Despite my All Apologies, But Not Really post that I recently wrote about writing less of the personal diary type of posts and more useful ones that can become part of eBooks in the future, I digress to a purely personal recount of some thoughts on the month so far.
This is late December in 2017. December is one twelfth of the year. Thirty-one days out of three hundred and sixty five.
Here we are again, shopping and buying, buying and shopping. Going to malls, shopping on Amazon, going to Kohl’s, Target, Walgreens and many more retail businesses. As a solidly middle class American family, we are doing our fair share of shopping at all of the above and then some, pumping thousands of our hard-earned dollars into the U.S. economy. We even shopped beyond the U.S. border this month, my wife having purchased a mouthpiece for our son that was shipped from London and subject to a small foreign exchange tax on her current credit card bill.
I am also going to take the liberty of combining what could have been several posts into this one, as I am too overwhelmed at the time to recount all the buying, paying for things, grocery shopping, receiving of deliveries, preparing for trips, evil banking and otherwise that this month has brought to our lives so far. And that does not even count for all the work-related stress that Yours Truly continues encountering.
Should you stop reading here, I understand. If not, here are some facets of the life of one middle aged Middle Class Guy living in the Midwest during the
happiest and most expensive time of the year.
Like millions of others, my wife ordered many of our family’s gifts through Amazon. We purchased CD’s, music books, a fancy Dennis Wick trumpet mute (from London) and other items unknown to me for our son. For our daughter, we purchased some boots that she wants and something that she wanted more than anything else, an iPhone. The phone was purchased through TracFone, which we all use and is an SE, one of the older versions. But it is an iPhone and will allow her to use the same chatting apps that “all her friends” use. God help us all.
I do not know what my wife got for me, but I know that it is something in a box and I know that I do not want more “stuff.” I want to get rid of stuff despite my weakness for constantly purchasing used books. One thing I know that she would not get me is more books.
As I begin writing this on December 23rd, my wife and son are leaving for the happiest and one of the most expensive places on Earth in two days and then my daughter will be boarding a bus with her marching band cohorts the next morning.
My wife being a Disney nut, I ventured to one of the places that I hate the most on Earth, Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, yesterday after work. Due to my extreme procrastination, I was forced to drive in horrendous traffic, navigate a parking lot with two major accidents being cleaned up, and then walk around with thousands of others in that God forsaken place. I freakin’ hate it!
I was not going to leave the Disney store, which was the purpose of my trip, without bearing gifts for my wife. Long story short, I ended up spending about sixty bucks for what are basically just two tee-shirts. About three times what I think they are worth and about twenty times the production cost. But they are cute and she will love them.
Remember, I am a Jewish guy and was not brought up officially celebrating Christmas. One of my father’s most beloved uncles married a non-Jew and they hosted family Christmas parties while I was growing up, so I did get some things from Santa.
But when it comes to stuffing stockings, I struggled mightily for many years. I would be shopping for things like perfume, bracelets and things that would cost a small fortune to fill my wife’s stocking, while she put deodorant, cough drops and candy in mine. Having now been married for over twenty years and a father for over nineteen of them, I have become a pro at stuffing stockings. I buy things like candy, lip balm, body wash from Bath & Body Works and shit like that for the stockings. It all costs money including the things that get tossed to the side and never used.
It would be difficult for me to even estimate how much we are spending this December. We send stuff from Harry & David’s to relatives, we send gift cards to nieces, nephews and friends. My wife buys expensive chocolate boxes for about a dozen of her subordinates at the school where she supervises lunches.
Mutes, iPhones, Disney trips, chocolate, overpriced tee-shirts, shopping at Whole Foods, Target, Kohl’s, Ulta, Sally Beauty Supply. Seeing the new Star Wars movie at AMC. Eating at Lou Malnati’s, Chipotle, Corner Bakery, Panera, Jersey Mike’s, Noodles & Company, two independent Italian restaurants and a steakhouse that I treated my son to after picking him up on the last day of his semester adds up…a lot.
Taking our van in to Jiffy Lube, purchasing gasoline, paying utilities and still paying for our daughter’s braces (that were removed this week) adds up to even more.
Making our monthly $2,488 payment to our son’s college and making our first $267 monthly lease payment on our new Subaru (about $500 in its first insurance payment due on the 30th) adds up.
All in all, I expect for well over ten grand to leave our checking account once again this month, and that is before my wife and two children embark on their December Disney adventures next week. I have $500 in cash set aside to hand to my wife, who will most likely pay for their meals and trinkets by scanning her wristband, and another $120 or $150 in cash for my daughter, whose meals will mostly be covered by this trip and I also gave her a prepaid Visa card with $220 loaded onto it.
Not to ignore myself, I have my last fifty dollar bill out of fifty-seven that I had a few months ago, set aside for my own dining pleasure for the three nights that my wife and son will be in Florida. I have been looking forward to getting Popeye’s fried chicken for ten months. Pitiful, I know.
My favorite purchase of this month? A 750 ml bottle of Bicardi gold rum that I bought at Walgreens while shopping for stocking stuffers and have been mixing with egg nog for the past several nights. Another thing that I never had growing up that I have learned to love over the past twenty-plus years.
I actually slept better last night after having about two shots worth of rum, taking a long, hot bath while reading a mind-numbing book and slathering Biofreeze all over my bad ankle. It did not hurt that I had the next four days off and could take my mind off of work for a while.
As I have previously mentioned, the Walt Disney Company is going to get thousands of our family’s dollars this December.
Last month, I read an interesting article called Why Middle Class Workers Can’t Really Afford Disney World Anymore by Megan Elliott on CheatSheet.com, a website that I frequently read.
Elliott describes ten reasons including the stagnancy of middle class wages, the high expenses of raising kids and the sky-high prices of Disney World. All valid points, yet here are three decidedly middle class people venturing there next week. Not to mention that I have taken my wife and kids there six times, all six times staying on grounds at either Port Orleans French Quarter or Port Orleans Riverside, a decidedly middle class resort.
Of course, I am not going this year and that is because of some of the very same reasons listed in the article. I do not feel comfortable taking the time off of work right now, but more importantly is the issue of the additional cost of my airplane ticket, lodging and dining, which would go beyond what we can spend at this time. Truthfully, our son going already puts it beyond what we can afford right now, but he really needs to get out of Dodge for a bit and into some sunshine.
In case you did not know or have not gone there, Disney World is crazy and unapologetically expensive. A not-so-great burger there is about $15 and the crappiest pizza you can get costs more than Lou Malnati’s does by our house.
I used to bring about a thousand dollars in cash with us to go there for six days, and would burn through most of that and then some on meals, snacks, treats, Mickey ears and random stuff. But we did have many great times there, and I would not have traded those six trips (well, maybe one of them) for the five grand per trip that it always cost us.
At least my wife and son are staying at a budget resort, Pop Century, which itself is about $220 per night just for the lodging due to the high demand for next week. The park hopper tickets for them for four days was about $850 and the round-trip air fare was similar.
I wish that I was going too, but I will be holding down the fort, eating what I want to eat, watching what I want to watch and spending some quality time with my baby, our little sweet doggy girl.
I begin this post shortly after returning from Whole Foods, where my son and I shopped for fixings for tonight’s dinner.
Besides sending us a generous monetary gift for Christmas, my father-in-law sent us a sizable Omaha Steaks package. It is one of the bigger ones, since it contains pork loin chops, chicken, apple tartlets, potatoes and a dozen burgers in addition to four filet mignons.
Our aspiring chef/musician is going to prepare a Greek-style chicken and I am going to prepare a side dish tonight with all the ingredients beyond the chicken purchased at Whole Foods.
I have gone years in the past without setting foot in this grocery store. Why should I purchase the same broccoli that I buy at our local produce store at ninety-nine cents per pound for three times the cost? What does it really mean by claiming to be organic?
As the sole member of the family that I grew up in that does not do most of our shopping at Whole Paycheck, I always thought those who shop there to be snobbish and a little superior to those of us who shop more moderately. And I still do. The people there today were even pushier than at the stores we normally frequent and many of the young uppity moms there did exude an air of superiority, feeling full of themselves for buying organics for their uppity boyfriends, husbands, babies and themselves. My son and I did not feel that way, but were happy to go there today for what we both call a “field trip.”
We spent about $80, including me spending $10 for one pound of mixed berries.
I was going to do a long explanation of why it is that I now shop at Whole Foods once or twice per month. It is definitely not due to making more money and feeling like we have become members of the upper middle class because we most definitely have not.
Suffice it to say that when our son volunteers to prepare a dinner that we would not normally have and better ingredients are needed than what may be available at other grocery stores, I find myself shelling out a few more bucks than necessary to procure said items.
Today, our son bought two types of goat cheese, some feta cheese and orzo, oregano, rosemary, thyme and spinach. Everything that could be organic is. I bought some fresh bread, veggies, fruit and organic chocolate chip cookie mix that our daughter will make tonight.
One thing that is for sure is that none of us will starve this holiday season, which I realize is a blessing despite my always wanting to rise both professionally and economically in the world and feeling like a failure for not having done so.
Instead, I choose to think how lucky we are to be able to send our daughter on her Disney World and Tampa band trip and for my wife and son to be able to travel along, too. I think how blessed we are to have a home, a wonderful dog, loving relatives and money to pay for our son’s college and be able to purchase ingredients for tonight’s dinner at Whole Paycheck Market.
Both last year and this year I made $200 from the most evil bank.
Last month, I cashed out $14,200 out of the $15,200 that I had on deposit with them. I parked fifteen grand in the Evil Bank in July so as to gain a $200 bonus for my daughter’s usage on her Disney trip. I have since used that bonus to purchase a OneVanilla prepaid Visa card for her. I will also be giving her another hundred or so in cash for the trip.
The Evil Bank charged me eight friggin’ bucks to create a cashier’s check for the amount that I withdrew, leaving me with a balance of $992. When I complained to the teller about the $8 charge, he told me to be grateful for the $200 bonus. I told him the truth, that I would not have opened that account otherwise but what I wanted to say to him would have been far cruder than that. Score one for biting my tongue.
If you can see in the above clipping of my current accounts with the Evil Bank, I now have a third account with them besides the $992 in savings and my long-time credit card.
After spending several hours testing, talking and negotiating for a new Subaru to lease last month, I applied for financing through Subaru credit. Of course, Subaru is a car company and not a bank. Thus, when I put the $3,166 down and applied for lease credit, it goes through the Evil Bank.
When I went to make my first payment at subarumotorsfinance.com, I was redirected to the Evil Bank and forced to open an online account. I agreed to receive my savings account statements and my auto lease statements via email, but opted to still receive paper bills for my credit card. I am not sure why. Perhaps it is because I want one less email per month, but I realize that I should not only switch to a credit card that gives me points or miles, but I should receive my statements online.
Since I finally relented and signed up for online banking with the largest bank in America, I obtained my credit report as they have been mailing and emailing for me to do.
My score is a respectable 786. Ironic since I have made hundreds of thousands worth of payments over many years and never late. Why is it that my wife’s remains over 800 when she earns a small percentage of what I do and I pay all her bills? It is largely because she has multiple credit accounts, charges a lot, and I pay it off every month. When I clicked on the explanation of factors that lowered my score, only having three credit accounts (mortgage, credit card and now the Subaru account) was a factor.
On another banking note, my mother sent us a very generous check for Hanukkah this year. I wanted to deposit it at the ATM today before our field trip to Whole Paycheck, but the friggin’ idiot women in front of me could not seem to make heads or tails out of that modern technology. Rather than wait a few extra minutes losing my cool, I made the deposit at the counter.
My mother always makes a point to mention Hanukkah. I have been wished a Merry Christmas about fifty times this week, which I accept graciously, thanking the person and wishing him and her a Merry One as well. If you wish my mother a Merry Christmas, she will always reply “Happy Hanukkah.” I love her for it, but sometimes it is a bit much.
I mention this because she wrote Happy Hanukkah on the check, which I appreciate. I appreciated it less today when the young lady of Arab descent bank teller stared at the check for a minute before depositing it and then felt the need to exclaim what a generous Hanukkah gift I got. So there I am feeling a little guiltier than I should and like we played a small part in promoting the misconception that Jews are wealthy.
I will admit that the check was for two thousand dollars, which may equal or surpass the teller’s take home pay for a paycheck or two. However, that amount is a far cry from the generosity that others have received of their parents, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant or otherwise. My best friend is Irish Catholic and was deeded a $700,000 house by his mother.
This was the first time that my mother gave us such a large monetary gift for the holidays and I was taken aback when I saw it. I thanked her profusely and told her that she should not have. Her reply was that she only wishes that it could have been more.
My point, if there is one, is that I would have preferred to use the ATM so as not to have a young woman in a hijab telling her friends and family that some rich Jew deposited a two thousand dollar gift check and did not even acknowledge her comment that it was a generous gift.
A most generous gift it was, but it was none of her fucking business if my mother gives me two dollars or two million dollars.
One more point on it. For years and years, if I received an unexpected check or payment for services rendered, I would come up with a strategy on how to invest parts of it in things like my children’s 529 accounts or my or my wife’s Roth IRAs or pay down our mortgage a bit.
What I am doing with it is what my mother wrote on the note accompanying it. I am using it to make our December a little more happier. That it will do, taking some of the bite out of paying for trips to Whole Foods and Disney World. The unexpected gift will help us overspend what we take in by two thousand less this December.
I generally lament the loss of human jobs to robots, artificial intelligence and apps, but perhaps I would not have minded so much if my bank had an extra ATM today instead of that teller.
I acknowledge that my family’s holiday season is better than most, not just because of the extra unexpected two thousand dollars and trips to Florida.
As I write this, my daughter is making cookies from an organic cookie mix that I purchased today. Music is playing on the Sonos while our son practices his trumpet upstairs in his room.
I do not want to be or even seem greedy. Despite being in line for more gifts tomorrow, in my mind I want less possessions and more traveling, experiences and time with family and friends.
I was more charitable than ever in 2017, and want to be even more so next year.
Besides donating a car to the American Cancer Society, I sent some money to Lurie Chidren’s Hospital, where my son was sent to and hospitalized about four years ago and where they treat ill children and their families like royalty during highly stressful times.
I donate to Ronald McDonald House every year. When I did not know where to stay in downtown Chicago and was overwhelmed, stressed and extremely tired, I was given what would be the one of the nicest hotel rooms in the City at Ronald McDonald House near Lurie Hospital. At the end of my four night stay, they asked for a $40 payment, which they explained is minimal but makes people feel like they are contributing something. I volunteered to pay extra, and have sent money every year since.
If you do not take anything more out of this post, study this chart which changed the way I donate extra goods. For years, I donated our excess clothes and other household items to Goodwill thinking that it was a charitable donation. Of course, I would peruse the book section and clothes and often leave with my finds.
Imagine my surprise learning that Goodwill is basically a store whose inventory is comprised of donated goods. They only put about eight percent to charitable use. I will never donate another item to Goodwill again.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Salvation Army is the opposite, only using seven percent for administrative costs with ninety-three percent going to charitable use. So the boxes of items that I conservatively valued at $50 including a men’s winter coat in nearly new condition, boots that our daughter outgrew and many other things that I was going to drop off at the Goodwill store near our house did not go there. I drove about twenty minutes away to a nearby community to drop them off at Goodwill on Friday the 15th before picking my son up at his dormitory following his last final exam of the semester. As I previously wrote, we celebrated with a lunch at a nearby steakhouse.
This December, as this middle class family spends ten or twelve or whatever amount of thousands on travel, food, education, entertainment, bills and gifts, I hope that someone can buy and use the gently used winter coat that we donated. Truthfully, I am not sure why we donated it but my son must have bought a new one and my wife put it in the donation box.
We are but one of millions of middle class American families doing our best to get along and enjoy this last month of the year.