Monday, December 15, 2008

A Simpler Christmas

Last year's Christmas lights

You might have noticed a little theme happening on the Zees lately--looking back, way back. Memories of Christmases past, old family houses, how we used to dress, road trips of the past. I started wondering why I was doing all this looking back into the past. I guess it is because when times get tough, we love to get nostalgic and look back at simpler times. We pretend that the old days had fewer problems and that we didn't have to worry about anything way back then.

It's probably no mistake that all this nostalgia started happening at about the time when our national financial meltdown occurred. The net worth of the average American family has been going down, down, down as many homes are worth less, while mortgage payments stay the same; life savings are shrinking while the need for retirement income comes closer and closer.

I guess we are lucky, out here on the prairie. We're in a small town that has a growing need for additional housing, so our home values are pretty stable. Mortgages are held by small community banks that have always made loans on conservative terms so we have avoided the problems in many places where foreclosures are growing.

At the same time, we dare glance at the shrinking 401K only when we are feeling exceptionally strong. I was listening to an NPR interview with bankruptcy and commercial law expert Elizabeth Warren (What Does $700 Billion Buy Taxpayers?) and her report on the future for credit card debt and home bankruptcies over the next few years was so grim, so appalling, that I suddenly realized that I shouldn't be listening alone--I couldn't deal with this awful outlook by myself.

As we prepare here for the holidays, we have cut back where we can, as if doing so can make any difference in our shrinking life savings. Last year we set up for the first time a modest outdoor light display--even those few lights made a big increase in our electric bill. This year, we have only two little electric candles, one in each of our front windows. While simple and plain, the Christmas symbolism is still there, and we feel that we are doing a tiny bit toward simplifying our lives.

However, we never stop being grateful to have our home, our family, and our lives. For a look at those who are not so lucky, see June's post from Australia called Homeless at Christmas.


Sylvia K said...

I think we are all feeling some kind of a pinch, whether in day to day living, savings etc. We're keeping it very simple this year, our big thing is having my oldest son, David, here from Texas. So far, my son Adam's job is okay. My big expenditure for the month was a desperately needed hair cut! I had trouble finding someone to do it --three of the less expensive shops that I tried had shut down. But we have each other, we have enough to keep the house warm, enough food and the doggies safe, warm and fed. So I keep trying to focus on the those good things. Hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday, stay safe and warm!

Judy said...

Our Christmas will be cut back this year as well. We are not buying anything for the grownups and Bob and I are not getting each other anything. We will only buy for young grandchildren. I don't have any outside lights at all this year. We may find Christmas is better without a lot of stuff and just a good meal shared by all.
Merry Christmas to you and your family.

Rain Trueax said...

We will be doing less for Christmas also. It has gotten so far from its original meaning that it's hard to understand how this happened other than making money for somebody as it is not easy on people's emotions or physical bodies to be running all over at this time of the year

June Saville said...

Hi Clair
The wonderful possibility of all of this economic shock is that we may begin to ENJOY living more simply. We may find it fun to grow our own veggies and learn how absolutely yummy fresh ones are. We can discover that one or two simple candles are every bit as beautiful as energy guzzling flashing banks of light.
We might discover that society has a little over for the less fortunate in our midst. Possibilities eh?
Thanks for the link to 70 Plus. It would be good to really solve the homeless problems once and for all wouldn't it? And as for care of the mentally ill ... well!
June in Oz