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Need some ideas for gifts this Christmas? In your quest to find that “perfect gift” for someone, you probably won’t find these in a store or in your online shopping cart, but they should be on everyone’s list nonetheless. I hope these six gifts give you a ton of ideas and most importantly, I hope they will add JOY and SIGNIFICANCE to your Christmas season.

1. The Gift of Simplicity. 

Americans are in the habit of trying to out-PACE, out-SPEND, and out-DO each other. We are in the habit of extravagance. Most of us are over-extended in both time and money. This is why the holidays are often a more stressful time for many families. Maybe it’s time to shift gears this season and practice a simple Christmas.

To know what a ‘simple Christmas’ looks like, I suggest taking your family on a missions trip to Mexico (or any third world country). You will certainly gain a new perspective on ‘needs’ vs. ‘wants’. One year in Mexico, a woman broke down in tears because we gave her a solar-powered light for her home. She had never had “light” at night before! She was ecstatic because they could extend their day by several hours. Most mission-trip experiences will teach some important lessons: 1) a newfound appreciation for the things we HAVE (contentment). 2) You CAN be truly happy/content with LESS.

Remember, we “set the pace” for our children. If we are continually busy, if we are  overly-extravagant gift-givers, they will be too. (Our values are more caught than taught). Sometimes, we are so hurried and hustled, we don’t even enjoy the family events we’re doing in the first place. We are grumpy. We are tired. Instead, take time to relax & savor the season. Enjoy the moments. Soak it up. Create some margin in your calendar and with your finances. Try not to get caught up in trying to ‘outdo’ yourself year after year. Don’t get caught up in ‘comparing’ with other families and their spending habits. This can be overwhelming and exhausting. Here are some questions you can ask yourself on keeping it simple:

  • Will I regret this (purchase, appointment, event) later?
  • Will this deplete or return my energy?
  • Will this stretch/stress my finances?
  • Will this tax my schedule?
  • Is this good timing (or are we forcing it)?
  • Will this create more/less margin for my family?

If we’re not careful, we crowd so much IN, that we unintentionally crowd Jesus OUT. Keep your FOCUS and keep it SIMPLE this Christmas. Fewer gifts. More ‘experiences’. A less-hectic schedule. Remember, to truly capture the “reason for the season”, sometimes ‘less’ is ‘more’. Oh and by the way, this IS NOT A POPULAR practice! Your family and friends will think you’re nuts. But chances are, you’ll get more sleep, more joy and more fulfillment from the holiday season than ever before. (and it won’t take nearly as much time to clean-up afterward). Here are some ideas for a ‘simple Christmas’:

  • Limit the number of gifts you exchange to three per person. (Jesus received three gifts from the Magi)
  • Tell extended family members you will forego exchanging gifts for this season.
  • Limit your decorating to ONE TREE; and only one box of items for the inside, & one box for the outside of your house. (sorry, Clark Griswold–take this season off)
    • Or, ONLY put up a tree and a Nativity set.
      • (read “The Reason for the Season” in this blog for another perspective)
  • Set a boundary for the number of evening commitments you make as a family & stick to it! Learning to say NO takes discipline (you can’t get time back)
  • Whatever your budget was for last Christmas, cut it in HALF!

I recommend the book Simple Christmas for further resources on this subject.

2. The Gift of Generosity.  

Christmas is known as the “season of giving”, but sometimes that gets lost in our consumer-driven culture. Nobody wants to be selfish, but sometimes we need a little help when it comes to thinking of and prioritizing others first. What are some ways you can be generous? What are some ways you can focus more on giving than receiving? How can you instill the core value of giving to your kids? How can you intentionally think “outward” vs “inward”?

Here are some suggestions on adopting generosity this Christmas:

  • Set a standard that you will spend more to bless another family than you do on gifts for your own family. (this may radically change your perspective/priority on spending)
  • As a family, save your change for a year and give it to help someone at Christmas.
  • Give each child a budget & and have them buy a gift for their siblings.
  • Sponsor a family through Angel Tree,
  • Sponsor a child through Compassion International.
  • Start a “pay it forward” chain at a fast food restaurant for lunch or at a Starbucks (pay for the person behind you)
  • Pre-pay for someone’s groceries or go to a store and tell the cashier you will pay for the next person’s entire bill. Go to the layaway department at a toy store and pay for the toys set aside anonymously.
  • Write Christmas cards and deliver them to a Senior Care home.
    • Go Christmas caroling at a Senior Center (pick 2-3 short songs and go room to room–they don’t care if you have a good voice or not)
  • Sponsor a foster family/Group home
  • Ask your church if there is a family you can bless anonymously.
  • Serve at a local food bank or homeless shelter

Every year, we set aside a sum of money and choose a family to ‘bless’. Usually, we give the gifts and/or money to the designated person or family sometime in late November or early December. Then, we set a sealed envelope on our tree and before we open ONE gift on Christmas morning, we will open the envelope and read to our family how we were able to help someone. This is one of the kids’ highlights every Christmas! Last year, we chose to sponsor a child from Compassion International, so we read her biography and wrote letters to her on Christmas morning. Since Christmas truly is the ‘season of giving’, giving the gift of generosity will keep this principal at the forefront of every Christmas.

3. The Gift of Recycling.

For some reason, the art of “re-gifting” gets a “bad rap”. But for families on a budget, this can be a lifesaver. One year when our kids were little, we knew we weren’t going to be able to afford many gifts. So in October, we took some of their toys that were a little ‘worse for wear’ out of their room. Over the next month, we cleaned them, replaced missing/broken parts, put in new batteries and put them all under the tree on Christmas morning. They had so many toys, they didn’t even notice a few were missing! On Christmas morning, they walked into the room amazed and excited to see all their shiny ‘new’ toys under the tree! Here are a few other ways to stretch your dollar this Christmas…

  • Have a garage sale (de-clutter) & use the money to buy gifts
  • Shop for your family gifts at a second-hand store
  • Look for household items you can ‘repurpose’ & re-gift. (Pinterest has tons of ideas)
  • Use your craft skills to ‘make’ all your gifts (nothing beats that personal touch)
  • Sell larger items on OfferUp or trade for items you want.
  • Buy gifts a year in advance (after-Christmas sales) this takes extreme discipline and forethought 
  • Give a hand-made coupon book for services around the house (washing the dishes, folding the laundry, taking out the trash)

4. The Gift of an Experience. 

When you give a gift, the joy is temporary, but giving an “adventure” will last a lifetime. They will tell stories about an “experience” for the rest of their lives. And, you will have given them the most precious gift of all: a memory. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Polar Express
  • North Pole Experience
  • Build a snowman or go sledding
  • Zoo Lights
  • Glendale Glitters
  • Drive around & look at Christmas Lights
  • Go to a Hockey Game
  • Go to a tree farm and pick out/cut your own Christmas tree (this is a big deal for those of us raised in the city)
  • Go to Top Golf or Bowling together
  • Take a ‘road trip’ around town for a holiday themed ‘progressive dinner’
  • Do a family 5k or ‘fun run’
  • Go to Disneyland for Christmas
  • Rent a cabin in the woods and have Christmas ‘away from home’.
  • Grab a group of friends and have a Christmas character costume contest

One year, we rented a limousine with another family and drank hot chocolate, watched the movie “Elf”, and drove around looking at Christmas lights. Our adult kids still talk about that! One year, we took a road trip to see my wife’s family back in KS and got caught in a blizzard. It took us 23 hours of driving, but what an adventure!  The point is to try something out of the ordinary. Unpredictable. Give them a story to tell. Nothing draws a family closer than an experience.

5. The Gift of Presence. 

The best way you can spell “LOVE” to your family is T-I-M-E. This year, give them the gift of complete, uninterrupted, undivided attention. Put away the mobile devices and engage with your family. Enjoy rich conversation. Laugh. ‘Notice’ each other. You may simply call a family member you haven’t spoken to in awhile. Surprise them by just ‘being there’. True happiness requires deep and significant interpersonal connections. That’s a fancy way of saying, just do stuff that intentionally draws you closer together as a family!! Here are some ideas that have worked for us:

  • Complete a puzzle
  • Play a board game
  • Giant Jenga
  • Giant Connect Four
  • Giant Sequence
  • Dominoes
  • Bop it!
  • Corn Hole tournament
  • Play “Rudolph & Friends Scene it”
  • Make Gingerbread houses
  • Bake/decorate cookies
  • Watch your favorite Christmas movies
  • Make/decorate ornaments together
  • Nerf Wars

One silly thing we do every year is our annual…NERF WARS. It started one year because we gave our kids some nerf guns early for Christmas and the idea just took off! This is a hilarious melee of running around and pelting each other with nerf darts from an impressive arsenal of nerf weapons. It’s goofy, but our entire family gets in on the action and we go all out! It promotes fun and togetherness in our house (but we’re a little crazy sometimes). The point is to find something that draws your family together and do it. Give the gift of presence this Christmas.

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6. The Gift of Tradition. 

A “tradition” is the transmission of customs from generation to generation. They are consistent and replicable. They can add tremendous depth and significance to your holidays.  What are your favorite family traditions? What do you remember most about your childhood?  What customs would you like to repeat (or establish) for your family?

  • Christmas Traditions

The ‘ambiance’ we create is part of Christmas tradition around our home. Holiday candles (smell is the strongest scent tied to memory), decorating the house inside and out, baking holiday goodies and Christmas music–all help create the ‘atmosphere’ of Christmas.  The annual family photo, visiting out of town relatives, watching our favorite Christmas movies together, and attending Christmas Eve services at our church, are also on the list every year. Opening one gift on Christmas Eve, singing Happy Birthday to Jesus on Christmas morning are also a few of our favorites. As I grew up, my dad always gave me a ‘kid-gift’. He always wanted us to approach Christmas with the “joy and innocence of a child”. The last three years of his life, he gave me a bluetooth-controlled flying saucer; a remote controlled truck; and virtual reality glasses. I looked forward to his goofy gifts every year (and YES, I played with them!!)

We also try to coach our kids on other popular Christmas traditions and where they come from. We’ve found the book, Why Does Santa Wear Red? to be helpful in our discussions of Santa, why we exchange presents, the origin of the Christmas tree, etc. We love to have fun and embrace the “awe and wonder” of the season in all kinds of ways.

  • Family Traditions

Simply put, a tradition is something you do that creates anticipation. By far, the most significant tradition that creates anticipation for our family each holiday season is ADVENT. The word “advent” literally means to “celebrate the arrival” of Christ’s birth.  This ensures that Christmas isn’t just a one-day celebration, but rather, the entire month of December is counting down the days to the most significant date in history: the birth of our Savior. It is something that we look forward to every year.

We start by making an ‘Advent calendar’ (there are a gazillion ideas out there). Our calendar has little doors for every day in Dec and inside is a piece of paper. On the paper, there is a reference to read from the Bible, a reference to a book about a popular Christmas tradition, and a family activity.  Here are some examples from our family Advent calendars over the years…(there are several similarities from year to year)

Our format is simple: every day before school, we gather 15 minutes for our family ‘huddle’. We rotate who will do the day’s reading. The kids actually get ready for school ON TIME in anticipation of what we’re going to do that evening! Some events are more elaborate. Others involve ‘life events’ that we simply do together (kids sporting events, etc). There are dozens of books on this subject, but these are the ones we have found most helpful in shaping the Advent season in our home over the years:

Advent has been so significant over the years, that our married adult daughters have all talked about starting that tradition with their families. A tradition can be a rallying point for a family. It is part of your legacy. Remember, it doesn’t need to be extravagant, just consistent. The sights, sounds & smells of your house around the holidays…all help create an atmosphere of tradition. It’s something to look forward to again and again, year after year.

 

What’s the GREATEST thing about these GIFTS? They LAST A LIFETIME. I hope these SIX GIFTS are on your list, because I believe they will add JOY and SIGNIFICANCE to your Christmas celebration. I hope this has been helpful, and I hope you have a Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

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TEAMWORK

Posted: August 2, 2013 in Life & Times, Parenting, Uncategorized
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TEAMWORK

How many girls does it take to get the balloon?

This is one of our all-time favorite pics. We happened to walk around the corner and catch our kids in action. Brianna, Autumn and Courtney were 7, 6 & 4 at the time.

Sometimes, life’s greatest lessons come through the smallest moments.

Ingredients of GREAT TEAMS:

1. Sacrifice.  On every great team there must exist players with the willingness to be unselfish. To give the assist vs. the goal. To lay down a bunt to advance the runner. To throw the block to open the hole.

2. Effort. A team is only as strong as it’s weakest link. In fact, great coaches will attack their opponents’ weakest player.  Each player is expected to give 100% effort in the gym, in practice, and on the field.

3. Unity. Working together for a common goal or purpose. Teams must have coordination and cooperation.  They must unite for a SINGLE PURPOSE.

OK…this is a heavy analogy to draw from my daughters trying to get a balloon, but hang with me…

I don’t know about you, but I’m thankful for the “snapshots” that life sometimes brings and the lessons that come from life’s smallest moments.

May we learn from life’s lessons.

We originally posted this picture as a joke, but I’ve had more comments about this pic than ANY family pic we’ve taken. It seems to sum up today’s modern family.  Especially one with TEENS & MEDIA.

Helping teens navigate the media superhighway is difficult.  I’ve heard parents take many approaches.  Some say, “There’s NO WAY my kid is getting a cell phone, facebook page, etc.  There’s too many dangers out there.”  Others are on the other end of the spectrum, getting their kids into the technical revolution with little or no regard to age.  (our 5 year-old son Zeke can already play games on my phone and iPad)  Most of the parents I talk to seem to be OK with a facebook or a smartphone for their teens, but they just debate AT WHICH AGE a kid is ready to handle it.  After all, there are many temptations out there. There are many predators out there. There are all kinds of traps for young people.   What’s the solution?  How can I find a balance?

After 13 years of youth ministry and counseling with teens and parents, my wife and I have come to this realization:  When your child is 13, you only have 5-6 years to “prepare” them for life on their own.  That means 5-6 years to help them manage their own finances (with a debit card, checking & savings account);  drive a car (get gas, deal with maniacs, change a tire, find their way around the Valley); start dating (establishing trusting, healthy boundaries with the opposite sex); and yes, navigate the media superhighway (including: downloading music, using the internet, powering up a smartphone along with all the features and functions).   Overwhelmed yet?  Don’t be!  Have some fun with it.  Parenting is an adventure!

The bottom line is that your teens WILL get online; fire up a friend’s smartphone/iPad; download music, etc.  They will do this WITH YOU or WITHOUT YOU.  As parents, we’ve decided to help them while they’re in our supervision.  We’ve decided to have some fun with it. We’ve decided to help give our kids some godly filters they can practice along the way.

Because of this, here’s how we “coach” our kids to handle their technology:

1.  Facebook:  We allowed our kids to get a facebook page when they turned 13.  What we check: At first, we checked their friends, posts, pictures, status updates, etc.  Yes, we check ALL of them. Then, when trust is established, we back off and check periodically.  We also invite other parents to check on our kids as well.  We know their password and can check at any time.  Actually, we’ve also seen it as a blessing.  Our kids are so good at keeping everything up to date, that we usually know what they’re thinking, where they’re at, and what they’re up to.  (It’s actually helped us get to know what’s really ‘inside’ the mind of our kids. They post random thoughts about everything from music to life in the US.  Stuff that may not even come up in conversation!) There have been times when we have asked our girls to remove a post or picture that we (or someone else) has found misleading or offensive. We use that as a teachable moment to remind them how important it is to consider how OTHERS may interpret something.  Consequences: We reserve the right to suspend their page or remove privileges all together if we feel that our rules or guidelines have not been followed.  Once, we had to terminate their page and set up a new one because of a hacker.  But, to tell you how “good” our kids are…One of my daughters chose to “fast” from Facebook for a year so she could devote herself more fully to God and not have it consume her time.  Amazing.

2. Cell phone:  We first let them get a cell phone at age 11.  (basic phone) But with today’s more-readily accessible technology, they all had “smartphones” [iPhones] by age 13.  Now that EVERYTHING is on our kids’ phones, this is their main lifeline.  This is where they download their music, go on facebook, buy apps, etc.  What we check: Just like facebook, we reserve the right to check ANY of their content on their phones at any time.  We do random checks of all txt messages, patrol their contact lists, music library, etc AT ANY TIME.  Occasionally, we will question them about a song and ask them to remove it, but if they can demonstrate a godly filter, we let quite a bit slide.  There have been times we’ve had to step in and PROTECT our kids from others and from themselves.  (Once I had to ask a stranger to STOP CALLING my daughter. She had given her number to a friend who’d passed it on to someone else. It was bothering her AND me. We turned it into a teachable moment to remind our kids to use caution when handing out your number to others and to remind their friends NOT to give out their number without permission. Another time, I asked another student to stop calling so late [after 9 on a school night] & explained what our rules were)  Other boundaries: Currently, we do NOT allow cell phone usage during dinner, after 9pm on weeknights/11pm weekends, or during any ‘family experience’ (outings or movies, etc.).    Consequences: We also allow our kids to manage their own ‘account’, but they’re still attached to our family plan.  For example, if they go over on their media usage, the penalty will come out of their allowance.  They’ve only made that mistake ONCE. This creates responsibility.  We have found that even the THREAT of taking their phone for a week is the biggest punishment they can endure. (it’s like the “old school days” of getting GROUNDED because it shuts them out from their world)  It makes for a great motivator!

3. The “matching” plan. For awhile, we had our kids spend as much time IN THE BIBLE as they did IN THE MEDIA.  We never had to worry about how much time they were spending on their phone this way. If they spent an hour on their phone, they spent an hour reading the Bible.  “But dad, my Bible is on my phone”, they’d say.  “Good point. Try the one that has pages you can turn”, I’d counter.  Ha! Can’t pull one over on me!

The key to remember is that EVERY family is different. Just find something you can manage and something that can work with you.  And most importantly, ALWAYS remember the formula for success with any household RULE:

RULES – RELATIONSHIP = Rebellion and Resentment

RULES + RELATIONSHIP = Reverence and Respect

The stronger your relationship is with your kids, the more fun you’ll have and the easier it will be.  The stronger your relationship, the more respect they’ll have for the freedoms you give and the way you coach them through life.

Good luck!

The Family Meal

Posted: January 17, 2012 in Parenting
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Eating together as a family is a rarity.

As a parent of teens,  all our kids are into cell phones, facebook, sports, friends, school clubs, and our youth ministry. For them, it seems like there’s always homework to complete, something to do, someplace to go, someone to see, something to post, etc.  My parents tried to “protect & prioritize” our family time by having dinner together during the week.  My wife and I have continued that tradition as best we can.

Here are some of the things we’ve noticed as a result:

1. Helps us communicate face to face.  Our kids have mastered communicating through the technical revolution with cell phones, blogging and facebook, but unless we MAKE them–they’re losing the art of simply TALKING with each other. This forces us into the great, lost art of the face -to-face conversation.  So much of communicating is through tone-of-voice & body language.

2. We get to share in each other’s journey, joys, and sorrows.  It’s great to hear how EVERYBODY is doing.  What we’ve noticed is that sometimes, mom & dad will really be wrestling with something, but the kids aren’t up to speed on it.  Another time, two of our girls had really been talking about something they were having a hard time dealing with at school and the rest of us were in the dark.

3. Helps us make ‘big decisions’ together.  Sometimes, after dinner we’ll huddle up for a “family meeting”.  Recently, some of our family discussions have centered around whether or not to “foster-to-adopt”, to move back to Surprise, and more!  Like I said, these are major decisions and it’s great to sort through these together. Our goal is to have complete unity as a family.

4.  Keeps us “on purpose”.  We use this as a centerpiece of our day.  We all know that no matter what our day looks like, we can come home and get “caught up” during dinner, then disperse for homework or evening plans. It’s a great “break” after a long day of meetings, classwork, going to practice, etc.  Helps us recharge and refocus for the rest of the evening.

5. Creates “team” atmosphere.  We’ve started to have some fun with HOW we gather.  We usually make a menu and all of us take turns preparing dinner.  We tag-team the set-up and clean-up as well.  It gets all of us involved and working together.

6. Helps us to make priority for each other.  We make it a point to turn OFF our cell phones and TV during our family meal.  Previously, the TV would be on and we’d end up watching it or hearing it from the other room.  We try to show our kids that during this time, family comes first!

7. Great opportunity to pray together. We noticed that we seldom gather for a ‘family prayer’, and this helps keep that a priority. We try not to just pray for the meal, but we gather to pray for each other as well.  It really helps us to ‘mix up’ our meal time prayer and not just pray the same thing over and over.  It gets us all sharing and harnessing God’s power for each other.  Powerful!

The early church enjoyed this type of experience as well:

Acts 2:42-47 (NIV) 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Maybe they realized the value of community.  Maybe they enjoyed the experience of meeting & eating together.  Maybe they enjoyed seeing God work through their church family in a powerful way.  I hope God works through our family, too.

Obviously, we can’t do this EVERY night.  Our goal is 3-5 dinners together per week.  I hope our kids look forward to this as much as Christy and I do. I hope they continue this tradition.  I hope they prioritize talking and meeting together as a family.

What’s for dinner?

Helping children understand finances.

 My wife and I have 4 kids ages 16,15,13, 5.  Like most families, we give our children an allowance. We give them a small amount of money on a regular basis that they manage using the “10-10-80” principle:  tithing 10%; saving 10%; and spending the 80%.  Recently, we’ve noticed that even though we’ve been diligent at helping them establish a Godly priority for their finances, we’ve never given them a healthy strategy to help them manage their spending.  Let’s face it…you can 10-10-80 yourself to debt if you’re still not disciplined in how you spend the 80%. Here are some of the things we’ve done throughout the years that have had positive results:

Allowance $.  We make sure to pay them the same amount every 2 weeks. This gets them in the habit of knowing their ‘rate of pay’, so they can begin saving for specific items and budgeting. However, we have also made it known that their allowance is NOT based only on their chores. Many of their chores are things they’re just expected to do around the house. Sometimes, we’ll even give them extra money for doing ‘extra’ things. But we didn’t want money to be the only motivating factor for doing stuff.

Eating out.  Give each child a set amount ($5) and tell them they can spend it however they want.  If they want fries, burger and a soda, that’s OK, but they may want to buy an ice cream instead of the soda. Giving them cash will help them learn how to shop on a budget and help them prioritize how they want to spend it.  Once, my daughter asked, “Dad, do we have to go out? I’d rather save this for something else”.  Hmmm…I think she’s getting it.

Clothes Shopping.  The typical kid wants it all (shoes, shirts, jeans, a watch or jewelry, toys, etc.) Normally, we just go and buy them the stuff. But the key is to involve them and give them ownership. So, if your kid needs clothes…First, tell them how much money they have to start with…let’s say $50. Next, pick a shopping day and have them watch for sales so they can plan out where they can go to get the stuff. The point is to get them to work within their means and make their money stretch as far as it can. Maybe they skip the bracelet to buy a belt. Or, they pass on the name-brand jeans to get 2 pairs of jeans somewhere else.

Family Trips.  When going to the movies, zoo, theme park, etc., as a family…again, start with a specific amount of money.  Decide as a family how the money will be spent and remember, when it’s gone, it’s gone.

Eliminate gift cards.  The danger with gift cards is that kids never see any money changing hands.  When they’re young, kids need to begin by understanding the basics of money and the importance of “when it’s gone, it’s gone”.  If they grow up with the mindset of “wave this plastic card at the cashier and get stuff” mentality, they’ll be in trouble and in debt for the rest of their life.

As kids grow older, pre-paid Visa cards may be a good next step, so they can start to learn the principle of using ‘plastic’ as a money-in/money-out discipline.

Results.  We’ve seen all kinds of results:  They are saving more. They are wiser with their spending. We make it a habit of telling them “we can’t afford that right now”. And, they don’t complain when we say “no, we’re eating at home because it’s cheaper.” It’s also a great motivator for us, too. The other day, my daughter asked, “Dad, can we go to Disneyland when we get out of debt?” Gulp–That sure makes me want to get out of debt sooner. Oh, by the way, on her suggestion–our family started saving for the Disneyland trip that day…together!