Some gifts are as good to give as they are to get. Some don’t even have a price.
‘Tis the season, and this season is unique. I’ve never done so little shopping. I’m giving out presents, but more of them are handmade, personal art, or a helping hand. Without my personal economic turmoil I would have dropped into old habits, rushing to shop, wrap and ship so everything arrived on time. In earlier years it felt good and complete having a check mark by every name on my list, and having a few backup gifts around in case someone drops by or I forgot someone. This year feels better. Like most folks, I’ve spent less time in the malls and more time with catalogs.
Previous years of online shopping helped me memorize my credit card number, its expiration date, and the secret code on the back. Cash never left the wallet and there was no tangible transfer to reinforce the notion that money was being spent. With free shipping and gift wrapping, giving became much easier.
The amount spent in December becomes obvious in January, when the credit card bill arrives, unceremoniously wrapped in a white envelope which is opened anxiously instead of eagerly. Credit card debt can start as simply as that. I am not immune, though it happened differently for me. My Personal Debt Addiction began with an emergency brake job and a mental health vacation (which may result in a book). I was on track to get that credit card balance down to zero by the end of 2011 and then my Triple Whammy hit. Within a few days my liquid net worth dropped 75%.
Purchases that can go on credit did so and do so, though with an emotional cost. Mathematically it might make sense to borrow, but there are risks involved. (Want the math? Check out my post: Hope From Pops.) If I think my portfolio’s rate of return will exceed the credit card interest rate, then it mathematically makes sense to keep the money in the portfolio as long as possible, or find some other source of funds. (Anyone need a consultant, artist, or aerospace engineer?) My resistance to borrowing is strong. I don’t like relying on credit, even with math on my side. Fortunately, I live a frugal life. The balance grows less quickly in the meantime and is paid off more rapidly when the money arrives. My ski trip this year may be in a tent, and I may enjoy it just as much as last year’s trip to a resort. Stay tuned.
Much has been researched about people and debt, and yet very little has been researched about how people have successfully and sustainably eradicated personal debt. I hope and expect to rejoin their ranks. Ann Haebig, under the auspices of New Road Map Foundation, has started a research project to finally document and analyze what strategies have worked. Check out and participate in the survey. Our society talks so much about how to handle debt, but very little about how to get out and stay out of debt. Countries seem to understand it the least.
My credit cards haven’t been used much this season. Early reports are that the cookies and fruitcakes are good. Recipes have been requested. Other gifts won’t be mentioned because it isn’t Christmas Day yet. Very few items will have barcodes, single-use plastic packages, or security devices. Some will have my name on them. Others may come with corks.
I’m hearing about a lot of such gifts. People are dialing it back, thinking outside the red-ribboned box, and finding items that mean more. Artists are giving each other pieces of art. Cooks and bakers are feeding friends. Hugs are definitely as good to give as get and still involved wrapping, though it is arms instead of ribbon.
I don’t know if homemade and personal is a trend. It might only be true on my island. There are a lot of frugal and artistic folk here on Whidbey. I do know that in some circles, giving something handmade is discouraged. Some ads make fun of personally produced gifts. A solo giver can feel belittled in such a group. But when personal gifting is mirrored and heartfelt creations are given throughout a community, then feelings build that are more powerful than “heroes” in video games. Batteries aren’t required. Instruction manuals are easy to understand, usually saying simply use and enjoy. The only software incompatibilities may be dietary. And there’s a lot less mess littering the living room floor.
It’s the day before Christmas, so I don’t know what I’m getting, but I do know that the early packages marked perishable are appreciated. Fruits and cheeses, nuts and chocolate are warming and appreciated; especially with a nice red wine I have in mind. Hmm, I think I gave that as a gift. I wonder if they’ll mind sharing?
Merry Christmas folks.