Voluntary Stupidity: Holiday Shopping for Less
By Adam Eisenson*
Christmas comes but once a year. And it's the happiest time of year ... for retailers. That's why new gift-giving holidays are being created all the time. Sure, there are the old standbys like birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, baby showers, and ... that gem of holidays ... Valentine's Day.
We're expected to buy for Mother's Day, Father's Day, Grandmother's Day, Secretary's Day, and Boss's Day. I'll bet that during Pet's Week, many a "lucky" Fido gets a rhinestone studded chain, a ceramic bone with his name engraved on it, or some other stupid, unnecessary trinket to help fill up a closet in his colonial styled doghouse.
Kmart, Sears, and Wal-Mart aside, for many of us, the holiday spirit gets lost in a frantic search for gifts ... and by the need to borrow at high credit card interest to pay for them. At last count, Americans had almost $400 billion revolving on their plastic. The sad truth is that once we whip out our charge cards, many of us fall prey to impulse buying ... and spend substantially more than we had planned.
There truly are "cards for every occasion." This year, we received our first Happy Thanksgiving card. Whatever happened to that old-fashioned hand-written note saying, "Hope you feel better soon," or "I'm thinking of you"?
Does true love (even moderate friendship) need an influx of corny sayings to survive? I don't believe so. Does going broke prove love, appreciation, deep religious belief, or friendship? Hardly! All it proves is poor judgment and a lack of self-control.
If you want to voluntarily simplify your life, over-commercialized, make-believe holidays are a great place to start. It seems to me that cutting down on the 7.4 billion greeting cards Americans send a year is the perfect place to begin getting back to basics.
We spent $6.3 billion in 1995 on greeting cards, alone. That's a lot of dimes for schmaltzy rhymes. So from now on, skip it on Snoopy, zap Ziggy, and get away from Garfield. Write a personal note instead. It's easy.
At the risk of being seen as the Scrooge of the 20th Century, here are more ideas for simplifying life's special events and avoiding "love token" poverty, all year long:
With families getting so complicated these days, more and more of us are conflicted about where to have holiday meals. Do we join this side of the family, or that ... or that? Years ago, Nancy, my children, and I began to celebrate Thanksgiving on virtually any day but the fourth Thursday of November. It's become so much fun, that we try to have numerous Thanksgiving dinners throughout the year.
Think of all the benefits to celebrating the holidays a month earlier or a month later: While you prove your independence and sanity, you'll also avoid the hype, the crowds, the costs, the hassles.
If they aren't already in your repertoire, how about learning to make soups, breads, cookies, jams, or herb vinegars? Then put together a gift basket of goodies. Like everything else, if you do-it-yourself, you can save money and really personalize the assortment. If you want to practice, feel free to send those yummy samples to me.
Nancy's always giving away flowers that she grows, indoors or out, depending on the season. And believe it or not, I just sent my daughter, Sharon, some home grown brussels sprouts (which she and we love). Can you knit, do needlepoint, make wooden toys, or compile some of your favorite recipes? Did I mention that the possibilities are endless?
Or offer to babysit for a niece, nephew, the neighbor's child, or your grandkid. Let their frazzled parents take a kid-free mini-vacation, even if it's only a peaceful night's sleep!
Or you could share a skill. If you're a master gardener, help a friend develop a green thumb. Can you strum a guitar, make a bench, reupholster a couch, or do magic? I'd rather learn a skill than get a hideous tie. Wouldn't you?
Sarah, the bundle-of-energy daughter of our researcher, Marcy Ross, received an instant family heirloom from a doting aunt and uncle, who stripped and repainted an old children's rocking chair they found at a tag sale.
Nancy keeps her eyes out for cashmere sweaters to give to our favorite sweater hounds ... as well as hounds, in the shape of hokey bulb planters, for our two favorite dog lovers, Janet and Rachel. (She fills those planters every year with tulips, crocuses, and daffodils, for a touch of spring in the dead of winter.)
Entering college students can use rolls of quarters (for laundry), as well as stamps and phone cards. Our nephew Ben went off to Brown with an old bowling bag that Nancy and I had outfitted with everything from an assortment of screws and a "hot pot" to a pair of electrician's pliers that I had used ... and loved ... for years.
If you do use a debit card or check, make sure you're not about to borrow from your overdraft "protection." Learn from Uncle Sam. Even when you have the money, or the credit, if you don't control your spending ... your debt will continue to climb and climb ... until you need to curtail "all non-essential" purchases.
If you haven't done so already, I hope that this will be the year you'll start to cultivate a simple attitude. Getting back to basics may help to keep you solvent ... and living better on less is really a lot of fun. Try it. You'll like it!
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