Not buying it

Stockimages at

Stockimages at

Like my shopaholic foremothers, I usually indulge in the “one for you, one for me” method of gift buying. Not only does this help the economy, but it also motivates me to cheerfully take on the majority of family shopping duties, for which my husband is eternally grateful.

But as you can imagine, Chrismukkah season is a huge challenge for my wallet. My family celebrates both Hanukah and Christmas, with multiple events and multiple present buying requirements, then there are hostess gifts to buy, and birthdays this month, plus it’s my parent’s anniversary. Also, the displays in all the stores are so cute and everywhere you look everything is on sale. There are almost too many shopping opportunities for my microscopic MasterCard limit–not to mention our dwindling 201-K account–to bear.

No wonder I feel overwhelmed and underfunded.

When I read about Andrea Tringo and Steven Posusta’s pledge to refrain from buying anything new for a year, the story hit me right in the purse strings–an area where I was already hurting. If this Colorado couple was able to go without buying anything but essentials for almost a year (they started the challenge on January 1, 2008) surely I could go for a week in December without buying anything for myself.

That doesn’t sound so hard, right?

You’d be surprised.

Monday-I wake up inspired. Getting out of the retail rat race this holiday season will be a piece of cake. I’ll make homemade gifts for the majority of my list, so I won’t even be tempted to buy anything for myself. Okay, maybe someday I’ll use that Creative Versa-Tool I bought on a wood burning or soldering project for myself someday, but right now it’s all about giving. Expenses: $97.50 at Michael’s for “miscellaneous supplies.” At least I had a coupon.

Tuesday-I forgot a few things, so I still haven’t started those hand tooled leather ID bracelets I’m making for everyone in my family. It’s back to Michael’s to celebrate, “At Least Twice Tuesday,” an annual holiday event where I go to the same store at least twice to comb through the same items in the same aisles to find the thing I forgot that I needed, but I pay double the original price because I’ve already used my coupon. Expenses: $17.97 on more “miscellaneous supplies.” If you don’t count that pack of sugarless gum I threw in at the last minute–and I certainly don’t think anything under $1 should count–then I spent nothing on myself.

Wednesday-Oh dear, I can’t avoid it any longer. My son insists that his cousins will think my handcrafted presents are “totally bogus.” If I want to buy and ship my gifts out to them, then today’s the day I have to go to the mall. I try to confine my purchases to toys and sporting goods, since neither of them is particularly tempting to me. Unfortunately they had purple slippers on sale at Big Five. PURPLE on SALE! I wish I could say I was virtuous and walked away without a giving those adorably comfy purple slippers a second thought, but the truth is they didn’t have my size. However, I did walk away without asking them to call other stores to see if they had the slippers in my size, so I think I should get some credit for that. Expenses: $237.83 on gifts for other people, $250 to ship them.

Thursday-A workday, so it should be easy to avoid spending money on myself. Except, I work out of a home office, so if I interview someone in town, we usually go out for coffee, which costs money. Hmm…I go out on a limb and ask my interviewee if she’d be willing to go for a walk on the beach. She’s game, the interview goes well, and I save myself the eight bucks I would have spent on lattes. Expenses: zero. Joy of feeling virtuous: priceless.

Friday-Otherwise known as “Freak Out Friday,” when I realize that none of my craft projects are complete, and even if I stay up till 2 a.m. every night until Christmas, I still don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of finishing them. I panic and decide to both bake and craft my gifts. It’s too crowded to park at Vons, so I go to Gelson’s and spend twice as much money but the shelves are much neater. Expenses: $42.57, all I buy for myself is a Diet Coke and a new muffin pan.

Saturday-Spending money forms much of our social life. Our house is too small to entertain in, so if we want to meet friends, we go out for dinner, which involves spending money on myself. I talk my friends into going somewhere inexpensive, and then justify the expense because it’s not much more than eating at home. I’m feeling great until M wants to do some holiday shopping afterward. I agree, hoping she wants to go to Abercrombie, where nothing fits my body or my budget. Nope. Urban Outfitters is having a sale on these really cute purses. I decide to buy one for myself “from Santa,” and throw in some cute scarves, hats and gloves that may or may not be for gifts. That doesn’t count, right? Expenses: zero for me; $159.27 for Santa.

Sunday-This is my final, self-deluded day to attempt outlandish holiday crafts and baked goods, knowing full well there isn’t enough time, talent, sugar, glitter or glue sticks in the world for all of the ambitious projects I have planned. I feel like a complete and utter shopping failure, about to gift everyone on my list with gift cards once again.

But then I re-read the story about Andrea and Steven and realized that their pledge to buy nothing had more to do with living a greener, more socially responsible life than saving money.

That’s when I get the brilliant idea to save the gas and the plastic and the time required to give gift cards and just give out cash instead. What could be greener than that?

Plus I did save money by passing up those purple UGG boots.

When Leslie’s not avoiding the retail rut, she can be reached at Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on December 19, 2008.

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