Thursday, January 20, 2011

Holiday Shopping is a New Game of Chicken

Thinking about the recent holiday this weekend has given me a bit of perspective regarding gift giving. Something that I had forgotten until I was recently reminded is how very much people really fill up their emptiness with the shopping and busyiness of the holiday season. I had a conversation with family members recently to reiterate the importance of a reasonable (read small) amount of gifts. For some reason, no matter how much I stress this, there is always resistance. I find the whole ritual can be somewhat frustrating. Gift giving becomes a stressful game of chicken with often little more than wasted money and hurt feelings.

Now that I have outlined the problem, what are the solutions?
1. For me, early and often discussions about the issue seem to help. Sometimes the gifts can be a way for people to try to make up for lost time and connections during the year. So to alleviate that, make more time for loved ones.

2. Avoid going nuclear. When doing the gift giving, stay consistent. Make sure not to increase each year either with your increased success or in response to what you got last year. Once you start increasing regularly, especially increases outside of your normal gift range, you've begun to set an expectation that is unrealistic.

3. Budget, budget, budget! There's no easy solution. If you're going to celebrate holidays at all, and not become someone interested in Festivus and merely an airing of grievances, you must move toward getting something in the way of a budget started. I find that this works well when I work toward adding buffer to my freedom fund.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Year and Week in Review - 2010

This week has been relatively relaxed for me and I will admit that I have really enjoyed it. By my nature, I am a doer. I like to feel like I accomplished something; this goes along with my work ethic I suppose. But one thing that sticks with me about vacations is something that my grandfather told me and it still rings true: Vacations can be expensive. What he means is simply that the more leisure time you have, the more things you'll want to do with that time that take money. This can be things that are hobbies, travel, or even home repair. All of these things take money -- money that you'd otherwise save if you had been working instead. So in that respect, unless you alone in a public park, homeless, and not eating food on your leisure time, leisure time is expensive.

Well, this week I noticed that this still remains the case, but I feel like I did relatively well. For a full week off, I spent only about a hundred dollars for travel, food etc. Given that I normally spend about that much during a week at work for gas, parking, and lunches, I figure I probably did just fine. But I will say that it was a pretty conscious effort.

Christmas has strapped the finances, despite good and early planning. As expected, there were the "unexpected" gifts, food, excursions which all had to be paid for. And given a big trip that is coming up in a few months, I've resisted the temptation to let these debts linger on credit. I want to make sure my finances are strong going into this trip and that does not include credit card balances. While I'd like to think that there is nothing wrong with the level of spending, I know that this could be improved. I am continuing to work on ways to reduce the cost of my lunches by "brown bagging" it, but it is difficult. There was very little expense on Christmas decorations per se however. Wrapping paper and ribbon for 10 dollars was probably the biggest expense.

Besides my finances, I've also begun to take a fresh look at my health; I found that it was a bit lacking since I had not been going to the gym as regularly as I should. So I took the time and decided to start back again. The membership is not exactly cheap, so I should make the most of it.