Letters to Eleanor: Financial Sense When Gift Shopping

Dear Daughter,

I dropped by a favorite local retailer today to pick up a little birthday gift for a friend. As I browsed the aisles for inspiration, I was also struck by how easily we get fooled into considering and then buying all manner of pointless things.

It inspired this latest letter to you, in hopes that unlike your mama, you will waste less of your hard-earned money on foolish of-the-moment purchases.

Case in point, a set of playing cards I considered buying for her, for two reasons. What stopped me was the sentiment. On the back of each card, these words are printed:

“Life is only as good as the people you share it with.”

And, I reasoned, we could also use them on our next girls fly fishing weekend, which happens to be coming in hot!

But then I realized I was considering spending FOURTEEN actual American dollars that I busted my butt to earn, and I darn near pinched myself silly.

First of all, a word (or few) about playing cards. This is the kind of item you can never find when you actually want to play cards. Doesn’t matter that you think – no, you know – that you’ve got a bunch of card decks stashed in random places around the house. You’re not gonna find ’em until many moons later, when a feng shui attack hits hard and then you decide to move them to the best and most obvious place you can think of, which you will naturally forget all about as soon as somebody says, “Hey, do we have any playing cards?”

So I put the overpriced cards with the relatable sentiment (that I wrote, for free by the way, on her birthday card) back on the table. I ended up going with the Lavender Rosemary lotion, because we both love to garden, and it’s herb-y and practical with just the right amount of pamper, because this is, after all, her birthday, and a special one ending in zero at that.

Back to the financial sense I wish to impart to you, especially when casually shopping.

I paused for a moment in the headband and barrette section, as I often do, tempted to grab a few for the awkward length layers that I think are meant to frame my face but really just hang in it. Common sense kicked in, and I remembered a lesson that 45 years has taught me well.

Anytime you end up with more than two or three of an item, even if it’s a so-called essential that you often use, all you’re really doing is increasing the odds of misplacing every last one of them. Better to keep a small amount and put them in the same place every time so you’re not harumphing about looking for your long lost so and so.

Here’s the bottom line, kiddo. Retailers are really, really good at their craft. Understand that going in, and every time you enter a store, do the best you can to stick to the list.

I did that today, with the happy news at the register that the item I’d chosen was on a flash sale – even better!

One closing thought, and it’s what I want you to remember if nothing else from this particular letter sticks.

Before you buy anything, ask yourself this question.

“Do I want this to impress somebody else?” If the answer is yes, put it back. Abandon cart. Abort mission.

I saw a tote bag today that made me think about this. In big, bold letters on the outside, it read: “Big Plans.” Something about it really rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t know why exactly, as just the other night I was complimenting a woman with a bright blue beaded clutch that read “Blame it on the Goose.”

I guess it can feel overwhelming sometimes, being in a store where aisle after aisle the message is “Buy, buy, buy!”

Yes, obviously you need enough to assemble appropriate outfits for wherever life takes you day to day, but it helps to be hyper alert about the why behind what you choose to buy. Are you tempted to grab that “Big Plans” bag to impress others or to project a certain image?

If you like it and can make good use of it (and afford it), then go for it. Just try to remember to dial things back to what you actually need, allowing for a reasonable number of extravagances. Save the rest for emergencies and rainy days because let me assure you sister, both will come at you with alarming speed and when you least expect it.

And when you learn to live well with less, you can do so much more. Truly the best money I’ve ever spent came from blessing others. It still is.

I love you!