Nov 20

Holiday Shopping and Consumerism, Part II of II

The holiday season is coming back around faster than ever, and I find gift giving a particularly interesting phenomenon. Gifts are a funny thing, and the holidays are a time of year that is both inspiring, and one that tends to leave a foul taste in my mouth. This isn’t a fruitcake joke – the consumerism mentality and heavy advertising leaves much to be desired when I look at the true “spirit” of the holidays. Conscious or not, the consume mindset plays a big part in the way I end up spending for the holidays.

Putting all the connotations of “consumerism” aside for a moment, I want to touch on why and how I justify opening up my wallet and spending money on people that I care about during the holidays. In a simple sentence: I like buying gifts for people, but I don’t like receiving gifts. This particular blog entry touches on the personal finance approach towards gift giving.

Gifts, to me, to a certain extent –  are a financial investment (with non-financial returns).  A poignant financial cliché is the statement: “Money can’t buy happiness.” While in a wishy washy sense, this is true; this doesn’t imply that money isn’t useful in achieving happiness. My investment strategy during the holidays is a little bit of the opposite of this overused mantra.

Investing to me is the act of putting in an initial sum of value, and betting that the returns when you “cash out” on the initial investment is larger than the original sum. Gift giving – to me, is a similar idea. I have no problem “investing” X amount of dollars in the people I care about, assuming I get that value plus interest in return. This is a bit of a silly comparison, since returns on friendship are difficult to valuate, but this is a (the?) portion of my personal finances that I’m OK not tracking down to the cent.

This leads to an oddity in my “investment strategy” during the holidays. I tend to buy things for people who aren’t necessarily (on an absolute scale) my closest friends, but perhaps people I’ve taken a particular interest in, or friends which I see exceptional potential in. This is why (generally speaking) each year, I’ll get a gift for someone that probably wouldn’t have expected one from me. I think this pseudo-spontaneous gift giving is probably the most “fun” aspect of the holiday season for me. If you’re reading this, and you happen to receive one of these unexpected gifts – don’t feel guilty. Read the caveat from Part I of II. With that said, though, I generally limit my gift “budget” to a relatively select number of people. However, I actually find a sense of dissatisfaction with the people in my life which I’m more or less “obligated” to get gifts for. This is one of the “foul tastes” I described above. I get an added boost of enthusiasm when I’m able to find a thoughtful, or inspired gift for someone, but when I’m not in the mood or inspired to shop for someone, I find this more dampening to the holiday spirit than anything else.  I’m not going to dwell too much on this point, though – It’s the negative portion of the consumerism mentality where we should be focusing on compassion and charity instead.

Nov 20

Holiday Shopping and Consumerism, Part I of II

The people closest to me (and/OR the people who happen to want to buy me gifts, for whatever reason) often tell me that I’m a difficult person to shop for. I have a feeling this is due to my extremely broad interest set(s), and the fact that I’ll just buy things I need if I need them.  This year, I’m going to make it easy. I keep a running list of things that would be “nice to have” relative to my hobbies, and I’m just going to post it. While this sounds pretty conceited, this is being posted more as a necessity in my life than anything else. I’ve got too much “stuff” in my life, and a lot of it is stuff I carry around with me for sentimental (or more mundane) reasons. I’d prefer to receive useful things that are worth moving around with me from/to different stages in my life.

Note: In general, I like buying gifts for others*, but in general, I don’t like receiving them. If you use the list below, please note that I’m not requesting anything below. This is an if-you-insist reference list.

Hobby Related/Nice To Have List [price/reality check in brackets]

  • Wort chiller (plate OR copper tubing – 25-50’ + hose fittings) []
  • March Pump – Homebrewing related for DIY microcontroller system []
  • Counter flow Bottle Filler – Homebrew device for filling bottles out of kegs – If you like alcohol, this is a good one to get me… you’ll get plenty of bottles in return J []
  • Storage Racks – Extremely low priority, I wouldn’t get this if I were you []
  • Easel Pads – Used for engineering and “thinking on paper” []
  • Easel – Low priority, I’d probably just screw the pads to a wall.
  • White Board (in lieu of the above.) – Would need to be a pretty big size [uwsurplus?!?!]
  • Food Vacuum Sealer – Smoked Salmon, etc. []
  • Wrist Rest for keyboard and mouse – Needs to be pretty thick, and pretty wide.
  • “Natural” alarm clock – I’m pretty sure I’m depressed. Hope this helps. []
  • “Are you smart enough to work at Google” – Book []
  • “This is a book” – Book []
  • Other books that would appeal to me – requires some insight into my personality/mind
    • Arduino/Microcontroller books
    • Hardware/robotics/mechanical components in electrical systems books
    • Momofuku – Book []
    • Momofuku – Milk Bar – Book []
    • Mission Street CB – Book []
    • Two Dudes, One Pan – Book []
  • Metcal Soldering iron tip (fine chisel)

This is the portion of my list that I can actually find – I’ll update as necessary.

Rules: Like I said above, I sort of hate receiving gifts, and most gifts above are pretty cost prohibitive. If you’re going to get something for me, I’d prefer it if you didn’t spend more than the $15-40 range (depending on how close to me you are). If it costs significantly more than that, I’d be very happy if you were to team-up with people and split a gift. If you DO plan on getting anything on this list, please leave your name in the comments so others can contact you (outside of the comments, please). I imagine if you’re posting here, you’re facebook friends with me (and possibly each other). Coordinate that way so I don’t get 20 copies of the same book… I recommend against posting the item you picked, since I have to moderate all the comments…

I Sort of Hate Gifts/Caveat

Like I said above, the list is more for reference. I’d actually prefer if you didn’t get me a gift. Non-material options that I would actually value extremely highly: Write me a letter! Call me on Skype. Tell me how your life is going, what challenges you’re facing. Tell me something you’re struggling with, I’ll give you my two cents. If you see something I can improve on in my own life, tell me. I’m in the mood to make changes lately. I like this approach because it puts you on my mind and in my thoughts. I added my address on facebook, and it’s visible for friends. One thing I’m weak at is keeping in touch/keeping up with friends/people in general. The above is an investment in me* AND you’re helping me address my shortcomings. I love getting in touch with people who aren’t interacting with me on a day to day basis. Seriously.

*See Part II of II for more detail on this