Thanksgiving is all about personal finance
I love Thanksgiving. It's my favorite holiday of the year. So when I venture out during the month of November, I'm slightly annoyed to hear Christmas music piped into retail stores or to see giant, inflatable snowmen at The Home Depot. (Yes, I do secretly want one, but only after Thanksgiving.) I get mailers about Christmas presents, and when I bother turning on the TV or radio, I'm bombarded by Christmas commercials. Bah humbug!
Black Friday starts on Thursday
It seems like every year there's more of an effort to crowd out Thanksgiving. For instance, Black Friday no longer starts the Friday after Thanksgiving. Many retailers now open on Thanksgiving Day. Paul Ausick reports for MSN:
“Over the past few years, a kind of arms race has developed among retailers, and stores have opened their doors earlier and earlier each Friday. In fact, Black Friday may soon be a thing of the past. Many of the biggest retailers are even going to open on Thanksgiving Day in an effort to combat a shopping season that is nearly a full week shorter than last year's.”
Ausick writes that among those planning to open on Thanksgiving Day are (and you can probably guess them): Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Sears and Kmart, Kohl's, J.C. Penney, and Old Navy. Macy's is opening on Thanksgiving for the first time in the company's 155-year history. And because so many retailers and department stores are opening on Thanksgiving, entire malls are jumping in on the early holiday sales, as well.
Thankfully, as NBC Washington reports, “Some stores are holdouts: Nordstrom posted a sign in its window this week that said it would not open on Thanksgiving or even decorate their stores before Turkey Day. ‘We just like the idea of celebrating one holiday at a time,' the notice reads.” That right there is enough to turn me into a Nordie.
Thanksgiving, not gift giving
So I started thinking about why it matters to me. What's the big deal about crazy sales taking over Thanksgiving? It's not like I'll be out there in the shopping chaos anyway. But I think the reason actually has a lot to do with personal finance principles.
Thanksgiving, unlike Christmas or Valentine's Day, seems to be one of the few holidays that retailers haven't been able to capitalize on. Sure, there are retail items here and there, like maybe some turkey-themed napkins or paper plates or something, but there's no tradition of gift exchange, so there's no way to exploit our gift-giving obligations or to play off the pressure to get our loved ones “the perfect present.”
Unlike those gift-focused holidays, Thanksgiving is about loved ones and sitting around a table together to enjoy a meal. It's about giving thanks, not giving gifts. And to me, that makes it the ultimate holiday for those of us who are into personal finance. Here's why:
1. There's no pressure to spend. Sure, the Thanksgiving Day meal, if you're hosting, probably isn't as cheap as your normal Thursday lunch. But it's nothing like the bill you probably rack up from holiday spending. And there are many folks who go into the red in order to pay for holiday gifts. Deseret News reports:
“From July to September of , the average credit card debt per borrower rose by 4.9 percent. In December of 2011, 14.1 million Americans reported that they were still paying off debts from the previous Christmas. Presuming that such profligate spenders haven't changed their habits, it's likely that…they'll be piling new debt on top of the old, making it harder and harder for them to dig out from under their pile of bills.”
2. It's about hard work and payoff. Today most of us don't plant crops and celebrate the harvest, but we do hunt and gather at the local grocery store, which sort of becomes a madhouse the week of Thanksgiving, and we do have to do a lot of planning.
For instance, I bought all of my pie-making ingredients and supplies yesterday, and will start making the pie crusts tomorrow. And on Thanksgiving, it's going to feel pretty great to serve up the result of all that hard work: a brÃ»léed bourbon-maple pumpkin pie, a pear pie with red wine and rosemary, a yogurt pie with grape and black-pepper compote, and a gluten- and sugar-free apple crumble pie for my mother-in-law. (Obviously, I'm on pie duty, a responsibility that I take maybe a tad too seriously. Case in point: I already bought extra butane for my kitchen torch.)
This idea of putting in the hard work now for the payoff tomorrow is what much of personal finance is all about. We save up for the future, whether it's a vacation, emergency savings, or retirement. It means more effort in the short term, but the payoff is delicious. Er, worthwhile.
3. It's a day of gratitude. In my personal finance journey, gratitude has played a pretty important role. Here's why: I'll always have personal finance goals I'm striving toward, and while striving is great, it can also be difficult. There will always be people farther ahead than me, who make more money, who save more money, who understand far more about investing than I ever will. But I've learned to curb some of that angst by expressing gratitude. Gratitude for the resources, like GRS, that taught me to stop living paycheck to paycheck. Gratitude for having a healthy emergency fund and enough money to travel every now and then. Life is pretty freaking good, and I love that Thanksgiving is a day devoted to thinking about the reasons why.
In a past GRS guest post, author Kate Northrup wrote that we can even give thanks for debt: “Any time we have debt, we're simply repaying someone for something of value that we have already received. So instead of looking at your credit card or loan statements with dread, why not get into gratitude? Maybe it was your college education, medical procedures, or furniture that you're using and enjoying today.”
4. It celebrates what matters most. Speaking of gratitude, Thanksgiving is about the thing we can't even put a price on: loved ones. And my family is part of why I strive to be a financially responsible person. Nancy Anderson explained this well in her article in Forbes:
“…lack of financial stability makes us all vulnerable. When an emergency hits and we get a call from a family member for help with a rent deposit or moving expenses, are we going to turn them away? Of course not. We are going to help, but those funds have to come from somewhere. When 20-year-olds can manage their cash, are able to borrow money at decent rates and live on 75% of their income by doing the above, that means financial security not just for them, but for the entire family.”
She's writing about 20-year-olds, but the advice is universal — I know many 30-somethings on up who regularly hit up family members for money.
Another aspect of this is making sure your loved ones will be taken care of, should anything happen to you. “No one wants to think about it, but if something happens to you, you want to know that your wife and kids won't be homeless,” says Anthony H. of Houston, Tex. “Responsible personal finance planning — things like savings and life insurance and no credit card debt — insure that your family will be okay.”
So those are the reasons why the idea of Black Friday encroaching on Thanksgiving bums me out. Did you know that they actually call it “Grey Thursday” now? Ugh. Back up off my T-Day!
Readers, are you excited about the earlier shopping times, or do you hold Thanksgiving sacred?