It’s that time of year again. Can you feel it? The pressure to buy things – gifts, decorations, food, wine. Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday – they all have deals you must be sure not to miss. Even if you keep the price of each gift reasonable, you are expected to get a gift for each family member, in-law, cousin, neice, nephew, teacher, doorman, and employee. This all adds up to not only a lot of expense, but also time. Time to figure out which gift to purchase. Time to purchase it or order online. Time to find a box and wrap it. Time to tie the bow and add the card. Time to deliver or mail it.
And then, there are the commercials. I cut the cable cord before it was popular, back in 2010, so I have not been exposed to traditional television commercials on a regular basis in a decade. But while visiting family over Thanksgiving, I was reintroduced to the barrage of holiday commercials. Most notable were the car commercials. There is a 30-something looking couple where the husband buys not one, but two brand new GMC trucks/SUVs – “One for Me, One for You” is the title. It has me thinking, who are these people?
A large purchase such as a car, is a major financial decision, not a gift. Even if money were no object, most drivers want to select their own car – make, model, color, and accessories. Most people finance or lease, which means these ‘gifts’ are going to cost the giver every month for the next 3-6 years. That’s a large chunk of the household budget to sacrifice without consulting your spouse. I spoke to CNBC about large gift purchases here.
I watched a fair amount of regular TV with commercials over Thanksgiving, and something struck me …. a car is not an appropriate Christmas gift for your spouse. That’s a household financial decision, not a gift.
— Blair H duQuesnay (@BlairHduQuesnay) December 3, 2019
Brian Portnoy reminds us in The Geometry of Wealth that the hedonic treadmill – the endless pursuit of more – does not make us happy. In fact, once the short-term, experienced happiness of a large gift wears off, we may end up at a lower point than we were before. This is akin to a drug user chasing the next great high; it never lives up to the first time. The American identity is almost inseparable from consumerism and ‘keeping up with Joneses’. It takes a rebellious spirit to break with the mold.
There is a financial life planning technique from George Kinder that I believe gets at the root of what will make a person happy. It is called The Three Questions. It narrows in how an individual would spend their time of money were no object but their life span was limited. Not surprisingly, most people turn their focus to spending more time with family and friends. These connections provide sustainable happiness. The holidays can be a wonderful opportunity to nurture these relationships and create meaningful memories, if only we would abandon all the stress and anxiety over preparing for the big day.
After three trips to Home Depot to check if the new shipment of trees arrived, I purchased this quirky looking tree on Friday and managed to decorate it over the weekend.