a small penalty. Other savings options, including corporate and tax-exempt money market funds, are a bit riskier. Compare yields at cranedata.us.

Debt
Cut up your extra credit cards. But don’t close the accounts. Yes, it’s smart to reduce your temptation to splurge by destroying your cards. But if you actually cancel them, it could hurt your credit rating. Here’s why: Lenders worry about how close you are to using all the credit available to you. If you close an account, you lose its credit line. As a result, you are using a greater portion of the reduced amount you can now borrow. How many cards do you need? While the average American household has nine, two or three active cards should be plenty.

Pay your bills on time. A single late payment means that you could pay a much higher interest rate on any future loans and on your existing credit card accounts. That’s because even one missed payment can lower your credit score by as much as 100 points. That plunge means that lenders view you as a risky customer. If you’re shopping around for a mortgage, you could end up paying as much as a full percentage point more. That’s an increase that could ultimately cost you tens of thousands of dollars in interest. Set up automatic payments to make sure you’re never late on your major bills. The sooner you can show lenders you’re back on track, the better.

Pay $10 more each month. Most American households keep their credit balances at around $2,000, but about 10 to 15 percent carry balances that are $9,000 or higher. If you paid the minimum $224 required on that $9,000 balance each month, it would take you 31 years and over $13,000 in interest to pay it off. Increasing your payment by just $10 a month, to $234, until you’ve paid off the balance would save you $8,900. And you’d get rid of the debt in five years. (To check your own balances, try the calculator at bankrate.com.)

Put your savings to work. Many people who are deep in debt usually have some savings stashed in a bank account. They argue that they don’t want to use their hard-earned savings to pay off debt. But do the math: It would make sense to keep the money in savings only if the bank is paying you an interest rate higher than the one your credit cards charge. Paying off a card with an interest rate of 13 percent is the equivalent of earning 13 percent interest on your money after taxes. There are no savings or investment options with that kind of guarantee. Experts caution that you still want to keep emergency cash on hand. A good rule is to take 5 percent of your paycheck to pay off debt and put an additional 5 percent into savings.

Pay more on your mortgage. You may have heard that because the interest is tax deductible, a mortgage is a good debt. But even if you’re getting a tax break, you’re still paying interest—and the longer you’ve had the mortgage, the smaller the tax break (because you pay less interest each year). As with all debt, paying it off sooner is better. So once you’ve paid off your credit cards and other high-rate debt, go ahead and add an extra payment each year (or spread it out over 12 months). If you do that over the life of a 30-year fixed loan with a rate of 6 percent, you’ll shave roughly 20 percent off the total interest you pay. On a $150,000 mortgage, that means saving about $26,000.

Reduce your credit card interest rate. It may be time to get nervy with the credit card companies. If you pay your bill on time and your credit card company still raises your rates or lowers your limits, call the company’s toll-free number (ask for the retention department) and explain that you’re thinking of taking your business elsewhere. You may reap a rate reduction. No matter what you’ve heard about the current credit crunch, banks are still motivated to keep good customers. And check your accounts often. These days, banks are increasing rates even on good customers.

Get your credit report for free. You’re entitled to one free report from each of the three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) every year. Beware, though. Many sites advertising “free credit reports” are actually fronts for companies trying to sell you services—credit monitoring, debt consolidation, credit repair-most of which you don’t need. The reports are free, but you’ll be automatically signed up and billed for these products. Get your reports from annualcreditreport.com, which is sponsored by the three bureaus and the Federal Trade Commission. You can purchase extras on this site, too, but just stick with the free reports. If you want to see your credit scores (a numerical representation of how good a credit risk you are), you’ll have to pay $48 at myfico.com.

Insurance
Shop around for car insurance. An online search and a few phone calls can turn up vastly different rates in the same area. You’ll also want to ask about lesser-known breaks. For example, even if your kids are grown and out of the house, they might be able to get a substantial discount if they insure their cars through the company you use. One place to start is carinsurance.com. Once you’ve found the best rate, ask your insurance agent if he or she can match it.

Sign up for an FSA. Many employers offer flexible spending accounts as a way to set aside part of your salary for health care and child-care costs. You can pay for everything from Band-Aids to orthodontic work with pretax money, which translates into a discount of about 30 percent or more, depending on your tax bracket. But plan carefully. If you don’t use all the money in your account within the year (at many companies, you have until March 15 of the following year to submit receipts), you lose whatever’s left.

Keep grown kids on your health insurance policy. If you’re going to end up lending (or giving) your children money for coverage, it’s much cheaper to keep them on your policy as long as possible. In some states, you can do this until they are 26, whether they’re still in school or not. (New Jersey will give you until they turn 30.) Some states require proof that they are single, without children, and that they live in the same state as you. For the rules where you live, go to statecoverage.net. Even if your state doesn’t mandate extended coverage, your plan might, so call your human resources department for details.

Hold off on that long-term-care insurance. The soaring cost of extended nursing care has prompted many people in their 40s and 50s to sign up for long-term-care insurance in order to lock in a rate. It’s true that the premiums go up as you get older, but not by the huge amount you might expect. According to data collected by America’s Health Insurance Plans, a 65-year-old may end up paying just $126 more a year than someone who bought a policy at age 55. During those ten years, that person would spend close to $19,000 on coverage, even though he or she probably won’t need it until age 83 or so (if at all). Depending on your health, the best time to buy is between 60 and 65. Until then, make retirement savings the priority, not long-term-care insurance.

Sign up for disability insurance. It helps protect your income in the event you become unable to work for a long period. Ideally, you should have enough to replace 60 to 70 percent of your salary. If your company plan doesn’t provide this much coverage, consider buying more on your own. It can be costly, but it’s worth it if you can afford it. Visit affordableinsuranceprotection.com or unum.com for quotes.

Think twice about life insurance. If you don’t have dependents, you may not need it. If you do have kids or other dependents, you’re probably better off with term life insurance until, say, your children are grown and can take care of themselves. It’s generally less expensive than whole-life or other types of policies that build up value until you die or cash them in. Agents will tell you that whole-life insurance is a good investment because your money builds up tax-free, but these policies often have very high fees. You’re better off putting that money toward your 401(k) and IRA instead. To comparison shop for term life policies, try term4sale.com.

Write your will. Although no one likes to think about dying, you need to. A will doesn’t have to be a fancy contract that teams of lawyers slave over. It’s just a written record of whom you want to entrust your kids and assets to when you die. You can write one using a simple boilerplate form and then sign it in the presence of witnesses (usually two people who aren’t named in the will). The legal publishing company Nolo has a good template and instructions you can download for less than $25. (These templates are valid in all states except Louisiana. Of course, if your situation is complicated or you’d like a professional to look it over, consult an attorney.) You’ll also want to make sure all the beneficiaries on your life insurance policies and bank and retirement accounts are up-to-date.

Retirement
Contribute to your company’s 401(k). If your company matches funds, sign up. This will be the best investment you can possibly make. Typically, a company will kick in 50 cents for every dollar you save, up to 6 percent of your salary. That’s the equivalent of earning an immediate 50 percent return—a rate you can’t get anywhere. Yet incredibly, one in three American workers who are eligible isn’t taking full advantage of it. With the matching funds, you can more than double the size of your 401(k) in 20 years, even if the stock market remains flat. For a family making $44,000, your contribution may cost you as little as $30 a week, money you won’t even miss after a while.

Put retirement savings ahead of college savings. This sounds crazy to parents who need to come up with tuition money well before it’s time to retire. But because of the tax breaks and the flexibility of retirement accounts, you’re much better off contributing to a 401(k) or an IRA and taking out loans for college. Many people don’t realize that the contributions you put in Roth IRAs can be withdrawn free of penalties at any time. That’s very different from the college savings plans, called 529s, that smack you with a significant penalty if the money is not used for college. Another plus: Most schools don’t count money in your retirement accounts when assessing how much financial aid they’ll offer you. (For more detailed advice, check out Kalman Chany’s book, Paying for College Without Going Broke.) Once you’ve saved the maximum amount that the government allows in your retirement accounts, then research 529 plans at savingforcollege.com.

Say no to company stock. Think of Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, and Enron. All were once on top, but when they went under, many employees were left without jobs and with retirement accounts that were overloaded with worthless company stock. You already have a huge stake in the company because you depend on it for your paycheck. Don’t risk your retirement money as well. If your employer offers company stock as a 401(k) option, don’t take it. If you get company stock as part of your matching-funds plan, sell it as soon as you’re allowed to and switch that money into some other type of investment. Ask your HR representative for details.

Don’t worry about Social Security. You’ve probably heard the dire predictions that anyone younger than 35 can’t expect to collect Social Security. Even in bleak economic scenarios, though, Social Security will probably pay you 65 to 80 percent of your currently promised benefits. And with some fairly modest changes—like raising the retirement age or increasing payroll taxes for anyone earning more than $250,000 annually-the system can be shored up for decades to come. Make sure you’re saving enough so you don’t have to count on the program for your entire retirement income.

Stay away from individual stocks. In spite of what you may hear from your cousin the broker, buying the stock of a single company is generally not wise. It’s essentially putting all your eggs in one basket-and paying broker fees that could eat up your earnings. In fact, you don’t really need a broker. Instead of buying individual stocks, invest directly in mutual funds, which spread your dollars among a group of stocks. It’s usually safer, cheaper, and simpler. But remember, you should do this only with money you can invest long term and can afford to lose in the short term.

Stick with index funds. You’ll want to go with a special type of mutual fund called an index fund, which buys a little piece of each of the companies that make up established market benchmarks like the S&P 500. One of the best-kept secrets of investing is that in the long run, index funds perform at least as well as the funds that charge high fees and have a professional stock picker making the choices. And how are index funds doing these days? As of early December, they had actually lost less than the average stock fund run by the so-called experts. For a list of low-cost index funds, go to vanguard.com or fidelity.com.

Don’t buy investment products from your bank. Banks sell a wide range of mutual funds, annuities, and individual stocks and bonds. These aren’t FDIC-insured, and they tend to be more expensive than what you could get elsewhere because banks usually charge high sales commissions. Buy directly from mutual fund companies instead. Go with companies like Vanguard or Fidelity, which charge low fees and no commissions.

Build a portfolio. The rule of thumb is to put 50 percent of your long-term savings in stocks and 30 percent in bonds and keep 20 percent available in cash (that means in a savings or money market account where you can withdraw it at a moment’s notice). In tough times especially, getting the right mix will depend on the risk you’re willing to take and how soon you’ll need your money. Stocks are generally more risky than bonds, but there are exceptions. For example, bonds issued by companies that are in questionable financial health-called junk bonds or, more euphemistically, high-yield bonds are a lot riskier than, say, stock in utility companies. Financialengines.com, which charges about $40 for a three-month subscription, is a great site for calculating the right mix.

Bonus Tip
Take care of your health. Eat right, exercise, and get plenty of sleep. Says Rutgers finance professor Barbara O’Neill, “The last thing you want in a financial crisis is huge medical bills.”

Keep Your Money Safe
Supersafe:
FDIC-insured bank savings, CD, and money market accounts
FDIC-insured credit unions
Series I bonds
Money market funds that invest in Treasury bills

Somewhat Riskier: Corporate and tax-exempt money market mutual funds

Riskiest: Bank investment products not FDIC-insured Individual stocks

***
Learn More
A clip-and-save guide to the sites in this feature.

Taxes

Checking and Savings

Debt

Insurance

Retirement

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How Can I Be More Organized in Life?


Clear it up and clean it out and be organized

It seems to me that people are busier than ever these days. We’re constantly running from one activity to the next and seem to leave a trail of debris in our wake wherever we go. There’s so much to do, I can’t possibly be bothered with things like “doing laundry so I’m not dirty and disgusting.” Whatever that means.

Here’s the problem, though: not being organized actually makes us slower, which is something we certainly don’t have time for. If we don’t know what we’ve got, where it is, and how to find it, we run into serious problems, lowered productivity and raised stress levels.

I’ve frequently found that taking just a few minutes to get organized will actually save a ton of time; and these things really only take a few minutes. Here are eight ways to get organized in only five minutes. Some are only for your computer, others can be applied anywhere in your life.

Digitize
We’ve all got lots of notes lying around – notes to yourself, things to remember, reasons why we’re fantastic (that one might just be me, come to think of it). Take a few minutes, and type them up. Phone numbers, addresses, tasks, personal notes and the like are all easier to find, edit and use when they’re digital.

Try an application like Evernote, which is great for pulling together all the disparate and random notes and thoughts that come to your attention on any given day.

Consolidate
Maybe you’re not a computer person (they are evil, after all). Take all those disparate, loose notes, and consolidate them. Take a single, large piece of paper, and copy over everything you still want or need onto that one sheet. Having everything in one place makes it easier to find, and gets rid of some of the clutter that has inevitably entered your space. Even if you do use a computer, the same idea applies – pull all your loose text files, or sticky notes, into one easily accessible place.

Pick a Space
This is one of my favorites and definitely one of the most satisfying ways to spend a few minutes organizing. Pick a small space, like the top of the refrigerator, or underneath your bed; clean that like crazy – I mean it needs to be immaculate. When done, move on to another small spot and declutter that. Breaking this down into small manageable projects will make getting organized a ton less intimidating.

Mind Dump
This is one of the best things you can do, both for your sanity and your productivity. Periodically sit down with a pen and paper (or computer, or a napkin), and write down everything in your head. Things you need to do, things that are bothering you, things you want to know; whatever it is, get it all out of your head. It’ll free your brain to think about other things and give you an idea of what, exactly, is on your mind. You can mind dump anywhere, and you’ll always feel better having done it.

Mass-Trash
Go through your stuff, ignore everything you want to keep, and simply have a throwing-away party. I do this with digital files all the time, but it works equally well in your home or office; just get rid of stuff. Usually, what takes the longest is figuring out what to do with the stuff we still want. So don’t do that. Just get rid of everything else, and marvel in how much less junk you’ve got to deal with now.

Systemize
Filing is the not-so-fun, but logical, next step from the mass-trash bonanza. It can be made a lot more fun, and simple, by having a system in place. So, before you start filing things willy-nilly, create a simple system for it. Think about the ten things you have the most of: where does each one go? What do you want to do with them? Once you’ve got an obvious, no-brainer system in place, knowing where everything goes and putting it there just becomes muscle-memory. And that’s much better than filing otherwise.

One Thing, One Place
This is all about avoiding the overwhelm that can come from trying to get organized. Instead of dealing with everything at once, just pick one thing – say, movies. If you’ve got 300 movies lying all around your house, and nowhere to put them, just work with those. Find a home for them, get them all in their right place, and organize them to your heart’s content. There’s no wondering where each new thing goes, because they all go in the same place. Just put everything in the same place, and leave the rest of your stuff for later. If nothing else, at least one thing’s easier to find now.

Make it Searchable
This one’s obviously only for your digital life (if you’ve got a way to search through all your real-world stuff, let me know! Blank check is yours). One of the great advantages of the speed and power of our computers, as well as the Internet, is how powerful the search functionality is – you can find almost anything with just a few clicks. Google does it for the Web, and there are a bunch of solutions for searching your computer stuff. If you’ve got a PC, Google Desktop is a great one, as is Copernic Desktop. Mac users: Spotlight is your best friend. Searching is faster than filing, not to mention more complete. Pick a folder on your computer, dump everything into it, and search away!

Getting organized is a daunting task, but is made much easier by doing it in bursts – a few minutes, or one particular thing, at a time. Before you know it, you’ll have a perfect system, a clean space, and a huge boost in both your sanity and your productivity.

What other ways can we get organized in only a few minutes?

Men’s Most Annoying Habits by April Daniels Hussar


Yes GUYS !! I did it I let a women tell us what we need to know that shouldn’t be a problem it should be what you pay attention to and act on immediately.

ARE YOU THAT GUY?

Ah, boys. How we love them. And how they can drive us … crazy! A while ago we ran an article on what guys find most annoying about us womenfolk (Who us? Hard to believe!) – so it’s only fair that we cover the other side of the coin, don’t you agree?

But first, let me paint you a little picture.

It’s a dark and stormy morning. The lights in my house are on, providing a cozy glow and, handily, helping us to see our food. Breakfast has ended, and my husband heads upstairs to his home office, remembering, as always, to turn the lights off as he leaves. Isn’t that nice?

No, actually it’s not … because I’m still sitting at the table!

Which brings us to our first complaint:

1. Over-zealous light turning-off.

I thought this was something only I had to suffer, but my writer friend Jenna, 40, assures me it is not.

“My husband calls me ‘Light-Leaver-Onner’ and subsequently walks around shutting off lights, including in rooms I am in. I’ll be using the toilet and he’ll walk by, open the door and turn off the light.”

But is this a green thing? A money thing? Who knows, but it seems to me that these guys are all taking An Inconvenient Truth just a little too far…

Case in point: My husband’s favorite line, whenever he discovers I’ve (yet again) left the light on in the basement laundry room, “Mother Earth is crying.”

Read Why You Should Date Men Raised By Single Moms

2. Leaving wet towels on the bed.

A gal we’ll call Penny, 36, tells me with a sigh, “I had an ex-fiancé who always, and I mean always left wet towels in the middle of the bed. He’d take a shower, walk into the bedroom, drop the towel in the middle of the bed, get dressed and leave. The wet towel would sit there all day long. Ick.”

Ick indeed. But why? Are beds and towel racks so similarly shaped that guys get confused? And let me just point out that she says ex-fiancé.

OK, some guys at least make an effort to put their things away…but when it comes right down to it, good intentions alone aren’t quite enough.

After reading our article on the annoying things women do, one commenter, “Bandijacks”, shared her pet peeve about guys: “The most annoying thing for me is when they almost put something away, but not quite. Like putting the dirty dishes beside the sink rather than inside, or putting dirty clothes on top of the hamper rather than opening it and putting them inside. Grrr.”

Come on guys, you’re so close. Close, but no cigar!
3. Turning into big babies when they get sick.

Sound the alarms! Call the Red Cross! Baby has a …sniffle!

If you’ve even been called into a living room filled with empty mugs coated with Theraflu and used Kleenex, a mound of misery lying woefully on the couch, and been asked to hand a certain someone the remote so he doesn’t have to strain himself reaching to the coffee table … then you know what I’m talking about.

Claudia, 30, says, “It’s like one sniffle must be the plague and no one has ever, ever felt as bad as they do.”

“Of course,” she wisely points out, “the worst part is, you can’t really complain about it because you just come across as mean and unsympathetic.”

True. Better to play sympathetic nursemaid/slave for a few days so you can cash your chips in next time you need a late-night Ben & Jerry’s run, if you know what I mean.

4. Not giving good phone.

Alissa, 22, has been dating her guy for two years. Her number one complaint? “He’s so bad on the phone! We’re talking zero enthusiasm, very quiet, and I’m the one who always needs to keep the conversation going.”

You might think it has something to do with his personality. You might be wrong. “He’s completely different in person — very lively, funny, and talkative,” says Alissa.

What’s a girl to do? “I’ve asked him many times to improve his phone skills, but nothing seems to work,” she says. “So now, I just talk and talk and talk until I want to hang up, and he just has to sit there and listen!”

Read XBox Game Teaches Guys How to Talk to Girls

5. Leaving a trail of ______ around the house.

It’s as if some guys never quite got over the lessons they learned from Hansel and Gretel, right? Wherever they go, they must leave little markers, for fear of not being able to find their ways back to … the kitchen?

Jenna, the “Light-Leaver-Onner,” has this one bad: “My husband likes to eat cheese slices at night, and I’ll find the little wax papers everywhere the next morning – in his pockets, on the coffee table, tucked between the damned couch cushions.”

Well, at least they don’t still have cheese in them.

And Christie, 21, always knows where her boyfriend’s been by his trail of dirty socks. “I find those things everywhere! On the bedroom floor, on the couch, under his kitchen chair, you name it.”

Of course, despite these pesky little habits, we love our guys anyway. All these little things add up to just that – little things.

But it’s kind of fun to b—- a little, amongst friends, isn’t it? Come on, dish it up: What’s your guy’s most annoying habit?

I WONT LET CHIVALRY DIE, MEN GET OFF YOUR HIGH HORSE DO WHATS RIGHT!


A REAL MAN KNOWS HOW TO TREAT A WOMAN

Being a gentleman never goes out of style. Yet these days, a lot of men, perhaps even you, fall short. However, if you make chivalry a part of your life with your wife or girlfriend, greatness will follow.

Opening the door. Now I know you probably open the door for her already. But what about the car door? When was the last time you got to your destination with her, got out, walked around the car and opened the door for her?

Pull the chair out for her. When you take her out to dinner, pull out her chair, let her step up to the table and gently push the chair in so that she can sit down. If you want to bump it up a bit, do this on a regular basis at home when you eat together.

Help her on and off with her coat. When you’re leaving with her to go out to dinner, help her on with her coat, and help her off with it again when you reach your destination.

Stand up when she does. If your wife needs to use the restroom during dinner, when she stands up, stop eating and stand up yourself. While she’s gone, you can sit back down. When you see her coming back, stand up, walk around the table and pull the chair out for her to sit down.

Now if you’re generally never this attentive to her, she’s going to think something’s up. She will likely think that you’re trying to get lucky or that you’re buttering her up for some reason. When she asks you (and she will) what is up with you, just tell her “This is my way of showing you how special you are to me.” I know that sounds corny but something like that will melt her heart, especially if it comes from you.

Here’s Your Practice Run

Imagine this if you will. It’s Saturday night, you get a sitter for the kids and tell your wife that you have dinner reservations at a nice restaurant downtown. You help her on with her coat and hold the house door and the car door open for her.

Once at the restaurant, you help her off with her coat and help her get seated at the table. When she leaves to visit the restroom, you stand up until she leaves. When you see her returning, again you stand up and help her get seated.

After dinner, you help her on with her coat, out of the restaurant and into your car. When you arrive back home, you park and help her out of the car. You just earned a major number of points with your wife and it was all pretty simple. If you do this on a regular basis, your wife will surely match you kindness for kindness.

Should Christians Celebrate Halloween? What Do you think? Heres What One Minister thinks, Do You Agree?


SHOULD CHRISTIANS DO HALLOWEEN?

Halloween. It’s a time of year when the air gets crisper, the days get shorter, and for many young Americans the excitement grows in anticipation of the darkest, spookiest holiday of the year. Retailers also rejoice as they warm up their cash registers to receive an average of $41.77 per household in decorations, costumes, candy, and greeting cards. Halloween will bring in approximately $3.3 billion this year.

It’s a good bet retailers won’t entertain high expectations of getting $41.77 per household from the Christian market. Many Christians refuse to participate in Halloween. Some are wary of its pagan origins; others of its dark, ghoulish imagery; still others are concerned for the safety of their children. But other Christians choose to partake of the festivities, whether participating in school activities, neighborhood trick-or-treating, or a Halloween alternative at their church.

The question is, How should Christians respond to Halloween? Is it irresponsible for parents to let their children trick-or-treat? What about Christians who refuse any kind of celebration during the season–are they overreacting?

The Pagan Origin of Halloween
The name “Halloween” comes from the All Saints Day celebration of the early Christian church, a day set aside for the solemn remembrance of the martyrs. All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Saints Day, began the time of remembrance. “All Hallows Eve” was eventually contracted to “Hallow-e’en,” which became “Halloween.”

As Christianity moved through Europe it collided with indigenous pagan cultures and confronted established customs. Pagan holidays and festivals were so entrenched that new converts found them to be a stumbling block to their faith. To deal with the problem, the organized church would commonly move a distinctively Christian holiday to a spot on the calendar that would directly challenge a pagan holiday. The intent was to counter pagan influences and provide a Christian alternative. But most often the church only succeeded in “Christianizing” a pagan ritual–the ritual was still pagan, but mixed with Christian symbolism. That’s what happened to All Saints Eve–it was the original Halloween alternative!

The Celtic people of Europe and Britain were pagan Druids whose major celebrations were marked by the seasons. At the end of the year in northern Europe, people made preparations to ensure winter survival by harvesting the crops and culling the herds, slaughtering animals that wouldn’t make it. Life slowed down as winter brought darkness (shortened days and longer nights), fallow ground, and death. The imagery of death, symbolized by skeletons, skulls, and the color black, remains prominent in today’s Halloween celebrations.

The pagan Samhain festival (pronounced “sow” “en”) celebrated the final harvest, death, and the onset of winter, for three days–October 31 to November 2. The Celts believed the curtain dividing the living and the dead lifted during Samhain to allow the spirits of the dead to walk among the living–ghosts haunting the earth.

Some embraced the season of haunting by engaging in occult practices such as divination and communication with the dead.Some embraced the season of haunting by engaging in occult practices such as divination and communication with the dead. They sought “divine” spirits (demons) and the spirits of their ancestors regarding weather forecasts for the coming year, crop expectations, and even romantic prospects. Bobbing for apples was one practice the pagans used to divine the spiritual world’s “blessings” on a couple’s romance.

For others the focus on death, occultism, divination, and the thought of spirits returning to haunt the living, fueled ignorant superstitions and fears. They believed spirits were earthbound until they received a proper sendoff with treats–possessions, wealth, food, and drink. Spirits who were not suitably “treated” would “trick” those who had neglected them. The fear of haunting only multiplied if that spirit had been offended during its natural lifetime.

Trick-bent spirits were believed to assume grotesque appearances. Some traditions developed, which believed wearing a costume to look like a spirit would fool the wandering spirits. Others believed the spirits could be warded off by carving a grotesque face into a gourd or root vegetable (the Scottish used turnips) and setting a candle inside it–the jack-o-lantern.

Into that dark, superstitious, pagan world, God mercifully shined the light of the gospel. Newly converted Christians armed themselves with the truth and no longer feared a haunting from departed spirits returning to earth. In fact, they denounced their former pagan spiritism in accord with Deuteronomy 18:

There shall not be found among you anyone…who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the Lord (vv. 10-13).

Nonetheless, Christian converts found family and cultural influence hard to withstand; they were tempted to rejoin the pagan festivals, especially Samhain. Pope Gregory IV reacted to the pagan challenge by moving the celebration of All Saints Day in the ninth century–he set the date at November 1, right in the middle of Samhain.

As the centuries passed, Samhain and All Hallows Eve mixed together. On the one hand, pagan superstitions gave way to “Christianized” superstitions and provided more fodder for fear. People began to understand that the pagan ancestral spirits were demons and the diviners were practicing witchcraft and necromancy. On the other hand, the festival time provided greater opportunity for revelry. Trick-or-treat became a time when roving bands of young hooligans would go house-to-house gathering food and drink for their parties. Stingy householders ran the risk of a “trick” being played on their property from drunken young people.

Halloween didn’t become an American holiday until the immigration of the working classes from the British Isles in the late nineteenth century. While early immigrants may have believed the superstitious traditions, it was the mischievous aspects of the holiday that attracted American young people. Younger generations borrowed or adapted many customs without reference to their pagan origins.

Hollywood has added to the “fun” a wide assortment of fictional characters–demons, monsters, vampires, werewolves, mummies, and psychopaths. That certainly isn’t improving the American mind, but it sure is making someone a lot of money.

The Christian Response to Halloween
Today Halloween is almost exclusively an American secular holiday, but many who celebrate have no concept of its religious origins or pagan heritage. That’s not to say Halloween has become more wholesome. Children dress up in entertaining costumes, wander the neighborhood in search of candy, and tell each other scary ghost stories; but adults often engage in shameful acts of drunkenness and debauchery.

So, how should Christians respond?

First, Christians should not respond to Halloween like superstitious pagans. Pagans are superstitious; Christians are enlightened by the truth of God’s Word. Evil spirits are no more active and sinister on Halloween than they are on any other day of the year; in fact, any day is a good day for Satan to prowl about seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). But “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). God has forever “disarmed principalities and powers” through the cross Christ and “made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them through [Christ]” (Colossians 2:15).

Second, Christians should respond to Halloween with cautionary wisdom. Some people fear the activity of Satanists or pagan witches, but the actual incidents of satanic-associated crime are very low. The real threat on Halloween is from the social problems that attend sinful behavior–drunk driving, pranksters and vandals, and unsupervised children.

Christians should exercise caution as wise stewards of their possessions and protectors of their families.Like any other day of the year, Christians should exercise caution as wise stewards of their possessions and protectors of their families. Christian young people should stay away from secular Halloween parties since those are breeding grounds for trouble. Christian parents can protect their children by keeping them well-supervised and restricting treat consumption to those goodies received from trusted sources.

Third, Christians should respond to Halloween with gospel compassion. The unbelieving, Christ-rejecting world lives in perpetual fear of death. It isn’t just the experience of death, but rather what the Bible calls “a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume [God’s] adversaries” (Hebrews 10:27). Witches, ghosts, and evil spirits are not terrifying; God’s wrath unleashed on the unforgiven sinner–now that is truly terrifying.

Christians should use Halloween and all that it brings to the imagination–death imagery, superstition, expressions of debauched revelry–as an opportunity to engage the unbelieving world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. God has given everyone a conscience that responds to His truth (Romans 2:14-16), and the conscience is the Christian’s ally in the evangelistic enterprise. Christians should take time to inform the consciences of friends and family with biblical truth regarding God, the Bible, sin, Christ, future judgment, and the hope of eternal life in Jesus Christ for the repentant sinner.

There are several different ways Christians will engage in Halloween evangelism. Some will adopt a “No Participation” policy. As Christian parents, they don’t want their kids participating in spiritually compromising activities–listening to ghost stories and coloring pictures of witches. They don’t want their kids to dress up in costumes for trick-or-treating or even attending Halloween alternatives.

That response naturally raises eyebrows and provides a good opportunity to share the gospel to those who ask. It’s also important that parents explain their stand to their children and prepare them to face the teasing or ridicule of their peers and the disapproval or scorn of their teachers.

Other Christians will opt for Halloween alternatives called “Harvest Festivals” or “Reformation Festivals”–the kids dress up as farmers, Bible characters, or Reformation heroes. It’s ironic when you consider Halloween’s beginning as an alternative, but it can be an effective means of reaching out to neighborhood families with the gospel. Some churches leave the church building behind and take acts of mercy into their community, “treating” needy families with food baskets, gift cards, and the gospel message.

Those are good alternatives; there are others that are not so good. Some churches are using “Hell House” evangelism to shock young people and scare them into becoming Christians. They walk people through rooms patterned after carnival-style haunted houses and put sin on display–women undergoing abortions, people sacrificed in a satanic ritual, consequences of premarital sex, dangers of rave parties, demon possession, and other tragedies.

Here’s the problem with so-called Hell House evangelism: To shock an unshockable culture, you have to get pretty graphic. Graphic exhibits of sin and its consequences are unnecessary–unbelieving minds are already full of such images. What they need to see is a life truly transformed by the power of God, and what they need to hear is the truth of God in an accurate presentation of the gospel. Cheap gimmickry is unfitting for Christ’s ambassadors.Candy

There’s another option open to Christians: limited, non-compromising participation in Halloween. There’s nothing inherently evil about candy, costumes, or trick-or-treating in the neighborhood. In fact, all of that can provide a unique gospel opportunity with neighbors. Even handing out candy to neighborhood children–provided you’re not stingy–can improve your reputation among the kids. As long as the costumes are innocent and the behavior does not dishonor Christ, trick-or-treating can be used to further gospel interests.

Ultimately, Christian participation in Halloween is a matter of conscience before God. Whatever level of Halloween participation you choose, you must honor God by keeping yourself separate from the world and by showing mercy to those who are perishing. Halloween provides the Christian with the opportunity to accomplish both of those things in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s a message that is holy, set apart from the world; it’s a message that is the very mercy of a forgiving God. What better time of the year is there to share such a message than Halloween?

What is Wrong With Parents Are They Crazy or Just Plain Stupid


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How Creepy are some of these images not only are they looking like “dolls” and not in a good way but what mother in her right mind would let their little girl go through this and be subjected to things like spray tans. I know as a parent my child would be taught her natural beauty is enough at that age give her confidence in herself not make up,spray tans, and exploitation. Women fought for years for non exploitation and these women are teaching their children its OK “as long as you win”. What in the world is wrong with people today.

I usually don’t like to throw around words like ‘demented’ and ‘warped’ too casually – however, after watching a recent episode of Toddlers & Tiaras on TLC, I believe I’m justified.

For those of you who don’t keep track of the infestation of lowbrow reality television, let me give you a quick rundown. Toddlers and Tiaras is essentially a show about children’s beauty pageants – you know, the ones that feature the little girls who have this creepy adult woman exterior. We’re talking a freakin’ truckload of makeup, over-processed hair and very adult clothing – in fact, one little girl in this promo is dressed like Madonna – pointed bra and all. And by the way, we’re talking young children – not to say that a twelve year old dressed in provocative clothing is any better, but at least they are old enough to possibly realize that they are being objectified.

One of the most unfortunate aspects of this show, is that I don’t know which is worst – the children or the parents. It seems that most of the parents and children do have one important thing in common – complete contempt for the other contestants. They hate the other children. They find faults with the other children. And in most cases, the arrogance of both parents and children is both nauseating and infuriating. In fact, the show could just as easily be titled Bitches in Training since it probably sums up the reality of this ‘reality’ program.

At the same time, it’s very sad. And although these pageants probably help increase a child’s level of confidence to a certain degree (just as many competitions would) at the same time, it could just as easily tear it apart. After all, the main focus of these pageants is vanity. I believe there were tears in this particular episode and I’m guessing, probably most of the others as well.

And although I don’t have kids, something tells me that making a 4 year old look like she’s 24 is probably not the smartest thing in the world. I find it very ironic that we live in a society where kids try to look like adults and older women attempt to chase the fountain of youth with complete vengeance. I’m not sure what the ‘ideal’ age is but I’m guessing it is somewhere between late teens and early twenties.

I am also curious about the person who decided that a child’s beauty pageant had to be made of kids, who actually looked like adult women. Seriously? Who makes that decision? Were the pageants not provocative enough to keep an audience interested? It’s really quite bizarre, when you think about it. And it really says something about our society.

Is Facebook good or bad?


To say Facebook is a phenomenon would be an understatement. Approximately, 1 in every 13 people on Earth is a Facebook user. In addition, 57% of people talk to people more online than they do in real life.

So, is our obsession with Facebook a good or bad thing for society? Sociologists will say there isn’t a clear cut answer to this question, but they are looking into what Facebook says about our society in general.

In the movie, “The Social Network”, Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg sits down at his computer and begins working on a new idea. Six years later, Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in history. Though Facebook users may not necessarily be wealthy, they are reaping the rewards of instant gratification, friendship, and in some cases. Immediate gratification. Consider this: Facebook has more than 500 million active users. 50% of the users log on to Facebook in any given day. What does that say about who we are?Is Facebook Your Drug?

Professor Jeffrey Nash has been looking into this question. He is the department chair of the Sociology and Anthropology Department at UALR.

“American social networks are becoming more fragmented. People are reaching out less to strangers and more cocooning — the cocooning effect,” said Professor Nash. “On the other hand, maybe we have over estimated how much that is going on, and there’s some research that shows that may not be the case, and Facebook and other internet mediated communications are actually compensating for that. So if they are compensating for the fact that we are spending more time in our cars, and we go 30 miles each way, and we don’t have time to connect the way we did before, and one way of looking at what’s happening is that internet mediated communication is pulling us together.”

Many will say that’s an optimistic view of the Facebook effect — that our old ways of communication are being supplemented by new ways. Professor Nash says there is some truth to that, but he calls it normal.

“Anytime a technology drives us to change what we’re doing in a very dramatic way, like changing from horse and cart to automobile, there’s always a period of time in which there’s a lag between the practices and the rules for how you are to practice it,” said Nash.

A perfect example of that was the Midland School Board Vice President, Clint McCance who posted messages on his Facebook profile, suggesting gays should kill themselves. McCance later resigned. Lucky for us, Professor Nash says we will eventually find our way of navigating Facebook, with some type of etiquette, and rule book.