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The holiday season is fast approaching and the best laid plans of financial independence and early retirement are left for discussion another day. Normally frugal people can lose their senses when the holidays roll around. One day they are giving thanks and the next they are trampling their neighbor to get a deal on a flat screen over at Wally World. And this is supposed to make us happy?
Wants are a harsh mistress. Once you satiate your wants, new wants fill the void. It is a forever hungry beast. Wants satisfied are not the end; they are the beginning of a long slog through financial hell. Once you buy something you need to take care of it. You need a place to store you newly owned junk, ah, I mean, stuff. You now must spend more to protect your pile of garbage. A home or car needs insurance lest something happen which could cause you to lose your slavery, sorry, belongings. Room is made in the home or stuff is put into storage to make way for the new round of crap purchased on the credit card so you can keep wasting your hard earned money on interest. Once you own stuff, stuff owns you. It becomes an obligation and obligations cost money.
In the end you are less happy than before. If buying stuff gave you happiness you would not require a constant new supply of junk to satiate the lust. Instead, the wants filled turn into ever greater wants. Having stuff starts a vicious cycle of keeping up with the neighbors. They might have more stuff and what would your kid’s friends at school then think? Best to avoid such embarrassments.
Your soul is purchased one credit card transaction at a time. I remember Christmases past where a youngster would end up in tears because they did not get the gift they wanted or felt they should have been given more. What a great lesson to teach our kids! Nothing is ever enough! If you hate your children, this is the way to fuck’em up for a lifetime. Teach them to spend unchecked and make the holidays nothing more than a spendfest.
The Accountant Household
Let me introduce you to Fronds, our year round Christmas tree. Mrs. Accountant won Fronds when Fronds was just a two inch twig at a seminar in Lake Geneva presented by the Fox Cities Apartment Association. The rentals are long gone but Fronds is still with us, a 15 foot fern. She also serves as our Christmas tree. We decorate the girl with a few free and homemade decorations we gathered over the years and a string of lights. She is as cute as a button. Nothing fancy. Fronds reminds us the basic can be more than enough to celebrate the holidays.
Gifting is out, but visiting is in! The girls and I spend plenty of time with family and friends this time of year. It is a real gift to catch up and tell stories. We laugh and sing to the craziest stuff. The best part is no one can sue away the memories. Stuff ages and deteriorates. Sometimes it gets lost or, as usual, ends up in the landfill. Imagine! All the way from China just to end up buried in a pile of dirt a year or so later. You did keep the stuff for a year or two before sending it to the landfill, right?
Memories are what you hold dear on your deathbed. I never heard (though I suppose someone has done it) anyone asking for material things on their deathbed. They ask for family and friends. Grandpa always got the most joy telling us stories of things that happened in 1932. If an object was part of the joy it was because it was a reminder of a story that made his life worth living.
The holidays around the Accountant household are very similar to any other time of the year. We decorate some, but the traditional Christmas tree was out long ago to my parent’s chagrin. My argument is why buy something you must throw away in a month! Crazy! Fronds has always done an awesome jobs, she loved the work, and grows another foot each year.
The lights. The Accountant farm has no additional lights outside the house this time of year. I could blame it on laziness (too much work to put the lights up) or my cheapness (electricity to run the light ain’t free), but that is not why I do it. The extra lights are just another way to spend like a Wildman and I want no part of it. It sends the wrong message. There are plenty enough lights around town to enjoy the season any way I want. The truth is I prefer a Spartan and simple holiday season where I can focus on how lucky I am to be a live and have such an awesome family, friends, and life. I don’t need expensive props to remind me of my wealth. In fact it does the opposite. The lights and decorations distract from the true meaning of the holidays. It is about love and giving thanks. It requires a quiet moment of solitude to drink it all in. No commercialism required. All commercialism does is ruin the effect so we eventually forget the true meaning of the season.
We are not the First to Notice
Before you call me an old prude or holiday shame me (as if it would make a difference), let me remind you what Seneca wrote nearly 2,000 years ago: But perhaps this is the very season when we should be keeping the soul under strict control, making it unique in abstaining from pleasure just when the crowd are all on pleasure bent. So the Wealthy Accountant isn’t nuts after all. And neither are you for checking out of the “normal” way people conduct their holiday activities.
An old man from the First Century had more sense than many of us do today. Seneca showed his wisdom when he wrote: For a holiday can be celebrated without extravagant festivity. Wow! Before Christmas was Saturnalia, starting on December 17th and going for several days. The depths of winter are always a traditional time for festivals. We now have the twelve days of Christmas. Crazy spending and self-enforced poverty are not new to our generation. The ignorance has been going on for very a long time.
Participation is our choice. People might point, laugh, and ridicule us for our lack of participation in their madness. But we still participate in our own way. The religious can read the Bible with their family, retelling the story of Jesus’ birth. You can have fun with family and friends without getting shit-faced drunk New Year’s Eve (or any of the other seasonal holidays) and taking the risk of an auto accident of rape or unwanted pregnancy. A nice game of cards or a board game with a refreshing beverage in moderation is a great way to build fond memories.
In my neck of the woods I see Christmas trees are running $40 and up. Add the decorations, parties, and unending gifting demands and it is no wonder people are broke. If it takes a gift to have friends, better to have fewer or no friends. Besides, with all the money you save you will have plenty of friends. They will be frugal friends, but they are the best kind.
Getting family, especially younger children, on board is a challenge. A challenge worth pursuing. Teaching your kids that life is not an endless litany of gifting obligations is the greatest gift you can bestow on them. Money issues are a great cause of anxiety and relationship distress. When the demands for money disappear, the greatest obstacle to happiness in life is eliminated and you can enjoy life for what it is.
I will not even joke that you should buy gifts using Amazon links from this blog. If there is a need for something, by all means think of your favorite accountant. But I will be fine either way. The holidays are a time of year when our normally low spending is even lower. There are so many free things to do together as a family that we cannot see them all. Enjoy watching the snow this holiday or a warm cup of apple cider with the family. Read a book together, tell stories, remind each other of how wonderful it is to know them.
Life is really great in this era. We have so much and the cost is so small. We can enjoy the greatest gift of all: family and friends. What a shame it would be to waste that gift in exchange for a trinket from China.