The abominable shopping season strikes again
Special to Stars and Stripes December 8, 2023
Like most military families struggling to climb the never-ending series of financial peaks along life’s path, we’ve always been uneasy about money. Mortgages, car loans, school tuition, music lessons, credit card payments, repair bills, sports fees, application fees, grocery bills, insurance bills, and all the other costs that encumber the typical military family, pile up into a seemingly overwhelming mountain of expenses to climb.
We trudge up each treacherous peak, wondering if we’ll ever get out of debt, save enough for college and make it to retirement. We kept at it, believing that one day, we’ll finally reach the summit and plant a flag signaling that our personal financial goals have been achieved. It will be all downhill from there.
After more than 30 years of marriage, we still haven’t planted that flag. Every pay raise my husband received over the years seemed accompanied by more expenses, so that our uncomfortable debt-income ratio never seemed to improve. As our household income increased, our lifestyle absorbed it without much notice, and we trudged on, never really finding that windfall of profit we’d been looking for all our lives.
We keep climbing from one crumbling financial ledge to the next, in an unending quest for the pinnacle of financial stability and freedom. Sometimes we think we’ve found a foothold, but something always seems to come along and knock us into another crevasse of debt. Our saboteurs aren’t polar bears, mountain goats, or the Abominable Snowman. The monetary enemies we’ve faced were surprise roof leaks, transmission failures, tax assessments and college tuition bills.
And now, in December, we must take on the monster that wreaks its fiscal devastation upon us annually — the Holiday Shopping Season.
“Now, kids, your father and I are NOT going to buy a lot of Christmas presents this year,” I’ve told our three children every December since they were in middle school. Despite their “we’ve heard this before” eye-rolling, I’ve sincerely meant it every time. The problem: Once I get out into the frenzy of holiday shoppers, I lose my way. Despite careful budgeting and planning, I am bombarded by a blizzard of twinkle lights, eye-catching displays, irresistible sales, fuzzy slippers, cheese log samples, ingenious gadgets, two-for-one deals and unsolicited perfume spritzes.
I’ve never been a savvy customer — but rather, a “misfit shopper” — so, like the preacher’s daughter at the frat party, I sometimes don’t know when to stop and find myself easily manipulated into doing very bad things.
I show up at the mall armed with good intentions, a budgeted list of specific items, and a plan to go home and cook an economical dinner. The next thing I know, I’ve overdosed on department store fragrances and Harry & David samples. My husband and kids have called numerous times, wondering why I haven’t come home yet. My automobile is stuffed to the moon roof with shopping bags, half of which contain items I bought for myself.
Woozy and confused, I chew the remnants of peppermint bark I vaguely recall buying from a female elf at Macy’s, run through a drive through to pick up a bucket of chicken for the family, make the humiliating “drive of shame” back home, and wonder when the avalanche of credit card bills will roll in.
What happened? Will I ever learn financial self-control and stay on course? Why am I always blinded by the blizzard of holiday shopping temptations? Am I destined to be financially adrift forever?
With predicted increasing inflation, a mortgage the size of Montana, and three demanding twenty-somethings coming home for the holidays, I will, once again, try to resist the abominable evils of the holiday shopping season. I will not try on boots, agree to an exfoliating hand massage, sample gourmet mustards or take the tiniest whiff of perfume being spritzed my way. I must stick to my list, pay in cash, avoid anyone dressed up like an elf and save some singles for the Salvation Army bucket.
I may not have Rudolph to guide me, but there’s no need to cancel Christmas. This misfit shopper will make it through the holiday spending blizzard of 2023, and keep on climbing. Onward and upward.
Read more at themeatandpotatoesoflife.com and in Lisa’s book, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.” Email: firstname.lastname@example.org