Monday, December 12, 2005

4 years of debt, and here comes Christmas. BAH HUMBUG!

I am having such a hard time focusing today. I am thinking about Christmas, about the house, about moving back in, about everything and anything except the task at hand.

I have a website to build for a non-profit organization, as well as a powerpoint presentation to completely revamp and restructure for an environmental scientist that I have worked with for a few years. And these are projects that I do when I am DONE with my day job. But at the same time, I have house to keep up with, namely dishes, laundry, and dog hair to contain…. Plus I am lazy lately. But I desperately need the money. But even If I get that site built before Christmas, will they PAY me before Christmas? Probably not. So that isn’t much of an incentive to bust my ass.

I am wondering if I could telepathically connect with husband and tell him to switch the laundry when he gets home? Probably not. He refuses most telepathic conversation with me, because it usually ends up in work for him.

My brain needs to make a meeting with the checkbooks, to balance them and plan upcoming bills. This is my official last paycheck before Christmas, and I haven’t bought anything for husband. Unfortunately, everyone wants a piece! If it were up to me, I would exchange gifts with my family and be done. And with my extremely close friends, of which there are Four. Except we have to all exchange gifts at work, so that’s another $50 if I spend 10 per person on co-workers, but it’s hard to find much at that price, so it ends up being more like $15.00 per person, adding up to $75, plus add in drinks for the holiday parties (two of them) and dinner at one of them. Not to mention if I want something festive to wear. I am easily over $100 here, just to celebrate Christmas with co-workers.

Then add in all the family gift exchanges, most of which I have opted out of this year. My family, Evan’s family. Ugh. I really don’t need anything. I don’t have room for anything. We have needs for big things. Like furniture. All things that I would like to pick out myself. All things that people can not afford to give me, which is why Gift cards are an exceptional idea for me. Give me some help towards things I want but can’t afford. I have eyes on a baby crib at JCPenney, and on table lamps at Sears, and other things. And I love to scrapbook, so gift certificates to scrapbook and craft stores are always fun for me. Plus I need a new tire. And some new shirts for when I am not at work.

Problem is, besides my mom and Evan, no one ever even asks what I really want. I end up getting more of the same crap over and over again. (you know, endless lotion and bubble bath (which I only use some of because of eczema) and other things like pot holders that don’t match my kitchen and I don’t have room for, and more cookies and candies than I know what to do with.) I know that it’s the thought that counts, but that money could be spent so many other ways! Or on someone who really needs something! Or as a donation to a charity or an organization I care about, like friends of strays, who is trying to raise money to fence in the dog kennels. It frustrates me to be dropping $100 of my money on other people, when I don’t know what they want, and I don’t know if they are getting anything they need, and it’s just seeming so wasteful. This year I encouraged my co-workers to make wish lists. This is in an attempt to get them something they actually want, and have the same happen in return. But when I think that $100 could buy groceries, or could pay off that one credit card that I have finally gotten the balance way down on.

But when I think that I have one thing that I really want to get my husband, that I really really want to get him, and it is a tiny bit costly, and I want to surprise him and give him a happy face on Christmas morning, and see him enjoy it day after day, and I can’t afford to buy it because I spent $250 on people who don’t need anything and aren’t nearly as close to my as my own husband. It’s not fair. I don’t know how to deal with it, and I don’t know how to explain this to my co-workers and family members- without seeming like a heartless cold bitch with a scrooge or grinch attitude. It’s not my parents and my family members that I am worried about. They have the same attitude as I do. I can get them each something meaningful or small that they could really use. They take the time to research presents and get what you really want. It’s exciting and it really brings home the spirit of Christmas. I have to believe that the spirit of Christmas isn’t just about giving, it’s about taking the time to pick out something special that the recipient will enjoy. It’s about not just finding something in your house to regift, but actually researching, and awaiting the surprise on someone’s face when they open something truly lovely, that means something to them, that they will remember forever.

So with one paycheck left, I can purchase $250 worth of piddly gifts to pass around to everyone, or I can purchase the one thing that I really am excited to give to my husband, who I love dearly, and make both of our Christmases. Every year I say that I don’t want to exchange gifts at Christmas with co-workers, and every year I do it. I am afraid to do otherwise. Shun and be Shunned.

I also find people frequently wanting to get me something because THEY think I should have it, whether I want it or not. That is frustrating. They are giving a gift simply to satisfy themselves, and not to see the happiness that I would receive from getting what I really want. That is annoying.

Sorry to be such a grinch.

The other side of this is that I have been struggling for YEARS to get myself out of debt that I incurred during and right after college. Credit Card debt, medical debt, student loan debt, car loans, etc. It wasn’t pretty, or easy, for me to have 6-8 months without a job, looking for employment, living on unemployment that was less than ¼ of my previous salary. I had a car payment, and utilities, and credit cards to pay on, and It wasn’t long before I was way over my head.

But instead of claiming bankruptcy, which I have been constantly advised to do by every debt management expert around and for the past 4 years….I bust my ass and pay out 60% of my income to debt. I cut up all those credit cards 4 years ago and haven’t charged to those accounts since. I only keep one small credit card and I use it to finance my laptop. I don’t run around bragging about debt, because I am not proud of having that much debt. It’s mostly my own damn fault, although losing my job was no fault of mine and I could blame others for the circumstances that they put me in…. But when I spend over $900 a month on just loan payments and credit card/medical debt, and I don’t make much more than that, plus I have utilities and insurance and living expenses…. I don’t have fat cash for Christmas Shopping. I don’t have fat cash period.

I desperately need to get myself out of debt. Priority Numero Uno. I have been paying HUGE chunks of payments for 4 years, and I have just about 1 year left until I have everything paid off. Can you imagine, me going from having only 40% of my salary, to suddenly having 100% of it? And if my car keeps running, and I stick to my payments, I have one year left to go to get there!

It is extremely hard to not let Christmas put me right back into debt and ruin everything I have struggled to hard to get to for the past 4 years. People who don’t have debt have no idea what this is like. For everyone to think that I have all this money to spend- but they don’t generally know that I am trying to get out of debt…. Because I don’t talk to everyone about that. They don’t know that my checking account is empty right after I get paid and that I buy all my clothes at Wal-Mart or Target or whatever. They don’t know that I usually make Birthday presents or bake something for my friends so that I can save money. They probably don’t care. That’s my problem, right? But isn’t the holiday season about more than spending $500-1000 on presents for others? Especially when that is like an entire month’s salary for some people? I read an article on MSN today about how Generation X is the Generation of debt, so I know that I am not alone. But my co-workers aren’t in my generation, and neither is 99% of my family or Evan’s. Maybe I am just selfish. But if I have learned anything, it’s that I have to look out for number one. I got my first credit card at 17. It was a good idea. I established my credit early. I paid it off. But when I needed gas to get to school or money for books, I would use my credit card. I couldn’t get financial aid and my scholarships didn’t even make a dent…. So I had to take out loans. I had to buy my own cars and pay for my own car insurance. I wasn’t handed anything.

Ah. Why am I posting all of this on my blog? Well, I feel better venting to someone, even if it is a bit personal.

SO this year the top secret project was designed to give everyone close to us a Christmas present that means something, and that doesn’t cost a lot or add a lot of stress. It’s cost has been broken down over 3 months to make it less painful, and it will hopefully make some people happy. It makes me happy. It will make my family happy. It’s a gift from the heart, well thought out and planned- and that’s what really matters.


Tina said...

I know. It's so hard at gift-giving time when you don't have a lot of money--which I never do, and it's hard all the time, but especially now. You want to be extravagant for the ones you love, but you just can't. That's why I'd like to make more money...not for myself, mostly, but I would like to be able to spoil the people I care most about.

IzzyMom said...

This unsolicited suggestion comes from someone also feeling rather grinchy this holiday season. Over the years, I've pared down my list of people with whom I exchange gifts by asking if we can "give the gift of not giving this year" because things are tight and the holidays are becoming too stressful blah, blah. This arrangement usually then continues every year thereafter. Most people seem relieved. I know I am quite relieved to receive a reduced number of stinky Bath & Bodyworks gift sets, which I suspect are really this century's version of the re-gifted fruitcake.

dazed said...

ha ha. I totally agree. One CAN have too much lotion and body spray. I totally have enough because I buy what I like to use,probably too much of that.... and then I receive all this stuff as gifts. Ugh. I love candles, especially ones that smell like baked goods, but no one asks me! I think this will be my new year's resolution. Pare down my gift giving circle by next Christmas.

PenneArdICS said...

You've got the tools and you've got the talent -- why not bake up some Christmas goodies for gifts (something extra special as only a former PC consultant could) or give away your extra stock of PC-ware, if you haven't already? Forget about keeping up with the Joneses; everyone knows you're newlyweds and that means you moon over your honey and vice versa for now!

We gave up exchanging gifts with the family many years ago, not because things were tight per se, but because our stuff was growing in proportion to our family and there was no more room in the inn! DH was never especially pleased with the gifts I picked out for him (picky, picky,) so we decided that a nice dinner out for our birthdays, and a jaunt or two with the family (off-season) to someplace special would be a whole lot less stressful and more enjoyable to boot! We finally paid off last year's trip to Hawai'i this fall :P but our plans are usually a little less elaborate (you know that was our 20th anniversary and our daughter's graduation trip wrapped up in one.)

Sometimes we do make gifts for each other or pass something down, so they'll be gifts to open, but the kids aren't all caught up in the commercialism of the holiday (thank goodness!) and have no problem saving up their birthday and Christmas money from the grandparents until they find something they really want, preferably on sale after Christmas!

Of course, this year we couldn't wait because R2-D2 (pint-sized version of an interactive droid) came back on the market after one of the kids had seen him in a Disney store years ago, and Keith didn't care how much he had to pay (we're splitting the cost with him :) -- he was not letting the little guy slip through his fingers again! Same thing happened to our oldest daughter when My Size Bride Barbie unexpectedly went off the market :( We snatched her up the next time she appeared on the shelves. Live and learn. BB's been worth her weight in gold, surviving seven younger siblings since then and still going strong -- all the cheap-o 18" dolls have lost their heads by now. Hope Artoo is half as well-built as big Barbie!!

Why wait till next year to enjoy your Christmas? Here's to "the gift of not giving" or rather, giving of ourselves and our talents from the heart. God Bless Us, Every One :)(:

IzzyMom said...

Here...let me take care of that for you:

ATTENTION: The blogger known as Dazed likes candles that smell like baked goods. Please do not buy her any more body spray or lotion. She smells purdy already. Thank you!

Subtle, aren't I? Hope it helps :-)


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