"Cratchit, take your Christmas grab bag and be gone. Out, I tell you, or you'll be seeking new employment!" That scene wasn't included in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" but I can easily picture crotchety old Scrooge taking Bob Cratchit to task for attempting to include him in an office holiday gift exchange. Scrooge certainly is the symbol of someone who doesn't like Christmas.

But, if you think about it, many of us harbor Scrooge-like feelings today. We really don't want to participate in yet one more gift exchange. We're out of both time and money.

The sad fact is that for many of us, Christmas shopping has become largely an obligation. We buy presents because it's expected. Take a look at your list. How many gifts are you buying because you really want to bless the person receiving it? And how many fall into the "I gotta" category?

Part of the problem for all of us is that most of the people that we buy for already enjoy material wealth. They truly "don't need anything". In fact, your present creates a problem for them.

Yes, I know that some think only a real Scrooge would take people off of their gift list. But, I'd disagree. Many of the gifts that you will give this season will actually hurt the person you give them to.

Here's how. They really don't need whatever you bought. It's just one more item to take up closet, cabinet or attic space. You've put them one step closer to needing a bigger house (with a bigger mortgage payment). You'll consume their time and money without adding any enjoyment to their lives.

And, you'll diminish your own life, too. Whether you consider this time of year to be an important part of your faith or just a time of goodwill, rushing from store to store will take your mind from the real meaning of the season. You will be focused on things. Not on the relationships that are important to your life. So I'd argue that it's really in the spirit of the season to reduce the number of people on your gift list.

In fact, you'd be doing friends a favor by not exchanging gifts. You'd both save the time spent buying and wrapping the gift. If you truly value that person, it's much better to get together for lunch or dinner and catch up on what's happening in your lives.

OK, in some cases it's not practical to drop people from your list. So how can you make the best of gift shopping?

Before you go shopping, consider why you're buying each present. Decide which people on your list are really important. You have a limited amount of time and money. Spend them on the people who are truly important in your life.

Everyone else should be handled without a big fuss. It's not that we don't like the people in our office gift exchange. It's just that six months from now they won't remember what you bought them.

An office party is a great place for a gag gift. Thrift stores can provide an assortment of items that can be used for funny gifts. Stuffed animals, clothing, coffee mugs and toys are fertile ground for the imagination. Is the recipient a stickler for time? An old alarm clock could be good. One where the hands have been removed is even better.

Many of us have far away relatives and friends. Unless you're particularly close, you might as well admit that you really don't know what they already have or what they need. So no matter what you get there's a good chance that it will need to be returned. Rather than combing the malls hoping that the perfect item will jump into your arms, why not consider a gift certificate from a national chain of stores. Or, better still, agree to a dollar amount that you will each spend on your own family. Do your buying after Christmas and send the 'giver' a photo of the gift that 'they bought'.

For local friends and relatives, think about where your lives intersect. That's the place to begin looking for a present. If you find that your lives have drifted apart, it's better to spend time catching up instead of shopping.

Then there's those very special people on your list. Your spouse, children and others who you truly want to make happy with a gift. Remember that it's not how much you spend. While it's nice to find a thoughtful gift for that special someone, what they really want is you. The people that are most important in your life want your time and attention. They want your happiness. Don't disappoint them by picking something that's expensive but impersonal.

Finally, please understand that this isn't meant to imply that you shouldn't give to those who need help. Not everyone in our world is blessed with the abundance that so many of us have. And the less fortunate would can use your gift. If you can afford to, please participate in Angel Tree, the Salvation Army kettles or other programs to help those who struggle. If you're really in the holiday spirit you'll feel much better giving that new sweater to a poor child rather than your Aunt Edna.

Nor is this meant to imply that you should ignore the holidays. This is a wonderful time of year. My hope is that you'd make the most of your resources and bring happiness to the people who matter in your life.

Here's to a wonderful holiday for everyone. Hopefully your holiday will be filled with joy and wonder. by Gary Foreman

Quick Mortgage Tips for Home Loans, Equity Loans, Reverse Loans, Cash-Out Loans and Refinance Loans

If you're considering a mortgage loan, you might be wondering what options are available. Today, there are many options besides the conventional methods of obtaining a mortgage. Whether you're applying for a home loan for a new home, a refinance loan, an equity loan, a HELOC, or a reverse loan, you should be aware of what each loan entails. Buying a New Home When buying a new home, you'll need to be approved for a new home loan through a lender, or ask the seller to finance the home for you. Before applying at a lending institution, research your options. Determine how much "house" you can afford. Use online mortgage payment calculators to figure what the payments would be for different home loan amounts. Then, you'll know what price range you can shop within, and whether or not you can afford the payments. Remember, your income/debt ratio must fit within the lender's guidelines to qualify for a conventional loan. Healthy and "Not-so-healthy" Credit Scores If you have an excellent credit score, then your income/debt ratio along with the investment capital you have available will be the main factors in determining home loan availability. However, if there are flaws in your credit history due to non-payment or repossession, you will be limited in the type of home loan you can obtain. But don't lose heart. Many homebuyers whose credit is "not-so-great" do qualify for non-prime loans. Non-prime loans can be a bit higher-priced than prime loans or have higher interest, but you might still be able to buy your dream home! Creative Financing Don't settle for conventional loans if you don't have to.
There are many creative ways to finance a new home loan. If you do not have the needed investment capital or a down payment, some lenders will finance the down payment for you as well as the closing costs. If not, the seller might be willing to finance part of the loan to cover these costs. This can work even if the seller doesn't have extra "money to lend!" Explain to the seller that it could be advantageous to him because of income taxes. He might much rather claim an income of $100,000 than $120,000! Spreading out payments for $20,000 of the loan amount over a period of five or ten years could make a huge difference on his taxes due for that year. Consult with an accountant to find out if this could work in your situation. Unusual Types of Home Loans If you're worried about budgeting with a new home loan payment each month, try a FlexPay loan where several monthly payment options are available to you every month. These options include interest only payments, full-amortized payments, and minimum payments. There are also bi-weekly mortgages for paying more toward your premium each year through a bi-weekly payment schedule. Hard Money loans are also available when there is a large amount of equity built up in a home. The loan approval is based more on the home or property's value than the borrower's credit history or job/salary history. Refinance Loans If you plan to refinance your home, there are several options. A refinance means you are re-evaluating the terms, payments and interest of your loan. You might refinance to simply get the interest rate or payment lowered. Or, you might want to keep a little cash out for yourself as well. This is called "Cash-out" refinancing. Cash-out loans are made when you want to refinance your home for more than is owed on it. For instance, you owe $60,000, but want to refinance for $80,000. You'll pocket the additional $20,000 to use for home repairs, remodeling or whatever else! Reverse loans are available for those over 62 years of age who own their home free and clear or have much equity built into it. They can receive a monthly payment, a lump sum or a line of credit. This does not have to be repaid until the borrower moves or passes away. Then, the estate can be sold to pay the note. Another option for leveraging your home equity is to create a HELOC (home equity line of credit) that is secured by the equity in your home. HELOCs can be used to pay debts, make purchases, or anything else. Be aware, however, that the interest rate can fluctuate monthly. Now that you are armed with many options for obtaining a home loan or refinancing your mortgage, check with an online lender to find out what plan will work best for you. Use the available tools and calculators to do some budgeting on your own as well. You'll be moving in that new dream home in no time!


Homemade Soap Products - The Benefits of Using Natural Ingredients

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Report this article if you suspect it is not original content, is in violation of our Editorial Guidelines or our Author's Terms of Service.You can make your own lye soap at home; it’s not hard to do! All you have to do is combine fat with some sort of caustic agent, using water as your catalyst, and you have soap. ‘Saponification’ is the technical name for the chemical process between lye and fat.
And you won’t need anything exotic to make your own soap; most of the ingredients you need may be as close as your grocery store. What will you need? For a basic soap, you only need water, lye, and some kind of fat and oil. For a more luxurious soap, you might want to add coloring dyes and scented fragrance oils.
You probably have water as close as your kitchen tap; some people prefer to use rainwater or distilled water in their soap. And what’s lye, anyhow? It’s chemical name is sodium hydroxide; it’s a very strong base, so when you handle it. Make sure that you read the directions on the package of lye carefully, and following them scrupulously.

The first step is to dissolve the lye. Never pour the water into the lye; instead, pour the lye into the water. If half the water is ice, that’s even better. Stir; as you stir, watch for the reaction. The lye can even boil the water; if this happens, stop stirring until the bubbling stops, and let the lye water cool down to room temperature.
So what about the oil? Just about any fat or oil can make soap, from plant oils to animal fats. Coconut oils will give a rich lather. Olive oil will yield fine, silky bubbles. If you use animal fat, make sure it’ is clean, not rancid, has no salt, and is free of solid particles. You’ll find tallow or lard will give you a denser soap.
When you batch starts to thicken, that’s the time to add coloring and perfume oils. Pour the ‘traced’ soap into shape molds, and let it harden. It will have to ‘cure’ for one to three days, and then dry a bit longer before you can enjoy it.
Homemade, natural and specialty soaps are perfect truths for bath and body treatments. So if you are looking for a way to relieve your tension, forget about your bad day and just feel good, well treat yourself with some homemade soap products. They’ll make your skin soft improve any skin conditions you have and help you connect with yourself.
For more on homemade natural soap making as well as candle making and other do-it-yourself crafts visit the soap making resources center at Pure and Natural Soaps where you'll find articles, recipes, instructions, ideas and tips. To discuss these and other craft projects visit the Soap Making Forum - a community message board for soap and candle making as well as other crafts and do-it-yourself projects. Discuss techniques, share ideas, learn new methods, post your favorite recipes and meet new friends.


Your Mortgage Broker is a Used Car Salesman and a Scoundrel

Think you know an honest Mortgage Broker? Think again! The nature of the retail mortgage industry is simply to take advantage of you. How do mortgage brokers hustle you into paying more? Most homeowners never even see it coming. Here’s how your mortgage broker is ripping you off and how you can avoid it.

Mortgage Brokers are nothing more than retail vendors reselling loans for wholesale mortgage lenders. Like any other retailer on the planet, your mortgage broker wants you to pay as high a premium as possible for your new mortgage loan. You’re already paying the Mortgage Broker origination fees for this loan. The origination fees you pay are typically 1-1.5% of the loan balance and are more than ample compensation for any Mortgage Broker; however, just like any used car salesman, greed slithers into the equation.

Your Mortgage Broker receives a bonus from the wholesale lender for overcharging you. It’s true; they even have a fancy term for it. This markup is called Yield Spread Premium, and here’s how it works. When you apply for a mortgage loan using a Mortgage Broker, the wholesale lender will evaluate your application and qualifies you for a specific interest rate. The wholesale lender provides your Mortgage Broker with a written guarantee of that interest rate. Now that your broker knows the interest rate you’ve qualified for, the hustle begins.

Just like a used car salesman sizing you up to overcharge you for an automobile, your mortgage broker sizes you up based on how knowledgeable or clueless they think you are. The Mortgage Broker writes you a separate interest rate guarantee on fancy company letterhead and starts a flea market pitch about what a great deal you’re getting. Think the interest rate the wholesale lender qualified you and the one your Mortgage Broker pitched you are the same? If you said “No,” give yourself a gold star!

Based on how much the Mortgage Broker thinks you will overpay, that person marked up your interest rate. Mortgage Brokers do this because the wholesale lender pays them a commission for overcharging you. Suppose the wholesale lender qualified you for a 6.0% fixed interest rate mortgage of $225,000. The broker pitched you 6.75%, and you agreed to the loan. Your mortgage broker overcharged you .75% on the interest rate; what’s .75% between friends you ask? This .75% amounts to your paying thousands of dollars in unnecessary interest, and that’s just in the early years of the loan.

What you don’t know is that the wholesale lender rewards your mortgage broker for hustling you on your new mortgage. For every .25% the Mortgage Broker overcharges you, the wholesale lender rewards them with a bonus of one point, or 1% of your loan amount. In the example above the broker overcharged you .75% on your interest rate and receives three points, or 3% of your $225,000. For ripping you off that Mortgage Broker receives $6,750 as a bonus from the lender! Still think Mortgage Brokers have a noble profession? The bad news for homeowners is that mortgage companies and banks do the same thing to their borrowers.

Because the Mortgage Broker already receives the origination fee for your new mortgage, Yield Spread Premium effectively doubles your costs for mortgage refinancing. Want to know how you can avoid paying double when mortgage refinancing? Homeowners that learn to recognize Yield Spread Premium markup in their mortgage loans can avoid paying it. To learn more about mortgage refinancing without overpaying including common homeowner mistakes to avoid, register for a free mortgage guidebook.

To get your free mortgage guidebook visit RefiAdvisor.com using the link below.

Louie Latour specializes in showing homeowners how to avoid costly mortgage mistakes and predatory lenders. For a free copy of "Mortgage Refinancing - What You Need to Know," which teaches strategies to find the best mortgage and save thousands of dollars in the process, visit Refiadvisor.com.