Monday, December 01, 2008

Rolling up my sleeves

Oh look. Another holiday in the rearview mirror, Christmas on the horizon, four sparkly-eyed Denizens who by their very unselfish and forgiving natures make the idea of disappointing them unthinkable, and I’m on a “just opened a new business” kind of budget.

So! Game plan time! The question is simple: How to get through this festive season without going into the red.

The first thing I’m doing is opening up my wallet and taking out every last credit card. Believe it or not, it is possible to stagger through a day without one.

The second thing is, I’ll be taking a cash draw at the beginning of the week. That cash is for everything that doesn’t involve an online payment or automatic charge. Groceries, gasoline, gift buying, taking the kids places, everything.

Cash – you know, actual tens and twenties, that stuff? – has an amazing power. It can really force you to reorganize your priorities, when you know that what you hold in your hand is it. When it’s gone, it’s gone.

If you blow through your stash by Thursday, say goodbye to those weekend plans, friend.

Thus far, I have bought precisely one (1) present for the kids. I love the rhyme eclair shared a couple weeks ago…

Something they want
something they need
something to wear
and something to read

…and I’m sticking to it. Unfortunately, I’m still short three wants, four needs, four wearables and four books. Ahem. Well. Nice time to be starting a cash-only accounting method, huh?

But, I do love me a challenge.

So! Each week I will be giving myself a very generous and seasonally adjusted $240 for the buying of Christmas wants, needs, wears and reads, as well as the mundane, routine groceries, gasoline, and all the other etceteras of daily life in these United States.

What I hope to accomplish isn’t so much a trimming down of Christmas as keeping myself in check during a very frustrating and emotionally simmering time. The job market remains tighter than my purse strings, I’m still without my own work to do, we’re all just waiting-waiting-waiting. There is every danger that a bored, frustrated Tama who was just told for the umpteenth time that, while she is exactly what the employer was hoping and dreaming of finding, she is not going to get the job, is going to wander into Big Lots one day while her squirrel-mind is bent on hoarding against a hard winter to come and come home with yes, really, some 8’ or bigger lawn-frackin-ornament with its own generator and lights and holy Moses, what was I thinking?!

Well. What I would have been thinking would be something like this. We’ve worked long and hard, and it is not fair that “everybody else” (oooh boy, here it comes) has Christmas Spirit stuff bedecking their halls while our house looks like (oh yeah, it is on now, baby!) some kind of semi-abandoned Scrooge Lives Here place. We’re both college educated, we both work in high tech arenas where big salaries are normal, surely we deserve and/or can afford a few little things, right?

Next thing I know, I’m backing up a truckload of jingling whatnots we now “deserve” to store for 330 days a year in anticipation of The Season. Nice.

And then I’ll start in with just a few “little” things for the Denizens and before I know it, I’m up until midnight on Christmas eve wrapping crap they don’t want or need because I am not a loser!

Yeah. The Care Bears DVD proves that, for sure. Ahem.

There are times when you have to just know yourself. And I know that even in the best of years, I get somewhat, um, pensive in the wintertime. I have a long, convoluted theory involving sunlight, lack of same, and wearing of long sleeves all the time around it, but the upshot is, I go through “winter blues.”

And no, knowing that it is common doesn’t make it a bit better. I get testier than a bear that should be hibernating, and as irrational as a squirrel when it comes to hoarding. Oh yes, I hoard things through the winter. You slap a sale sign on it, I’ll probably toddle along and pick up a box or three within minutes. Doesn’t have to be something I need, want or even like…if I’ve got an empty inch of space at home, I’ll buy something to cram into it.

The worst part is the food. I buy food like this is the last opportunity, ever to buy it. That’s right, after this sale, I will be forced to survive by wild-crafting along the Delta. Sigh.

Yarn, clothes, food-food-food, books…there’s no real rhyme or reason. I just feel the need to pack my Den with stuff. It doesn’t “make me happy,” in fact it just makes me more anxious…but I do it anyway.

Unless I stop myself, look myself in the eye and say, FIRMLY, “Tama. Honey. You’re doing That Thing again. Knock it off.”

In good years, I can do that. Even in “eh” years, I can keep myself mostly in check.

This, though, has been and continues to be a very bad year. Between the financial stuff and the emotional stuff, and now it is getting cold and the sunlight is getting weaker by the minute (I’m telling you, California Girl over here needs her five-ten minutes of direct, more than 5% of skin exposed sun-cuddling at least a couple times a week)…I’m really worried that I’m going to actually break the hinges on the freezer stuffing it with on-sale stuff, or overload the upper story of the house with all the new toys I felt I just had to get, seeing as how they were 50 to 70% off and all…

It’s just better for all concerned if I ensure any damage done is limited to cash actually on hand, right this minute.

In slow doses, so I don’t blow the entire wad in a single mad romp through Goodwill.

And I do believe I will want to start with a nice weekly menu and a carefully controlled trip to the supermarket, if needed.



Anonymous said...

Hear-Hear! I'm taking on my own want-need-hoard continuum in the same way. Game on!

Anonymous said...

I really like your rhyme for gifts for the denziens. As an avid reader, may I suggest a used book store or thrift store for the books? They are the best deal on the planet, and often have good books in very nice condition. Sometimes my public library has book sales, too.

Anonymous said...

Have you tried for good cheap kids' reads?

Most stories are a buck but for one price, you can download all the stories.

Science PhD Mom said...

I am right there with you...we are keeping Christmas on a low simmer as opposed to a full boil. I have purchased all the gifts I intend to buy for our two munchkins, and have finished buying for DH as well. Now I just have to round up some passable presents for my folks and scrape together some cash for gift cards for the ILs, and we are done. I am giving DH some cash for his inevitable last minute shopping for me, and that is it.

Hmmm, I haven't got a meal plan for December yet though. I'd better get on that before Costco raids my wallet for $200 or more!

Anonymous said...

Bravo! It's tough, isn't it? I have a similar issue...I seem to have this idea that buying ______ will make me feel better/happier/thinner, whether I actually need it or not. Especially in the winter, when I'm cold and depressed anyway. Perhaps we should spend some of our "gotta buy it" time looking for a good deal on one of those lamps that replicates actual sunlight. Ooorrrrr we could just buy more yarn. decisions, decisions....

Lydee said...

i'm with you, same feelings, same dangers. good luck out there!

Anonymous said...

One of the joys of being frugal with the presents is that the Christmas shopping is over and done with earlier. I generally have all mine finished by now (and am therefore likely impervious to children's wheedling after too many toy ads on the tv) - I also try to have the entire Christmas dinner in the freezer - with the exception of the roast potatoes - before December starts. That way I can put my feet up and not think about Christmas at all until a week beforehand, when we put up our decorations, and I can get excited instead of getting exhausted. When we decorate the house we always do it the weekend before Christmas and the Saturday is spent cleaning the house - everyone has to help and the kids join in with gusto as it is a tradition and also because the more they help today, the more they decorate tomorrow) and the Sunday is spent wrapping the lounge in tinsel and fighting with the tree lights.

This way, like your Thanksgiving, I get to spend as little time as possible slaving over a hot stove feeling left out of the festivities and the kids (who have to peel the potatoes before dinner and load the dishwasher after) get to join in the domestic fun. I highly recommend it!