Friday, December 8, 2006

Scrooge or Splurge?


 Today is Christmas preparation day.  I have a gajillion papers to grade by Monday, but today, December 8, belongs to old Saint Nick.  Addie's at school, so Nolie will be helping me to address a bunch of xmas cards (look for yours in the mail soon) and to finalize shopping plans.

The thing is, I'm in a simplifyin' kind of mood.  Maybe it's the fact that we're planning on trying to get out of this trash heap some time this spring, so I've been randomly packing up some clutter, and taking things to Goodwill.  Maybe it's that, like tons of other folks out there, I'm tired of going into thousands of dollars worth of debt every season (part of which is the small fortune we spend on plane tickets), which we barely get paid off before the next Christmas rolls around.  Maybe I'm just feeling oppressed by stuff and delighted by non-stuff-type things, like being around my kids, or writing on this blog, or doing yoga.  I don't know, really.

On a couple of my favorite blogs, like The Simple Dollar and Get Rich Slowly and Parenthacks, folks have been posting good articles on how to decrease mindless spending and increase meaningful creating and sharing.  Some of the tips are obvious, but maybe a little hard to implement, such as encouraging your family to draw names, deciding to make all of your gifts, having a giftless Christmas, or making donations in someone's name instead of giving them a "gift-gift." 

We did this with my mom's side of the family.  All of us drew names for stockings we would fill.  This makes me happy--it will be nice to focus on small gifts that will surprise and delight and that hopefully won't cost too much to be opened.  Still, I know my mom is going to get lots of unstocking gifts, especially for the kids, so it's hard not to feel that we need to have extra gifts, too.  I can hear her, now, though--she really doesn't want us to spend our money on her, so maybe we'll have to try to heed that voice.

My dad's side of the family is trickier.  Because we fly home for Christmas, it's difficult to take a bunch of huge presents with us.  We can ship things, of course.  But because we live far from our family and don't see them often, it's also hard to know what to get them.  What do they already have?  What do they need?  So we usually end up getting gift certificates, and they often get them for us.  Somehow, though, we're in a gift certificate competition now, where the amounts increase every year, certainly beyond what everyone can afford.  But who will be the first to back down, and give a more reasonable amount?  Hard to say.

And the gift certificates make my stepmom roll her eyes (you know you do, Gloria!).  I think they seem like the easy way out.  And they probably are.  So maybe I'll think on that today as I'm figuring out what to get that side of the family.  I will say this:  the nice thing about the gift certificate is that it fits everyone.  My sister has three kids, and I'm pretty bad about tracking their ages, so I'm sure I've purchased a lot of age-inappropriate stuff in the past.  Again, though, maybe a different sort of effort needs to be made here.

We agreed with Steve and Julie that we wouldn't exchange grown-up gifts this year--only stuff for the kids.  I think this is great.  We grown-ups don't need any more stuff, certainly, but we can get some goodies for the babes.  The key, of course, will be to refrain from sending grown-up gifts, right?  Because if one side sends a grown-up gift, then the whole cycle of guilt and buying begins again.  Restraint is key in these situations, and it's not easy to implement.

I was guilty of breaking the pact a few years ago.  We made an arrangement with Eric's dad and stepmom not to exchange gifts, and then we ended up giving them a big, framed photo of Addie.  Trust-breaker.  Not cool.  Especially because I was the one who initiated the no-gift-giving idea, which I think was hard for Phil and Ubi to swallow--I think they wanted to exchange gifts, and it makes them happy to do so.  So, I blew it.

Are you getting the picture?  We have so many separate families to think about and buy for.  When younger, one of the few perks of being children of divorced parents was that you got twice the gifts.  Now that we're older, though, we have twice the gifts to buy.  Luckily, we also have twice as many people in our life to love and be loved by, so it worked out, thank goodness.  It's just a lot of pressure to judge yourself and your relationships by what you can afford to get someone.

Eric's susceptible to this holiday madness, too.  For a few years now, he's left the gift buying to me, and he's always unhappy at unwrapping time because he feels I haven't spent enough on folks compared to what they've spend on us.  This make him feel bad, and make me feel terrible, like a greedy little gnome taking bites off of everyone else's mushroom.  I feel like saying, "Well, you buy the gifts, then!"  But then the gifts wouldn't be bought, or we'd spend thousands of dollars.  And I don't feel like either is a great option.  Still, this year, he's responsible for buying for his family (within a set budget that both of us agreed on), and I'm buying for mine.  Keep your fingers crossed.

Do I sound ungrateful?  Stingy?  Resentful?  I suppose there's some truth in that.  Maybe it's unfair that now we're comfortable and have most of what we need that I all of a sudden decide this gift-giving thing is for the birds.  But it's not that I don't want to give.  I enjoy being crafty, so I like making gifts and giving them to others.  I like finding good deals on something I know someone else will love.  I just wish there wasn't pressure to do this at one particular time of year.  Wouldn't it be great if, some time in the heat of June, I found a beautiful vase that I knew my sister would love.  I wrap it in festive paper and attach a Merry Christmas card.  Because I am thinking of her then, and found the perfect gift then.  Wouldn't that be great?  Wouldn't it be great it I stopped putting all this pressure on everything?  Wouldn't it be great if I changed my expectations and let go of everyone else's reactions?  Stopped projecting my feelings of inadequacy on to them? 

But for now, Nolie and I will spend today figuring out how to keep these balls in the air, and we will address Christmas cards (which I love to do).  And we'll try to make decisions from a place of love and gratitude.  Hopefully our sentiments will hit their mark.


  1. pretty funny. I have to admit you put a lot more thought into this then I do - then of course you have a lot more folks to tend to. Whatever you do don't spend anything on me! :) And the more I think about it over time the more I realize that mom and dad really mean it when they say they don't want us to get them anything. I've got the Gift Certificates ready to roll for them so we are all set there. Right on - Merry Xmas. By the way - what the hell is the deal with this Black Friday business? ridiculous. They should call it Red Friday since it is the day that most of the people in the country go into the red spending money they don't have.

  2. I know! As I was writing this, I realized how neurotic I am about the whole thing, and that overthinking it was ruining it.

    I just finished addressing our holiday cards, though, and was reminded of how many wonderful, loving people we have in our lives. That is something to be truly grateful for.


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