Mary Hunt: Finding a Christmas compromise
DEAR MARY: Every year, my husband and I spend most of the holiday season arguing over how much to spend on the kids. My husband makes good money, so I see no problem with splurging on our three girls. However, he thinks they should be given one nice gift so they'll appreciate it more.
In the past, I've smiled while watching their faces light up on Christmas morning, while my husband sits there shaking his head in disgust. I don't want to spend another holiday arguing. What can we do? — Julie, Texas
DEAR JULIE: When our boys were young, I was driven, like you, to turn Christmas into an extravaganza with mountains of gifts. And my husband, like yours, was less than enthusiastic. I wanted more than anything to create magical childhood memories that last a lifetime. Sadly, my efforts backfired. More was never enough, and none of us were truly satisfied.
Thankfully, before I completely ruined them, I learned that while kids may ask for designer clothes and the latest in electronic gadgets and toys, this is what they really want for Christmas:
1. A relaxed and loving time with the family.
2. Realistic expectations about gifts.
3. An evenly paced holiday season.
4. Reliable family traditions.
This year, try something new. Limit your kids' Wish Lists to two or three items. Then spend time with them doing things that will become family traditions. Teach them the joy of giving to others and seeing beyond their material desires.
Our boys are now grown, and when asked about their best Christmas memories, they'll tell you about the fun times and family get-togethers long before they remember the gifts!
After I made my U-turn on the road to financial devastation, I changed my attitude about the holidays.
My goal became Christmas with no debt, less stress and more joy. I even wrote a book about it, "Debt-Proof Your Christmas: Celebrating the Holidays Without Breaking the Bank." Be on the lookout, because I'm sending a copy your way.
DEAR MARY: Last summer, I got a $3,000 bonus that my brother helped me invest in a couple of mutual finds. When my quarterly statements come in the mail, I'm totally confused by the pie charts and graphs and tend to toss them out. My brother says it's really important to track my investments. Is there an easier way to do this? — Erin, Florida
DEAR ERIN: The idea behind a mutual fund is simple: Lots of small investors pool their money and hire a professional to invest and manage the fund. Reports can be confusing because you're seeing details of everything your fund owns. The one number you need to keep your eye on is the net asset value (NAV) — the value of the fund's assets on a specific date, minus liabilities, divided by the number of shares held by fund members. Compare the NAV each quarter with previous statements to see how the fund is doing. In the meantime start following investing related websites like Kiplinger.com and SmartMoney.com.