Friday, November 28, 2014

Budgeting for Black Friday and Beyond

The weeks before Christmas pose challenges to most of us, no matter what beliefs we hold. Even the most balanced of us can lose our way during this time of frantic busyness and hectic schedules and our culture beaming messages at us that we must spend more. How can we as creative people best use our gift giving dollars?

Our first impulse might be to give our gift giving dollars to various charitable organizations. I’m fortunate enough to be able to buy all the material stuff I need. I am haunted by all the charities that are underfunded. I am haunted by the gaping needs in the world. I would prefer that people give money to the needy than to buy more stuff for me. Chances are good that lots of people on your gift list feel the same way. Then the hard part comes in choosing the charity.

Philosophers like Peter Singer would encourage us to send our charitable dollars to charities who serve the developing world, where our dollars go further. Organizations like Lutheran World Relief have long histories of delivering our donations efficiently to areas of the globe with great need. But we know that there’s plenty of need here in our home countries.

Some people who give money to charities in lieu of gifts have fun matching the charity to the personality of the gift recipient. Some families choose one charity and give all their gift budgets to the one charity. Some families support local churches.

But what about the people on our list who aren’t as charitably minded?

Maybe instead of a gift, we could give an experience. Could we also support artists by giving an experience?  Maybe we could go to a writing workshop together.  Why not give theatre tickets?  What about an afternoon at an artist's studio?

We could give the gift of time together—in February, when life calms down, and we need a treat to make it through the rest of winter. You could take your gift recipients out for dinner. Take them to a locally owned restaurant instead of a chain, and you've helped your community even more.  Make a date for a museum, where your artist self might feel inspired by the art, and even if you're uninspired, at least you've supported a local resource.

We could give magazine subscriptions, the gift that gives throughout the year. Choose a literary journal or an arts journal, and you're helping to support artists' economies.

In a similar way, you could choose a book from a small press.  Many poets publish fine books each year, even though established names are the ones who win the poetry prizes.  Choose books from poets like Jeannine Hall Gailey, Kelli Russell Agodon, Luisa Igloria, Susan Rich, January Gill O'Neil, Rachel Dacus, Martha Silano, Rachel Dacus, Sandra Beasley, Sandy Longhorn, Diane Lockward, Rachel Barenblat, oh the list could go on and on.  Choose a book from a writer who's published by a small press and you support multiple artists all at once.

 This year, we might want to give gifts that help support local businesses so that they survive. We could give any number of gift cards to local businesses: car mechanics, gym memberships, hair stylists, boutiques, bookstores, restaurants, move theatres. We could broaden our approach and choose gift cards that support our vision of the life we want to have, of a world that supports artists of all sort. Instead of an Amazon gift card, we could support a local bookstore. We could buy fair trade products from organizations that support people in developing nations.

But what about the people on our list who don’t want a gift card? What about the people who want an object specially chosen for them?

One year, my family had a lot of fun by giving handmade gifts. But most of us don’t have time between now and Christmas to give handmade gifts.

Luckily, other people have been preparing. Why not support a craft fair? There we’ll find beautiful objects to suit all sorts of budgets—and we’ll support artists and sometimes other organizations too (I'm thinking of church craft fairs here). Even if you think you can’t afford art, you will likely find something in your budget, like a set of note cards or a beautiful pottery mug. We could buy our gifts from SERVV or other groups who support artisans in the developing world. We could buy books from local authors.

However we choose to approach our gift giving, we should create a budget before we begin shopping. It’s easy to get caught up in the good feelings that spending money can produce for many of us. It’s easy to whip out our credit cards and worry about how we’ll pay for it later. Unfortunately, when we do that, many of us will still be paying for those Christmas presents next summer, or worse, the summer after that. And when we do that, we don’t have that money available for other worthy causes.

And there are so many other worthy causes.

One of our worthy causes, as artists, must be ourselves.  When we go deeply into debt to buy gifts for others, we rob ourselves of the time to create.  When we take our hard-won dollars and support other artists, we win on many levels.

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