Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday

One of the surest ways for me to upset folks is to blog about personal finance.

That's not surprising; the entire issue of personal finance/prosperity/money is pretty fraught within the overall Pagan community. There are likely a number of reasons for the "issues around this issue," including the squick of New Age Prosperity gurus, a still-lingering notion from the late 60s/early 70s that it's "wrong" for tarot readers, reiki workers, Pagan clergy, etc. to charge for their work (although that's become less of an issue lately and was always kind-of tempered with a grudging, "well, at least bartering would be ok"), and a general preference for a more egalitarian, less hierarchical community (and little separates and creates hierarchy within the overall culture than disparate economic circumstances). Lots of Pagans simply have priorities other than "material success" and many of us have very grave concerns about the planetary impact of overconsumption of Earth's resources. You can probably think of other reasons. And, Goddess knows, the current completely dysfunctional economy has vastly exacerbated all of these issues; it's pretty difficult to read advice about personal finances when your job's been send offshore, you've lost your home due to mortgage fraud, or a health problem bankrupts you after years of work, thrift, and prudence.

All of which often leads, in my humble experience, to people reacting to what they hear in their head rather than to what's actually being said.

Which is, as seems lately to be too regular a practice with me, a long wind-up for saying: For the love of the Goddess, do NOT put yourself into debt this holiday season. Debt, like fear, is the mind-killer. Debt can poison your life, threaten your home, ruin your chance for a comfortable old age. Kate Moss, the anorexic model who has done as much as any single human to poison the body image of millions of women, is infamously supposed to have remarked that "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels." (Ms. Moss has, obviously, never had good caviar, the soup at Bayona, my friend E's apple pie, Son's bar-b-que, DiL's clam chowder, my friend B's chopped liver, or a well-buttered lobster roll on a hot day at the National Cathedral's annual flower sale. And she is poorer for the lack.) I've looked at debt from both sides now, and I will say that almost nothing that you buy on credit is as good as debt-free feels.

My "almost nothing" qualifier consists of this: (1) I think that education is priceless and that, since, sadly the United States doesn't support quality life-time education, it can make sense, over a lifetime, to borrow money for an education. Often, though not always, the investment is financially sensible, as a good education can result in earnings high enough to justify taking out the loan. I can also think of situations in which the way that education enhances everyday life can make it worthwhile to incur an educational debt even when it won't be financially rewarding and will require lifetime sacrifices in other areas. (Yesterday, I mentioned to family that G/Son is getting quite good at arithmetic and can count to 100. G/Son disappeared, and I thought at first that I'd embarrassed him by making him the center of attention. But in a moment he re-appeared from the table where he keeps his recent papers from Montessori school and said to his other grandparents, "I can count to 100 and this will help me." Then, he used the number chart that he'd handmade at school to count off the numbers from 1 to 100, including the teens which, for some odd reason, still give him a bit of trouble. Later in the evening, he brought me a map of the world that he'd colored in and showed me the names of the continents. I can't put a price on that.) (2) I think that, in some circumstances, borrowing money for a mortgage can make sense. Certainly, in the midst of today's mortgage fraud crisis (and it may take a number of years to work this out), and joblessness epidemic, I'd be very hesitant. You can always rent for one more year and put the difference in the bank. But buying a small home that you can pay off in 10 or 15 years can be a good investment because, even if the Catfood Commission reduces us to penury in our old age, one can at least be generally certain of a roof over one's head. (3) I think that, for people first starting out, and especially now while interest rates are quite low, if you live in an area where a car is necessary (and, ask, first: is it really necessary, right now?), it might make sense to borrow a small amount of money to buy your first car, especially if this will allow you to get to a job, get out of your house with your small child, get to college, etc. Eventually, your goal should be to be able to pay cash out of savings for a new car. (4) In some rare circumstances, when you are just starting out in life, it can make sense to use a credit card in emergencies. Here's the kind of emergency I mean: You're out of college, in your first home, with an infant. The used car that you bought a year ago, that you use to drop your child at day care and get to your job, needs a new radiator. Your trusted mechanic says that a new radiator will get you at least another 18 months out of this car. Your savings won't cover the repair. W/o the car, you'd have to take 3 busses to get your child to day care and yourself to work and then 3 busses the other way at the end of the day. Put the repair on your credit card and then cut expenses to the bone to pay it off as fast as humanly possible. Once it's paid off, start putting the amount of your monthly payment into the bank for at least a few months. Next time, you won't have to borrow to cover the repair. (5) You're in the middle of Full Catastrophe. You've lost your job, you've got huge medical bills, and you need to rent a U-Haul to move out of your house and in with a relative. You need another chemo treatment to stay alive. You need to buy a plane ticket home to see your dying mother.

Beyond those sorts of instances, my advice (and, feel free to ignore it or dispute it) is to not borrow money, esp. via credit cards. Whatever you think you need, you really don't. If you buy things with a credit card that you cannot pay off at the end of the month (ie, you're using the credit card for convenience or to earn airline miles) then you are, simply, living beyond your means. And you cannot live beyond your means for any length of time.

This time of year is especially difficult. No matter which, if any, holiday(s) we celebrate about now, there's a pressure to spend money whether we have it, or not. What kind of creepy parent wouldn't get their child everything they want for xmas? What kind of jerk can't donate to the office fund for the xmas party? What kind of friend are you if you don't buy cards to send to everyone you know? What sort of person doesn't get a gift for the doorman, the mailman, your secretary, the guy who does your hair? What kind of niece doesn't go buy her aunt another unwanted bottle of eau de toilette? Do you want to be the only one on your block without flashing lights that up your electric bill and pollute the planet? Everyone else you know can afford to go camping on the Winter Solstice. What kind of money-grubbing jerk won't contribute to the gift fund for the Circle? Are you really going to wear those thread-worn robes to the Solstice celebration?

Come on. Stop. We're Witches. We deliberately live outside the village, at the edge of the woods where things are wild. And one of the first elements of effective magic is the ability to perceive reality. Send an email: Dear Friends and Family, This year, with Bob out of work and my medical bills, we can't afford to send gifts. Please feel free to reciprocate by not sending gifts to us. We hope that you have a wonderful holiday and that you don't spend even one minute standing in line to buy "stuff" for us.

You'll feel better as soon as you hit "Send."

Here are some additional very worthwhile thoughts about spending money just now:
Every dollar we put into the strange river which is the economy is a vote for the kind of world we want to live in. Do you want a world of blood and exploitation (which is the one we live in now), or a world of art and effort and justice? The choice, as ever, is yours.

Picture found here.


Anne Johnson said...

Today when I was at the grocery store and they were playing Xmas carols, I realized that we are all brainwashed into going into debt to buy gifts for people. You cannot hear "No Place Like Home for the Holidays" while buying barley and not expect your next purchase to be an IPod at Best Buy.

I beseech the help of the bored gods to end my slavery to this brainwashing.

Greenconsciousness said...

Thank You! These are Much Needed Words. it is so easy to feed into this manufactured stupidity instead of getting people what you see they need, whenever they need it during the cycle AND when you can afford it.It is just junk. In the meantime our creativity suffers, our music dies, our gatherings smaller. Real intimacy suffers.The winter solstice really is the dark night of the soul.

Aisha said...

Hecate you took the thoughts right outta my head. I mean literally. The last few years my family and i have been cutting back we have put the tree on a timer, the lights on a timer, the heat to bear minimum, all because my parents are from the Caribbean and don't believe in debt. They outright own everything in their house and have paid most of their 30 year loan off in the last 10 years all because they refuse to owe anyone,. If they can't buy cash?? then they don't need it. This is a lesson many need to learn, if you can;t buy it do you really even need it??? i never shop on Black Friday, until way after th crowds have left and only for necessities. ( I mean really necessities) T.v.'s don't count no matter what that commercial said.
Good topic

Briny Deep said...

If I can't think of what to buy someone, I don't buy them anything. If I find something someone would like at a different time of year, and I can afford the item, I buy it for them. My friends know that there are some Decembers where nothing really seems like a good idea, yanno? Why add to the clutter? And I don't buy gifts for the office- I bring in sandwiches on a random Tuesday. Sandwich Day is better than another "thing."

And having trouble with the teens isn't that odd. They make no sense. "Eleven" and "twelve" and "thirteen" are just bizarre, when compared to "forty six" or "ninety two." Those flat out tell you what they are, and what order they go in. "Twelve?" What the hell is "twelve?"

Makarios said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Makarios said...

Interestingly, Margaret Atwood's 2008 Massey Lectures were entitled Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth. Some reviews can be seen about halfway down the page here:

In the interest of economy, I can send you my copy if you'd like.

Teacats said...

BUY!! BUY!!! After all -- billionaires can't live on just their own income!!! Come on -- don't be selfish -- they NEED another house in the south of France, fer cripes sake!

Brainwashing is Putting on the Positive Spin on this deep Depression. The economy has NOT improved -- it has been whitewashed and tied up with Xmas wrapping.

Check your closets and garage, basement or attic -- how much stuff/crap has been stashed and forgotten?? According to a breif mention on NPR -- more than thirteen million people have NOT paid for LAST year's holiday spending!!!

Here's another soul who stayed home and didn't buy a thing. I have already bought a few items from Pagan shops on Etsy. I am making dried fruit slices to go in a fresh smelling potpourri for Yule gifts. I cleaned the house. I fed the cat that has been hanging around our front door.

Jan at Rosemary Cottage

Greenconsciousness said...

Thank You for feeding the cat!

fyreflye said...

Basically most American Holidays exist for the primary purpose of getting us to spend money on things we wouldn't ordinarily buy. On gas to drive long distances to gather with relatives we usually avoid; to buy presents for "friends" we don't really like; to gorge on food that's bad for our health;
to scramble for "Deals" on things we don't need or even want; to take brief but expensive vacations from the drudgery of wage slavery.
If these Holidays were ignored by enough people the economy would collapse and those really in power would fall.
This December 7 join Bank Mutiny Day and withdraw all your money from your bank (especially if you bank at B of A or JP Morgan/Chase) and deposit in a locally owned credit union. Strike back at the bastards.

Greenconsciousness said...

In the spiritof this post but funny, check out Uppity Woman here: