Now that Halloween and Thanksgiving are behind me, I can start preparing for Christmas and New Year’s. I love the holiday season. Well, almost everything about the holiday season. OK, except Christmas cards. While I love looking in my mailbox every day to see whose cards have arrived, I’m not fond of sending them out because my list is too long. The line “I don’t even know half these people!” from the “12 Pains of Christmas” song sums it up perfectly. Of course, I knew them at one time but most of them I have not had a conversation with in over 20 years. Yet they made the Christmas card list years ago (after college or a few jobs ago) and they are there every year in my address book. To be fair, I’m sure they think the same thing about me as they’re writing out cards. Unbeknownst to my husband, I have culled some people from the list over the years. I’ve noticed some people have cut us from their list as well. Instead of being upset, I am thrilled—another name I can cross off my list guilt free!
Shopping for gifts is a joy when I have the time and the money, which never seem to correspond. You can’t drag me to a mall after December 1. I could virtually kiss the person who invented Cyber Monday. While I love the shopping and the giving, I wish the gifts could wrap themselves. I despise wrapping with a passion typically reserved for the stomach flu. Gift bags are the second greatest invention next to Cyber Monday.
My husband and I love hosting parties in December. Every year we host a neighborhood White Elephant gift exchange party. Imagine the fun in picking out the worst gift you can give! My mother-in-law’s basement is a treasure trove of white elephant presents as she doesn’t believe in throwing anything out. Last year I gifted a plastic white swan plant holder I found next to a garbage bin while out taking a walk. Can’t imagine anyone throwing away that beauty! No white elephant exchange would be complete without the ability to steal gifts so the real thrill is to determine what is the one piece of crap gift that everyone wants. My favorite gift through the years was the huge old-fashioned hair dryer that was as big as a small coffee table. (Remember those from the ‘70s?)
As for New Year’s, my absolute favorite family tradition is when my husband, daughter and son sit down New Year’s Day and write out family and personal goals for the coming year. Our first year on record was 2006 when our daughter was 14 and our son was 9. That year our main goal for the upcoming year was to get a finished basement. Personally each child set a goal for how much money they wanted to have in their savings account, what they wanted to get for grades and how they were going to limit their TV time. My husband and I had the usual New Year’s resolutions—exercise, diet, do well at work.
One additional item I added and shared with the children was how much money (to the penny) we owed on our mortgage and our cars. Our children had to wrap their brains around the fact that we did not own either our house or our cars—the bank did. Yes, our kids were young to grasp this concept but I felt it was important to begin their real world financial education.
I’d love to say we pulled out the goals several times throughout the year to evaluate how we were doing but I’d be lying. We didn’t pull out the book until next January 1 and then had fun seeing how we’d done. Checked off getting the basement completed in 2006. The next year we made a goal to pay off one car and put the extra money to the other car payment. The kids actually asked how we were coming along with our mortgage.
I decided to increase their education and wrote down (to the penny) how much we had in 401Ks and savings versus what we owed. I hammered home the point that we had no credit card debt and explained why. When I was a senior in college, my dad co-signed a credit card for me to be used “in emergency situations only.” Sadly my dad and I differed on what constituted an emergency and when I graduated from college, he handed me my credit card bill with a balance of $880. That doesn’t sound like much but when you’re making $8000/year working full time, it was a fortune. I vowed to pay it off and never have credit card debt again and I’ve kept that promise. I’m sure my children are tired of hearing the story but I don’t want them to ever repeat my mistake.
We were extremely fortunate to be able to pay off our mortgage and our cars in 2010. Because the kids had been tracking with us for four years how much we owed, they were thrilled as well and learned an incredibly valuable lesson life lesson. Now the conversation has turned to how we can give back financially and where to invest money.
So let the snow fall, let the cards begin to trickle in, let the wrapping (ugh!) top my list of things to do. I can relax in January.