The Reduced Christmas

It all started with a little text asking “Would you be ok with an adult gift exchange?” from my mother-in-law to my wife.  I nearly did a dance right there.  You see my mother-in-law LOVES Christmas and has for years had the tendency to go a bit overkill on presents (at least to my taste).  I’ve noticed as I get older I really do want less stuff (let’s face it I already own most of things I want in life).  I’m more into give me a few things that I REALLY want and skip the rest (you know like the sweater you hate at once, but seem to hang onto for two years out of guilt).  I would rather spend my effort seeing people and enjoying their company than buying more stuff.

So that gift exchanged cut things back a bit more.  Yet it gave me an idea to take that to the next level and suggest to friends of ours to stop exchanging gifts for each other as well and focus on the kids instead.  They also agreed!  It seems I’m not entirely alone in getting a bit too much stuff over the holidays.

With those two agreements we have managed to take down our Christmas budget by about $250 to a total of $1335.  Actually since I’ve been keeping records, we will now only be budgeting $185 higher than our 2003 budget with no adjustment for inflation.  I should point out too, that in the 10 years of records I have we have never once went over our budget.

While I don’t think I’ll ever get down to a no gift Christmas, I am pleased to see that we have managed to resist to urge to keep expanding our shopping lists.  Yet instead I have expanded the amount of vacation I take over the holidays.  I notice having more time off just prior to Christmas I actually have time to do things and enjoy my vacation.  I don’t run around shopping, wrapping and generally losing my mind.

Have you reduced your Christmas over the years?  Any tips on talking with friends and relatives on buying less?  Or how do you cope with all the rushing around that seems to happen?

Doing it for “Something”

I had a really good time during my University years. I ate a lot of food, drank a lot of beer and other beverages and did a lot of sitting around, perfecting useless moves on Tony Hawk video games for the PlayStation. As a result of this kind of lifestyle, I was able to wear fairly large pants by the time I graduated. Around the time I was finishing school, I played in a 3 on 3 hockey tournament, taking part in 3 or 4 games over the day. By that evening, I was so worn out I was physically ill – it felt like I had been in a car crash – not just skated around in circles in a tournament that didn’t even require shoulder pads (non-contact).

I decided after my hockey experience that as much fun as it was to eat 4 full meals in a day (who doesn’t like second breakfast?) along with a late night snack of Chinese Food or 800 calorie pita wraps after drinking “all” of the beer, there was a downside – mostly the not being able to breathe after walking up a flight of stairs.

I read a lot of diet and fitness books, started moving around and lifting heavy things. It turned out that once I changed everything I was previously doing, I was able to get into much better shape. I could now move around for an extended period of time without feeling like I wanted to die (I still got very sweaty though, apparently there’s no stopping that).

Around the same time period, I was changing my finances around as well. I moved from a time when I was spending student loans on very non-school related items, to paying them off and saving enough to pay cash for a fairly nice car. Looking back, I would have preferred to have bought a car for about half the price and have had that money invested for a decade, but I’m glad I didn’t continue on with my “spendy” ways.

I keep my finances in order, to the point that I will hopefully be able to achieve financial independence by age 45 for the same reason why I stay in shape – in case I want to do something. That “something” may be an 8 km walk after staying out past the last bus and still having to get home at 1:30 in the morning. Or that “something” could be a lesser-paying career that is interesting or fulfilling at some point in the future.

Maybe that moment will never come, but I prefer to be prepared, rather than having that feeling I did about 10 years ago of wanting to do something and it making me sick.

Do you have a “Something” that keeps you motivated?

Seeing Both Sides

I have to admit I’m a bit confused by people that ask me “How can you live on so little?”  I think it comes out of the fact that I don’t really see it as a challenge, I’ve been living this way for years and I’m happy.  Doing it now is so easy for me I really don’t get what the big deal is.  Lots of people live on about $35,000/year.  It is not that hard.

I suppose the real question is: how do you not spend it all when you could?  Ah, now that is a good question.  For example, one of my greatest weaknesses is historic houses….I LOVE THEM.  The hardwood floors, the detailed molding, stained glass and all the other little details…case in point a house like this is like house porn to me.  Yet the house I just linked to is listed for $997,000.  Yet here is the funny thing…I know I could buy that house if I want. How?  I own a property worth ~$400,000.  If you sell that and with my income I could get a bank to give me a nearly $600,000 mortgage to buy that house.

So you might think I’m excited by that idea, which I am a little bit.  Yet I can also see the other side of this situation.  If I did own that house it would a upkeep and spending black hole.  You need the cool furniture to match the house, so that is some more money.  Cleaning the thing would be a horrible event, which I would likely then contract out for more money.  I also know property taxes and heating the damn thing would consume even more cash.  In the end, yes I could have my dream but the rest of my life would suck in order to do it, since I would have to work another 25 years just to pay for it, so what would be the point?

In summary, I can see both sides of most of my dreams and realize that just about every dream you have also comes with some tarnish that goes with the shine.  Most people are blinded by the shine and don’t notice the tarnish until after they own it.  I can usually spend some time realistically assessing my dream and can see most of the tarnish prior to doing it.  Everything has its downsides as well as positives.  You are the one that has to assess what a dream is worth to you.

This may come across as a very negative way to think about things, but I rather think it is injecting some reality into a internal debate.  Also people tend to overrate the impact of their dream purchases, heck I even fall victim to it once in a while.  So next time you are looking at a temptation, pull a Janus and look at both side at once.  Your future self will thank you.