Saturday, December 6, 2008

Christmas Rant

I don’t give a crap about Christmas. There. Call me Scrooge, I don’t care.

I also don’t give a crap about my birthday, my wedding anniversary, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Thanksgiving, or, really, any day that has been set aside as something special, but seems to actually be set aside in order to encourage profligate and unnecessary spending.

Every day I am alive is as special as the day on which I was born. Every day I am married to my wonderful Nigel is as special as the day on which we married. Every day on which I have enough to eat is as special as Thanksgiving. Every day on which I act as a good citizen and enjoy the fruits of democracy is as special as Independence Day.

But I digress. Back to Christmas. Both my family and Nigel’s family are populated by several poor planners and spendthrifts. Without going into boring detail and a 40 page rant, let’s just say that my brother and his family, Nigel’s brother and his girlfriend, and Nigel’s mom and her boyfriend have planned their finances very poorly and can’t control their impulses to spend money they do not have to buy luxury items. We have given Nigel’s mom large amounts of money twice within the past year, simply to allow her to eat and pay her bills. My brother and Nigel’s brother generally leech off of my mom and Nigel’s dad respectively.

At any rate, the tale continues as we plan for our trip back to the US for Christmas. Nigel got an e-mail from his brother recently saying that he and his girlfriend have no money but that their mom has helped him get presents for us and for the kids. This pisses me off on several levels:
1) His mom doesn’t have any money. How does Nigel’s brother have the nerve to leech off her? Why give gifts at all?
2) Again, his mom doesn’t have any money. Why give gifts at all?
3) When we give his mom money to allow her to pay bills and eat food, why would she think it is okay to use that money to buy crap for our kids!? We can buy crap for our own kids without her as the middle man. Why would she think it is okay to buy crap for our kids for Nigel’s BROTHER to give them?
4) Why can’t we just have a nice dinner and stay up all night talking and laughing and listening to music? Why do there have to be gifts at all when nobody has the money to pay for them?

We have asked them NOT to give presents they can’t afford. Why do they insist on it? Especially when they can’t even buy themselves the requirements for life without subsidization? I understand the desire to give things to your grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. I do not begrudge them wanting credit for getting things for the kids. They want the kids to love them the most and apparently think that unless they buy crap for them, the kids won’t love them. Whatever – we’re trying to raise the kids not to think that way. We’re trying to raise them to be responsible and productive members of society, neither dependent on others nor with others dependent on them. We’re trying to raise them knowing that PEOPLE are more important than THINGS, and that love is better displayed through everyday kindnesses than through the occasional giving of things.

There is an additional angle here, too, in that MY mom spent her whole life planning for retirement. She invested the maximum allowable into her retirement fund, made sure she did not spend money she didn’t have, and hired a financial planner to help her maximize her money and prepare for the earliest possible retirement date. Because of her good planning, she actually has disposable income, not as much as in the recent past, due to the current economic crisis, but she does well for herself – through her own hard work and thoughtful planning. This is a bone of contention between her and MIL. MIL feels competitive. While she can’t buy the kids one expensive toy or other gift, as my mom has done in the past, she tries to outdo my mom in quantity, with bags and bags of crappy crap from the Dollar Store.
In addition, Nigel’s dad recently remarried a woman with seemingly bottomless reserves of cash. So there’s competition there as well.

Nigel and I have also been actively planning for the time when we either don’t want to work anymore or cannot work anymore. We have invested and planned for ourselves and for our kids’ futures. We have pinched pennies and minimized spending on non-necessities for the past 15 years and have built up a nice nest egg.

Am I wrong to be offended? Am I a bitch for thinking that the $100.00 my MIL spent on bags of Dollar Store crap that will be broken within 24 hours of Christmas would have been better spent on my MIL’s household heating bill, or that Nigel’s brother would be better off using any money MIL gives him to pay off one of his credit card bills instead of buying crap for my kids? Am I stingy for thinking that if she has the nerve to ask for financial help from Nigel and I this Christmas, I will put my foot down and tell her to piss off until she can swear on a stack of WalMart circulars that she will not buy a single thing for us or our kids during the year? I fear that Nigel and I will not benefit from our hard work and penny pinching because of the profligacy of our families. Will we have to continue working until we die so that our families can buy Christmas presents for people? Fuck that.

I need to think of some sort of solution for the dilemma. My first thoughts are that I need to get Nigel’s support and tell everyone, my family AND his, that next year, for the kids’ birthday and for Christmas, if they MUST give presents, they will contribute to a central pool of money and that money will be used by the kids to buy something they want or need. Nobody will know how much any other person put into the pool, thus removing the competition angle. Also, any additional gifts given will be returned and the money will be given back to the giver or applied to the giver’s utility bill or mortgage/rent. This should also apply to any gifts given to me or to Nigel. We do not need socks or sweaters or potpourri, and if we do, we can get it ourselves.

Can’t we make Christmas, which I hate anyway, into a simple day, one to spend with our family eating and talking and laughing and having fun? Now, THAT, I wouldn’t hate.