Sunday 25 October 2015

Let's Talk Holiday Season and Overspending

Really, Maureen, you say. You want to talk about money management at the most expensive time of the year???

I do and I'll tell you why. I'm constantly hearing from people around me that their financial situation is changing or they're afraid it's going to change. Unexpected expenses with kids, divorce, job insecurity, loss of a spouse, stock market fluctuations making pensions insecure, the government cut backs on assistance programmes, illness or disability, world financial crises, rising living costs and unstable property values. On and on the list goes and we don't seem to know how to prepare ourselves for any of it.

We could begin by making friends with our money. ~

We start by taking stock of what we have and what we owe. Seems simple enough. Unfortunately, we prefer a head in the sand approach more often than a dose of reality.

I was just reading a Ladies' Home Journal from 1932. The Depression has devastated rich and poor alike. The article said,

"We must learn the new values of money ...  Keeping up with the Joneses is out of fashion ... Where we were specialists in spending, we are becoming specialists in living. There is a new thrift for new pioneers."

My immediate reaction was that it is rather difficult to be thrifty with the holiday season creeping up on us. My next thought was, that there would never be a better time than now, before the credit cards and cash cards get pulled out to host lavish dinners and buy expensive gifts. I count on spending about $200 to give a large family dinner, including wine and spirits. Is that entirely necessary? Somewhere in the last 30 or 40 years we got the notion we had to have enough selection in alcoholic drinks in the house to make a small tavern look understocked. Next I considered the number of side dishes that have been added to the menu. There certainly weren't eight selections of vegetables at my parent's festive meals and tomato juice, milk, coffee and tea were the drinks I see on any of their tables in the old photos. I could pare it down a little and have the added bonus of the fridge not being packed with leftovers. 

That train of thought reminded me of when a family member fell into dire financial straights a few years ago. One of the endless recessions was going on and he was let go from an executive position. Finding a new job took a couple of years and they were getting by on a fraction of their former income, earned by taking low-end jobs and his wife going back to work. 

As we chatted on the phone one day, he told me one of the things they missed the most was having friends over. I said it was too bad that we couldn't entertain the way we had when we were young. We'd make a big bowl of spaghetti with hardly any meat in the sauce and serve it up with some crusty bread. There were no salads, appetizers or dessert as a general rule. The guests usually brought a bottle of cheap wine. We listened to records and talked and if there weren't enough chairs in the living room, some of us sat on the floor. 

It was the week between Christmas and New Years and they decided to give it a try. They didn't invite one of the couples that were used to coming over when the food and drinks flowed like there was no end to funds. Instead, they had a couple they liked but had not spent much time with. They told the guests it would be a simple meal and a chance to spend a quiet evening together. The guests offered to bring wine as their contribution. The hosts baked a loaf of fresh bread and made a big bowl of spaghetti. 

Serve that on a checked tablecloth or even put a checked tea towel in the centre of the table and you have an instant Italian bistro! ~

The next day I had a phone call from the host. They had the most wonderful evening they had in years! That was the year So You Think You Are Smarter Than A 5th Grader was all the rage. Their daughter had received the game as a Christmas gift. They were talking about how hard the questions were to answer and the guests said, "Bring it out and let's see how we do!". They spent the evening laughing and playing a kids game and formed a firm friendship that has grown beautifully over the last few years. 

That 1932 Ladies' Home Journal article said, "New  satisfactions are being found in simpler living and simpler pleasures".

Maybe we could lower our stress levels a notch or two (or a thousand) by taking some of that old advice to heart. Leave a little more of the money in the bank and we'll all enjoy the season a whole lot more!

I'll still have the turkey dinner and I'm sure a few bottles of wine will be served. But, I will look at finding ways to make the meal special without the excess. 

Look out Pinterest, here I come and I've got my craft on!

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