I’ve mused often what I would do with a large burst of money. The conversation came up once here at work, and I felt immediately guilty because I was one of very few who did not immediately jump up and say I’d give it all to charity. I’m not sure if that makes me greedy, or just a survivalist. Because, to quote Cabaret, “Money makes the world go ’round”.
This time of year is the toughest on us financially. I think sometimes I put on too many airs with friends and family, acting like we make a lot of money and that’s why we still work in Boston. In essence it’s true of course – we make a lot more money than we would in the same industries where we live, but we’re still struggling in the low middle class. It’s generally true for everyone I know from my area – many people work two or even three jobs to pay for their mortgage and then ironically to afford daycare. I consider myself lucky because we don’t have a mortgage (yet) and I’ve only about $5000 left on my last student loan, and because one of our vehicles is paid off. I don’t have an outstanding credit card debt. Maybe not caring about all these things is the way others feel like they could shrug off their lottery winnings to the local soup kitchen, breast cancer research, or some equally noble cause. Maybe other people really do have a delicious stockpile of savings. I don’t know.
Christmas, though. Christmas is rough. A couple days after Thanksgiving, I was at my parents’ house feasting on apple pie when my father suggested my brother needed a printer for Christmas and knew just the one he thought we should buy. Guiltily, I had to hold up a hand and say, “I’m sorry Dad, but I’ve got a budget I have to stick to for each person, and I can’t go over it.” His face fell, but he nodded. I hate having a Christmas budget, especially when we purchase for four different children, but it is absolutely necessary because this time of year, I empty our bank account. To tell the truth, I’ve exceeded the budget on almost every single person, and each time I’ve had to scramble to my ledger and tally up new charges and move things around and plan transfers and close my eyes and take a deep breath and tell myself it is all going to be okay.
This year, we are purchasing gifts for 19 people, including each other. If we limit ourselves to $50/person (which seems quite reasonable to me), that comes to $950 of Christmas gifts. Of course, you can’t just spend $50 on the kids. A Lego set costs about that on its own, and my nephew is the glorious age of ten now and already has more Legos than he knows what to do with, all the sports equipment he could want, and every gaming system. So we budget about $100 for each of the four kids and cross our fingers we can get them something they’d actually like. So our very small, modest budget is up to $1,150 for Christmas gifts. It’s about what we pay in rent. I know to a lot of people that isn’t much, but that’s my entire monthly salary. Plus all our regular bills and expenses.
Please don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining. I love buying Christmas gifts, wrapping them, and giving them away. But it is nonetheless stressful, and I certainly struggle this time of year financially. Our company is generous and the Christmas bonus makes a huge difference in December. With all this in mind, and the heavy, tired feeling pressing in on my chest, if someone handed me $100, $1,000, or $10,000, I wouldn’t even think about charity. I’d use that money to give myself a moment to breathe before I have to start running again.
If being tired of racing to catch up is greed, then fine.
I don’t believe in sugarcoating things, or lying about them. I try to be real, whether it paints a pretty picture or not.
“Describe how you’d spend $1,000.” – Plinky Prompt, January 29, 2009