14 Nov The Aikido of a Holiday Budget Reset
The holidays. Who can get through them unscathed by consumerism? Let’s see if we can lower the temperature and increase the financial transformation for the #budgetblowout called varyingly Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza and “urgent special deals today only”. The post has two parts… and a kicker: One and two are actual holiday tips and then an invitation to a to detox from being a besotted shopper.
Part One: 5 Ways to put love into the holidays
I just recorded a free podcast (in prep for a webinar on Money and Boundaries) with my friend and sister author, Sarri Gilman, called “Less Stress over Stuff for the Holidays.” We prepared a long list of tips to share.
People love tip lists – the ten best whatevers, the four things to never forget, the twenty ways to outsmart the market/your husband/your boss. We scan magazines and social media and overheard conversations, looking for tips. If only one tip among twenty in an article helps you, you’re relatively satisfied. I even treat talks by spiritual teachers or serious lectures on sustainability like tip lists, looking for one more puzzle piece in the puzzle of how life works and what happens when it doesn’t. One tip per lecture or video and I am oriented and moving.
My podcast with Sarri was like that. We had such good ideas.
- Give token gifts with a card explaining why you picked this for them.
- Buy local and share the craftsman’s story along with the crafted item.
- Build traditions for going slow, feeling close and shopping wisely. Take the family to the thrift store with Christmas lists. Have kids wrap a toy they never use to give to other kids in need.
- Donate in your friend’s name. Select organizations that would be meaningful for each person on your list.
- Send Holiday Cards with personal message and an annual letter about your life. Or make cards with favorite quotes.
By the end of our long list I realized that the key is the thoughtfulness, not the thing. Love wins when we put it at the center of the holidays. I’m making a list, checking it twice – of who I want to gift with a card or a gift certificate or a treasure that expresses my appreciation of them. I’ve been such a “Grinch who Stole Christmas” about the holidays because of the commercialism. I’ve written articles and given many interviews harrumphing about how Macy’s and now Amazon stole Christmas, how people pile up debt and the Banks take home the biggest present. In doing so, I lost the gift of the season – that people are open to giving and receiving love so pile it on, Vicki, slather your love everywhere.
Part Two: 5 Ways to save money by giving differently
- Send a letter to everyone on your list stating your intention to no longer give gifts – with a why but no apologies.
- Give a gift of service, be it baby-sitting or a few hours of respite for a family caregiver or a haircut (if you know how) or a foot massage.
- Invite friends over for egg-nog and story telling party. Go around and talk about your best holiday and why.
- Go out Christmas caroling in your neighborhood. I’ve done this on my street in Seattle and then people we’d caroled one year wanted to go out in caroling teams to hit a 4-block area. We always had the littlest kid ring the doorbell and deliver a plate of cookies.
- Be an elf with an organization that delivers holiday gifts to families who’ve hit a hard time. Or find a giving tree in a public place where organizations hang a name and the desired gift for each child they serve. When I did that the kid wanted a 6-pack of Coke in glass bottles. It took a lot of looking but I did it – and felt great.
However sweet my conversation with Sarri, we both knew we were speaking into a whirlwind of assumptions and obligations, of marketing and messaging that make people feel vaguely mean and unAmerican if they don’t buy presents for everyone. You must. You’re expected to. You can’t show up anywhere empty-handed.
What – if anything – could be a remedy for shop til you drop syndrome at the holidays.
In Aikido, the martial art of non-resistance, they say, “When pushed, pull. When pulled, enter.” When someone comes at you, bring them even closer. When someone grabs you, go on a journey with them, gently dissipating their aggression. Move with, not against, the energy of your opponent. Show them in the front door – and out the back – with a sweet smile. And then pin them to the ground!
What would be the Aikido of holiday shopping? What is non-resistance with consumerism – and don’t say, “WTF, go ahead and shop.”
One way to Shop til you Drop for free
That question recalled for me a prank pulled by Ernie Cortes, who was trained in power analysis and organizing by The Industrial Areas Foundation, founded in the 1940s by radical activist Saul Alinsky. IAF community organizations speak truth to power. They undertake actions that use the energy of the enemy to turn a situation around. When Ernie Cortes returned to his home town of San Antonio Texas after his IAF training, he learned that basic services and infrastructure in Mexican American neighborhoods in San Antonio were severely neglected and underfunded. He needed to get the attention of the banks and the biggest local businesses, i.e. Frost National Bank and Joske’s Department Store in a way that was legal, respectful and attention grabbing so he mounted a peaceful guerilla war. At the bank, members of his organization, many of them poor, lined up to change dollars into pennies, then go to the back of the line with their pocket of pennies and shuffle forward until they were at the teller, asking them to turn pennies into dollars. And so it went. Perfectly legal and totally gumming up the bank’s works. At Joskes, a gaggle of nuns – members of Cortes’s organization – crowded into the party and wedding gown department and tried on dress after dress studded with pearls and detailed with lace. After they’d tried on about everything – can you imagine the scene – they filled carts, waited on line but at the last minute changed their minds at the last minute, buying nothing. The resulting quite legal clogging of the works got the city leadership to agree to Cortes’s demands.
With this in mind, let’s devise a strategy for facing down rather than resisting consumerism.
Normal holiday tips help you resist the siren call of spending. Our caper says, “Go for it!” They want you to buy buy buy – well, do it. Make shopping a true and conscious sport. Enter whatever mega mall you want, go to the anchor department store and give yourself a few hours of wanting and more wanting and bigger wanting. In every aisle, see what you want. Don’t just throw things in, but pick out the things you really want. Make-up. Do you buy lesser brands because you can’t afford the best… but really want it. Put it in your cart. Socks. Hoodies. Tools. Journals. Handbags. Baby items. Dog toys. Kid’s toys. Don’t be greedy, sweeping racks clean. Just take what you want without regard for if you can afford it or how others will judge you. Let everything that goes in your cart be special.
Maybe your cart gets too full. Park it somewhere and get another. What do I want? Really want? Why do I want it? Get another cart.
Get your friends to get carts. Deck the aisles with carts of wanting.
Now you have a choice. You can just leave the carts and walk out. You can get another cart and transfer things you actually really want into it and head for the checkout. You can even max out a credit card buying things and see how that feels. If not unusual or terrible, read Your Money or Your Life again! Maybe it feels naughty. Or richly satisfying. Or frightening. This is another part of the exercise in wanting, getting and having, of consciously engaging with the sirens of the holiday season.
Consider how far towards your car or the bus you want to go before turning around and taking it all back.
Take it all back? But why did you say to want it and choose it and buy it?
Wanting Money more than Stuff
What’s the point? How does this help you find that sweet spot of enough?
One way people do that with food is to give themselves permission for a day a week to eat anything and everything they want. By over-eating, sane eating feels like a real gift. The same with shopping. Unleash wanting and you find you want less, you actually find over-shopping nauseating. The zoning out. The mindless throwing stuff in a cart. The anxiety about which purse or lipstick you should buy. The crowds. The check out lines. You end up yearning for a walk in the park!
This #budgetblowout can simply be that: a way to test the extreme end of the scale so you can better determine what you really want.
A lot of Your Money or Your Life is about self observation. Ask: What do I seem to want and why do I want it? What do I really want that I’m trying to get through stuff? What have I been denying myself and why? What gazingus pins have I bought because I refused to understand what I really wanted? Sometimes people who’ve adopted frugality as a virtue or as a strategy for financial independence are so constipated about spending money that they’ve disabled a very important piece of survival equipment for humans: wanting. Wanting gets you up and out of bed and on the hunt to fill your hungers. It’s part of dreams. Of ambitions. People on the Financial Independence Retire Early path rewire their wanting mechanism from more stuff to their big goal – be it a date or a number for financial independence.
As you go through every aisle with that “Hey, what here do I want?” entitled attitude, you start to activate that healthy appetite suppressed through years of shoulds, oughts, no’s, and such. Uncorking wanting isn’t the road to perdition. It can be the road to ever higher desires, for wanting really valuable things – like happiness for the ones you love, justice in the neighborhood where you live or peace on earth.
What thoughts come up when you wheel your cart back into the store to return everything? Are you violating some religious law?
If you worry about all the work you are causing, consider that employment over the holidays is a crucial part of many families budgets. The more hours temporary holiday staff can clock, the bigger the paycheck. Gumming up the store makes work for people who need work. We might feel sorry for the store, for the lost revenue from returning everything you bought – but honestly, who are you to the store other than the dollars or credit cards in your wallet? How loyal is the store to you? Making the lines slower might annoy some people hell bent on getting all their shopping done in one evening, but perhaps the speed of the line will slow them down and have them reconsider a few things that would pile on more debt. And why do we think of holidays as speeding through malls rather than slowing down with family. Imposing your aikido moves on innocent shoppers might feel impolite but perhaps we can dedicate this ritual of blowing our holiday budgets – and then returning everything – to something higher.
What would that higher purpose be?
I think an aspect of consumerism is a sense of loyalty to the religion of consumption. The store is the church. We participate in the church by buying. The more we buy the more loyal we are. If we go into the church and leave without buying we feel oddly guilty, like we didn’t tithe. Others – families and friends and famous people – go to this church so we belong to and with them because we all worship together. Target and Walmart know this well, selling knock offs like Xhilaration and Mossimo of Chanel, Burberry, Hermes, Prada and Gucci. Belonging is one of our deepest drives. Brands are tribes. Stores are tribes. Would you do this exercise in a sporting goods store? In a gun store? In a Walmart? At Armani or Oscar de la Renta in New York City?
For Ernie Cortes and his group the purpose was to get millions of San Antonio dollars invested into infrastructure in poorer neighborhoods. For each of us it might just be a profound holiday meditation on our relationship with money. It might reveal the forces of consumerism we’ve woven into our beautiful capacity to want and to get what we want and to let go of what we thought we wanted and to make such choices with no larding of guilt or shame or envy.
Another purpose perhaps would be to inspire others to rethink the holidays. Perhaps it would be to do the exercise and blog about it. Post in social media about it. Take pictures and explain on Instagram about it. #budgetblowout. Make a video and post on YouTube. Challenge your networks to do it, not to be snarky or competitive, but to find out for themselves what they truly want.
The day after Thanksgiving is Buy Nothing Day . For over 20 years people have withdrawn from shopping on the biggest shopping day of the year – and done it with style. In the 1990s friends and I would go to Westlake Plaza in downtown Seattle, set up a refrigerator box plastered with cartoons about shopping, sit inside on a stool and peer out a cutout window with a shingle reading the Shopping Doctor is In. As profound an act as withdrawing from a social ritual is, this #budgetblowout of wanting and shopping and buying and returning might have a new shock value – both for our own psyches and for the stores.
Maybe ultimately the FIRE, financial independence retire early, community – freed from jobs and to live a life they love – could take on at least playful public actions to draw attention to how consumerism is eating our lives.
Whatever you do for your #budgetblowout aikido exercise (but remember to return it all or you’ll just be another shopaholic), come home and make a list of who you love and what notes you want to write to them, attached to a $5 or less gift from the thrift store.