Our $200 Christmas
December 12, 2013
We have a $200 Christmas budget this year. I feel neither sad nor deprived about this. We’ve been leaning into simplicity over the last few years in order to focus on what’s important. This is just an extension of our goals around voluntary simplicity or frugality. How did we get to the $200 amount? It’s the amount that we have in our virtual Christmas envelope. Let me back up a few steps. Charlie and I have been fundamentally pro-budget since we’ve been married. Over the years, as Charlie’s income has gone up, our spending to the budget has declined. We would do a budget, track our spending, but then mostly use it as a tool to look back and see how we did. We had considered going to a total cash budget, but we were both enthusiastic about travel hacking and maximizing airline miles on credit cards. Thus, we put off the cash budget.
We have periodic budget meetings. Over the last few years, they’ve been (roughly) quarterly and mostly grim. In other words, we spent more than we wanted to. We were continually frustrated with ourselves. I usually brought up the cash budget, and Charlie usually wanted to continue to try to get our acts together financially and optimize airline miles. Over and over again, we seemed not to be getting ahead. Not saving as aggressively as we wanted to, although we knew that we should be able to with Charlie’s income. In early autumn, Charlie did some detailed analysis for our spending over the last year. What he found made us both get a catch in the gut. We were actually spending more than Charlie’s salary. I know. Rookie problem. The reason we were able to keep going and not go into debt is that we were making ends meet using his bonuses. Our lifestyle didn’t seem over the top to us. It just seemed sort of normal. Normal for Menlo Park. Which is to say normal here is different from “normal” in other areas. Menlo Park is the hub of venture capital. So, there’s a lot of money here. People have a lot of cool stuff. Really big, nice houses. Cool cars. Which is all fine, except that it can distort your sense of what is actually normal.
This is where my being involved with poverty alleviation gives me a bit of perspective. Being involved with issues surrounding poverty helps me remember what’s true. What’s true is that most people on the planet live in a space the size of my dining room. What’s true is that access to clean water is considered a clean water source less than a mile away. With that definition, 345,000,000 people still don’t have access to clean water. What’s true is that if your family earns $35,000 a year, you’re in the top 1% of global income earners. So, I can look at Menlo Park and set my norms based on that. Or, I can learn about what is actually normal for the majority of the world and re-set my norms based on what I know to be true.
This has led our family to an attitude of abundance. I recently took an on-line class from Brene Brown. It was wonderful for so many reasons. One of them was that there was a ton of emphasis on practicing gratitude. Practicing gratitude is different from “trying to be grateful”. Practicing gratitude is like practicing yoga. You actually have to make yourself slow down and be grateful. There is a mindfulness and an intentionality. Sit down and write about those things for which you are grateful. Write them down. Look at your list. Ponder it and add to it. Once you start down the rabbit hole, you find an unending list. I know where my next 365 meals are coming from. My kids never go to bed hungry. I have shelter every single night. I have central heat. My kids have access to a great education. I’m married to a man who I deeply love and respect- and who feels the same way about me. We live in a safe neighborhood. I have five places in my house where you can turn on a tap and get fresh, drinkable water . We have access to hot water whenever we want it. I don’t even have to heat it myself. If my kids are sick, I take them to the doctor without even thinking about it. Which is to say, we are rich. There is plenty. There is more than enough.
This attitude of abundance was incredibly helpful when I looked at the $200 in our Christmas envelope. Knowing how good we already have it, I can look at our $200 budget and realize how rich that is. Because we started our new budget on November 1, we only had two months to save for Christmas. Thus, $200. Next year we’ll likely have more money to spend. That being said, I like our Christmases to be quiet and peaceful. There is so much to gaining white space in your Christmas. I’d love to hear from you in the comments on how you’re slowing down or spending less during this holiday season.
Click on my other posts below on slowing down during the holidays.