Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Buying and Receiving Gifts

When there's not much money, a family learns to buy only what it needs, not what it wants.

But what constitutes needs and wants?

Yes, we need food, but do we need hamburger, or can we live on black-eyed peas and rice? Do we need fresh fruit, or is canned good enough? Do we need to go to the doctor and the pharmacy when we're sick, or is that a want? Would recuperating at home (with garlic and herbs and chicken soup) be sufficient? When you have back pain that a D.O. could alleviate, is it a need or a want to visit the doctor and get relief? Do I really need a car to drive to work, or could I walk or bike the 9 miles if I had to? We live in Wisconsin, so we need heat to stay alive through the winter, but do we need 67°, or is that a want? Would 55° be enough? I suspect that we are far more spoiled than I'm willing to admit.

For quite a few years, we've pretty much skipped over birthday presents. I don't think we've ever given anniversary gifts to our kids. What's under the Christmas tree is pretty minimal. This bothers other people more than it bothers us. When I think how many Americans are burdened by too much stuff, I realize that minimal (or sometimes even non-existent) gift-giving may not be such a terrible thing.

There is, however, one rule we've tried to follow. When we receive birthday gifts of cash, we don't spend it on necessities. When our parents say, "Here's a check; do something fun with it," we figure we ought to do something FUN. Right? But when you're living a mega-frugal life, it's hard to let money slip through your fingers. Often we go out to eat with gift-money, but (being frugal) we usually have money left after paying the bill and the tip. So rather than racking our brains to figure out something to spend the money on, we cash the checks, place the money in an envelope, and wait until something really really obvious shows up that we want to do for fun. That's part of the reason we could go to the marvelous play we attended Sunday. It's also why we decided to send two of our daughters to this play. Hey, we can justify it as their past birthday gifts!

And at times like this, I know for sure that we are much wealthier than I usually recognize! The expansive, joyous feeling in my chest from having watched that play -- well, that's not a need. But what a treasure it is!


  1. Trying here Susan. There is still too much stuff and I try to take time to get rid of as much as possible. How to keep the relatives at bay???? That is my big question.

  2. We don't do gifts either, every now and then we agree that it would be nice to have something fun so we talk about it, look up prices, and then eventually purchase it (if it's gone through all the days of thinking about it and we still want it. Paul has definitely changed my views on money and fun and what I should buy versus what I want to buy.

  3. Don't get me wrong, Cassie, I like gifts! It's just that, with our situation, we need to keep a careful perspective on them.

    Last night, somebody from church brought Gary a gift bag for his birthday. It was so fun! Lots of nifty little stuff. It's the kind of thing that just gives you warm-fuzzies that somebody would do that!!! And if you've got the ability to give those warm-fuzzies, then let us who receive the gift enjoy it for all it's worth!!! Woo hoo!

  4. I am so very excited about the show! Thanks for the tickets and the chance for a sister-date!