Monday, December 16, 2013

My favorite Christmas gifts

It's that time of the year again.  In the month of December, people spend too much money and eat far too much unhealthy food.  People stress out, fight crowds and traffic to find the "perfect" gifts that don't really benefit their recipients.  This is the month where people start going into crazy amounts of credit card debt and gain extra pounds of weight along the way.  

By the time New Years comes around, these poor and fat individuals then make resolutions to get out of debt, finally lose that weight and get into shape

Okay, I'm making broad generalizations.  But hey, I've been guilty of all of the above and I'm sure many of you have as well.

I've heard lots of friends and family complaining about how "hard it is" this month and how "money is so tight right now."  Bear in mind that these are people making anywhere between $50,000 a year to over $100,000 a year. 

In our society of consumerism, it has been ingrained into our minds from childhood that giving gifts is the best way to show how much you love someone.  Millions of dollars worth of advertising is done yearly to convince us which gifts are the right ones for your mother, father, spouse, and children.  People show off their gifts on facebook with pride.  People spend way out of their budget to get the right gift for the one that they love.

What happens when you get a gift that disappoints you?  How often have you heard people complaining about the Christmas gifts that they've received?  Weeks after Christmas, millions of consumers, with their gift and gift receipts in hand, go back to the stores where their gifts were purchase to exchange them for what they really want.

"I didn't get the exact purse / wallet / jewelry / camera / iPad / headphones that I wanted."  

The gift giving situations can get worse when you're married.  Once you are in a committed relationship with your significant other, your finances are connected.  When a man gets a gift for his wife, he's basically spending HER money on the gift.  And when a woman gets a gift for her husband, she's basically spending HIS money on the gift.  How does this benefit their financial futures?  

I know of couples who go deeper and deeper into credit card debt, just for the sake of impressing each other with fancy gifts.  Why should your happiness depend on gifts from others?  And if you have to ask your spouse for a specific gift, what meaning is there really? Make sure you have the money talk with your significant other or spouse as soon as possible. 

Instead of working separately to "out-gift" each other, what about working together towards the best gift of all: reaching financial freedom.  If you're in any debt whatsoever, giving gifts to your spouse is unacceptable.  Save that money and use it towards getting out of debt.  You will never become wealthy if you're always spending all of your income or going into debt.

Now with all this being said, it can be difficult if not seemingly impossible to get out of our gift giving traditions.  We still give our family gifts for important days like birthdays and Christmas.  I don't think my mom would take kindly to not receiving a gift.  Hopefully when we have children one day, we will be able to teach them never to worry about getting gifts for mommy and daddy.  

This year, the two of us decided that we already have everything that we could possibly want.  We will not be going through the stress of worrying about what gift to give each other.  

I'm not saying that giving gifts is necessarily a bad thing.  Sometimes spontaneous gifts are the best ones.  And gifts that save money and add value to someone's life can be excellent.  

We still participate in several "Secret Santa" gift exchanges.  The best thing to do is to plan ahead this holiday season.  If you know you're going to spend more this season on gifts, balance it out by spending less on eating out.  If you know you're going to gorge on unhealthy and fattening foods when you're out with family and friends, eat healthier foods when you're by yourself or at home.  

With all of this in mind, here is a list of my favorite Christmas gifts you can find at  Don't forget that you can score extra credit card rewards points by using your Chase Freedom card, currently earning 5x points per dollar spent at Amazon.  You can also buy Amazon gift cards at office supply stores and earn 5x points per dollar spent on any of the Chase Ink cards.

Roku 2 / Roku 3
I've mentioned before about how the Roku can save you hundreds of dollars on expensive and unnecessary cable or satellite television plans.  If you're in any debt whatsoever, the fastest way to save $70 or more each month is to simply cut out your cable or satellite television bill. Instead of paying for hundreds of channels you will never watch, consider paying for Netflix at only $7.99 and using Amazon instant video to watch each show or television episode individually.

Both the Roku 2 and 3 can stream over 1,000 channels of movies, TV shows, sports, and more to any HDTV.  Both now include a remote control where you can plug headphones into so that you can enjoy movies late night without disturbing others at home.  Both products deliver 1080p.

The Roku 3 has dual-band wireless, ethernet and USB and also includes a motion-control remote so that you can play games on your television.  Angry Birds Space is included for free.  The Roku 3 also has a 5x faster processor and extended-range wireless.  You can pick up a Roku 3 at Amazon here for less than $100 shipped free.

The Roku 2 is the device that we currently have, and we have not felt the need to upgrade to the Roku 3 yet.  The current Roku 2 now is upgraded with a remote that you can plug headphones into.  You can pick up a Roku 2 at Amazon here for $69 shipped free.

You can read more about the differences between the various Roku boxes from this thorough Engadget review.  Given the lack of features on the Roku 1, I would only consider gifting the Roku 2 or Roku 3.

Subscription to Netflix

If you're purchasing a Roku 2 or 3 for someone, consider adding a paid Netflix subscription.  Netflix subscriptions can be purchased and gifted for as short as 1 month and as long as 1 year for only $7.99 per month.  This is the perfect gift to get your cable and satellite subscribing friends for them to try out streaming television.

Clothing Steamer

If you are spending $75 or more each month on dry cleaning your clothing, now is the time to stop hemorrhaging your bank account. You can pick up this excellent Rowenta steamer for less than $100 and shipped free on Amazon here.   We haven't gone to a dry cleaner in over 2 years.  The clothing steamer basically pays for itself within 2 months and completely eliminates your dry cleaning bill.

Haircutting Kit
I love a good haircut and used to spend $56 a month getting haircuts.  After purchasing this Wahl haircutting kit,  we have been saving over $600 a year on the costs of getting my hair cut by my previous barber.  We've also cut out unnecessary driving to the barber shop.  My wife has become my new favorite barber.   You can find this basic and highly rated haircutting kit on Amazon for $17.99 and eligible for free shipping.

Low Flow Shower Head
We've recently switched to low flow shower heads without regrets and expect our water bill to be reduced shortly.  You can pick up this little money saver here for only $7.99, eligible for free shipping on Amazon. These can make fun little stocking stuffers.

Even after Christmas passes, the above items are still worth purchasing. In my opinion they provide the best values, hold up well, and help keep long-term monthly costs down.

Don't forget what is really important
This holiday season, don't forget what's really important in life: having good health and meaningful relationships with friends and family.  As long as your basic needs are covered, everything else is a superfluous luxury.  And if you have any credit card debt at all, you cannot afford these luxuries for yourself or anyone else.  

What's the best gift you can give your significant other?  The gift of being debt free and financially independent.  

Tonight, we made some hot chocolates in our Keurig machine and went around the corner to check out all of the local Christmas lights.  We took a nice 1 hour stroll to see all the homes decorated with beautiful lights and decorations.  As we sipped on our hot chocolates, we found ourselves perfectly content with everything that we already had.
 Merry Christmas.

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