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10 financial tips to help make the world a better place

Today's guest blogger is Casey Slide, who writes about lifestyle topics on Money Crashers and is particularly passionate about personal finance. Here, she offers her thoughts on what can be accomplished simply by focusing on financial stewardship.

Check out her ideas, and watch the video above to find out how far your donated dollar goes at World Vision.

What you've taught us in the first year

One year ago this week, the World Vision Blog was officially launched -- and with it came a new way to share stories and reflections of our global work, while creating a forum for conversations with you, the supporters who make it all possible.

Got an iPhone? Find World Vision!

iPhone users can now stay in touch with World Vision and keep up to date with humanitarian issues and emergency response news through World Vision Now, our new iPhone app!

It's easy to find -- just search for "World Vision Now" in the App Store on your iPhone, and look for our orange icon.

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions.

Answers from aid workers about Haiti

Today is the two-year anniversary of the massive earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, leaving the nation in ruins and triggering an international relief response. In the time since, aid workers and relief organizations have experienced an unprecedented level of scrutiny surrounding the response: What is really happening there? Are donations going to good use? Is there hope?

To gain some insight into these matters, we hosted an open mic for questions about Haiti this past week. Your submissions have been collected for responses from World Vision aid workers who have been focused on the relief efforts in Haiti -- Jeff Wright and Liz Ranade-Janis. Jeff and Liz were deployed to Haiti following the 2010 quake to coordinate and oversee World Vision relief programs there. Their extensive experience and expertise makes them a valuable resource in our understanding of humanitarian and emergency affairs.

Do you let the media influence you?

On a recent Friday afternoon, I happily engaged in my favorite nerdy end-of-week work habit, the kind only indulged on a slow week in the world of disaster relief: catching up on the week’s news in disasters while listening to talk radio.

While perusing various news sites, I happened to catch an interesting interview with Nobel laureate and psychologist Daniel Kahneman, whose renowned work focuses primarily on behavioral economics, which is more or less the study of why we do the crazy things we do. During this very interesting discussion on cognition and biases, the subject of the media briefly arose, in the context of how we decide what issues are important to us. Kahneman noted that we “tend to judge the importance of issues by how frequently they are mentioned.”

Perhaps your immediate reaction is to say, well, that seems obvious enough. It probably feels somewhat intuitive that most of us conflate the importance of a certain topic -- such as the national debt or the release of Apple's iPhone 4S -- with the amount of time we hear or see the subject filtered through any of our media lenses, be it national television, social media, print news, radio, etc. The very existence of the word “trending” makes one feel like we’ll probably never escape the Kardashians.

Ask an aid worker about Haiti

There are few disaster response efforts that have received the level of public scrutiny that has been focused on the international response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake. As a result of the earthquake relief response in Haiti, it's likely that most Americans have formed their own opinions about humanitarian aid. Questions like these and their answers (or lack of answers) influence our understanding and opinion of aid work:

Did my donation really help? Why hasn't anything been accomplished there? I watched one news channel that looks like everything is progressing quite well, and another that shows everything is in complete disarray. What's the truth? What's really happening? Two years seems like enough time to make some progress. Is the aid effort failing? Are dollars being wasted? Or is everything much better off than the news is telling us?

Most of us don't get to meet real humanitarian workers in the course of our everyday lives, so we don't have the opportunity to ask questions like this to front-line professionals. Therefore, consider this post your "open mic" chance.

Continuing with our expert interview series, in which you have the opportunity to ask your questions to aid professionals, I'd like to introduce you to Jeff Wright and Elizabeth (Liz) Ranade-Janis, aid workers on World Vision's humanitarian and emergency affairs team. Ask an aid worker about Haiti | World Vision blogJeff and Liz were both deployed to Haiti following the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck on January 12, 2010 -- two years ago next week -- to work alongside World Vision field staff to help implement the initial stages of our relief programs, including shelter, economic recovery, child protection, healthcare, cholera prevention, water, sanitation, and hygiene.

5 tips for choosing your charity for your year-end giving

We've all heard the advice: Get your charitable donations in before the clock strikes midnight on December 31 -- or say goodbye to potential tax breaks. But how to make sure you're choosing the best charity in the first place? Here are 5 tips for making the most of your charitable dollars before we ring in the new year.

Happy birthday, Jesus | Blog 12 of the 12 blogs of Christmas

I love to give gifts.

Love. LOve. LOVe. LOVE to give gifts.

It started as a little girl when I would go shopping at the Dollar Store for my family for Christmas.

Then, when I got my first job, I began shopping year-round, seeking the best deals and the perfect gifts for everyone on my list.

15 years later, I still shop year-round. I usually finish shopping in early November and want to start wrapping right away.

I am THAT excited to give the gifts I have purchased.

Sharing joy...a little bit more | Blog 11 of the 12 blogs of Christmas

My favorite part of the classic holiday storybook "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" is near the very end when the Grinch is baffled by the Who's singing after he has stolen their presents and roast beast.

And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before.
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store."
"Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more!"

Every year at Christmas I wrestle with a more mentality. As a naturally selfish human being I always want more.

Extravagant gifts | Blog 10 of the 12 blogs of Christmas

I’m always a little bit hesitant to talk love languages, because I have the most selfish-sounding of them all. Because my primary love language is gifts. Which basically boils down to, “If you want to show me that you love me, give me stuff.” It’s kind of embarrassing.

Of course, it means that Christmas has a special place in my heart. Sure, there’s the peppermint mocha coffee goo that I put in my morning joe, the plates of Christmas cookies that are passed around at family gatherings, the unending stream of Christmas music in my car, the rehearsals for church services. These are all wonderful parts of the Christmas experience, and I look forward to them every year.

Occupy Advent | Blog 9 of the 12 blogs of Christmas

It’s the day after Thanksgiving, and the holiday season gift-buying is in full swing. Black Friday specials have the shoppers out in droves. Downtown Portland is a sea of moving people with packages, shopping lists, and agendas. Me, I’m armed with my Nikon camera, hoping to capture some artistic street photos.

I stand on a street corner for a half hour or so, just getting a feel for the people walking from store to store. I notice that some of the downtown citizens remain outside the retail giants’ doors. There is an older gentleman attempting to hand out copies of his religion’s periodical. There are street performers and musicians demonstrating their talents in hopes that the holiday revelers would donate a bill or two in the spirit of the season. The young man standing next to me has a stack of pirated CD’s and is trying to get a passerby to listen to his iPod long enough to decide to buy a track or two.

Then, there are the homeless. Like in every city, they have cardboard signs about their most immediate needs. When I spotted Cecil, I immediately liked his face. I semi-hid behind one of the large pillars in front of a department store so I could raise my camera without drawing too much attention. It didn’t work. Cecil looked directly at me as I released the shutter.

Less of more and more of Jesus | Blog 8 of the 12 blogs of Christmas

Back before the days of flip cameras and high-definition video cameras, my parents recorded some of our early Christmases on tape. Well, I don’t even know what they used to record it, but they made a cassette tape for me with the recorded memories. Yes. I am old.

Anyway, on one particular Christmas, my parents had gotten 2-year-old me what they assumed would be the hit of the year -- my very own play kitchen. The tape documents me coming down the stairs Christmas morning and discovering all the gifts Santa had left behind.

The real Christmas story | Blog 7 of the 12 blogs of Christmas

I grew up in a Christian family, where I understood the true meaning of Christmas from a very young age. I heard the Christmas story so many times, I became almost numb to it. The Wisemen, shepherds, angels, and stable animals were all supporting actors in a play that I had seen too many times, and, at times, felt I couldn't sit through again. After all, there were presents waiting to be unwrapped and hot cocoa waiting to be sipped.

I am thankful my parents didn't indulge my childish impatience, and that they consistently took time to explore the spirit behind Christmas with my siblings and me. It's more than just a season that happens every year and brings sweets and gifts. The first Christmas was an earth-altering, destiny-changing day. Those there to witness it must have been in awe of what was happening.

This year, my family is looking more closely at the Nativity story (found in Luke 2 and Matthew 2). We want to explore what it must have been like to be the various people inside that story. What did each of them think and feel? Did they know that they were witnessing the most important historical event that would ever take place?

Compassion | Blog 6 of the 12 blogs of Christmas

For years, I never understood Christmas. Admittedly, I was a bit of a Scrooge. It just seemed like the whole thing was a farce.

Every made-for-TV movie I watched between Thanksgiving and New Year’s preached the same gospel: “It’s not about presents.” But then, every Christmas morning, I was inundated with presents. It didn’t make sense. Someone was lying.

Everything you want?

My parents, and probably yours, would conclude every December 25th with the same nervous question: “So… did you get everything you wanted?”

Are you kidding me? Everything I wanted? Is this what we want to teach our children about life? That you can get everything you want?

The gift of subversion | Blog 5 of the 12 blogs of Christmas

I have a friend who likes Thursdays more than Fridays. He also is a bigger fan of Christmas Eve than he is Christmas Day. Kinda weird, right? But his reasoning is that the anticipation of good things is usually better than the realization of that goodness. But it actually makes strange sense when you think about it.

I remember more than one birthday or Christmas morning when I’d get this lingering sense of depression when I realized that all of the excitement of waiting was over. While my cousins and friends tended to be package rippers, I drew it out as long as possible, hoping in a way that the good feelings would go on indefinitely.

Giving back | Blog 4 of the 12 blogs of Christmas

For me, the true spirit of Christmas is about taking the time and space to reflect on God’s love for us – a love so great that He would come to live among us. Emmanuel . . . GOD WITH US. It’s a profound and comforting notion.

This Christmas, we will be reflecting on the blessings God has given us. It’s impossible not to consider our journey, as Christmases past were such difficult markers of the long wait to complete our son’s adoption. And yet, in those times, God was still with us.

We anticipate a joyous Christmas this year. Our family is complete, our lives are full of blessings. Still, the memory of difficult holidays is fresh.

What I don't want for Christmas | Blog 3 of the 12 blogs of Christmas

In today's world, Twitter, Skype, and email have become the most common means of communication. So an old-fashioned handwritten note is particularly endearing. When I received Joy's submission for our 12 blogs of Christmas project, I was pleasantly surprised that it was crafted on a yellow note pad, in neat cursive, purposefully handwritten. And, as I would expect from Joy, straight from her heart. -Lindsey Talerico-Hedren, managing editor for the WV blog

What only God can do | Blog 2 of the 12 blogs of Christmas

Years of being blessed with a low checking account balance forced me to rethink my approach to Christmas. Those were not easy years as I tried to tell myself that Christmas isn’t all about the presents, while fearing that my family would consider me cheap or inconsiderate.

A budget gift is a budget gift.

In a happy case of irony, my focus on gift-giving led me back to a better conception of Christmas.

If art thrives on limitation, gift-giving followed suit. If I only had $10 to spend on each person, I had to ask very different questions for gift-giving, the most important being: “What would this person never buy for himself/herself?”

This led to a series of time-consuming projects, such as homemade applesauce, unique jams, hot sauce, and framed photographs. Everything was tailored to the specific needs of each person, and in most cases, kept us within our budget.

[caption id="attachment_10609" align="alignright" width="270" caption="Ed's homemade applesauce."]What only God can do | World Vision Blog[/caption]

True Christmas spirit | Blog 1 of the 12 blogs of Christmas

Starting today, World Vision bloggers are linking up to spread the true spirit of Christmas. Our 12 blogs of Christmas represent the creativity, love, joy, hope, memories, and family holiday traditions that keep us connected to the true reason for the season.