I have been lucky enough to work in jobs where I am given paid time off, but I usually don’t take it. The big chunk of free time hanging over my head makes me nervous, as if I’ll spend it incorrectly, or I won’t have the maximum amount of fun and relaxation that I should for something as exciting and generous as free time off.
When you tell people that you don’t like Christmas, they automatically think you’re a monster. “Everyone likes Christmas!” they say, their eyes wide as they slowly step back. “What could you possibly not like about Christmas! Its the best time of the year!” I am usually prepared with a laundry list of reasons why Christmas—or any holiday, really—isn’t my thing. I find that rattling this off incenses them further. Usually, these conversations happen at various holiday events, all of which I attend not because I care deeply about the season, but because I love a good party. I shrug in an attempt at explanation, and try, very hard, to change the subject.
Christmas is a weird time of year, full of stress and joy and financial worry. Christmas means spending time with family, sure, but it also feels like enforced over-spending, harried shoppers Sephora after work, clutching armfuls of gift sets. A gift is a wonderful thing to give and a wonderful thing to receive, but I think it’s much more special when it’s spontaneous. A gift for a friend, purchased because you saw it in a store and thought they would like it is nice. It showcases a generosity of spirit and a kindness that the holiday season, with its constant sales and flashing lights, lacks. Christmas gifts are purchased often out of habit. It’s December, there are sales, you will have to go home and spend time with your family, and they will have bought you socks and maybe a bathrobe. You will give them something that you think they need, but really probably already have because they are your parents, and ostensibly, can buy whatever it is they need or want for themselves. So, we buy things to give at this pre-ordained time, because it is customary. These things accumulate in corners of empty houses, gathering dust, still in the plastic. These things are eventually thrown out, and room is made for new things.
Between college and high school, I lived a dark, strange year at home, working a variety of serving jobs and moping around our house, a moppet of misery. I had to defer admission to college due to a financial aid keruffle, and I was full of vitriol; I was a miserable 18-year-old convinced that this minor injustice was the worst thing that had ever happened to me. I don’t remember much about that year—maybe, because my memory is notoriously bad, or because I willfully tamped it down into the box of things I’d rather not think about—but at some point my father made me apply to a state school.
I have always done my taxes myself, because for a long time, they were very simple. I had one job, or maybe two jobs, depending on the year, and a student loan interest form that I always lost the minute it was mailed to me. Doing my taxes is exciting, because I get to fill in the numbers, check off the boxes, and watch the amount of money that I’m going to get back from the government grow. One year, I did my taxes at the end of January, got my refund by the first week of February, and booked a plane ticket to New Orleans for Jazzfest with the proceeds. Another year, I put some of the money aside in savings and spent the rest on a Coach bag, convinced that I would have it for decades, telling myself that I deserved the purchase because that was money I worked for.
I don’t really buy much online, though I always intend to start. It’s on my mental to-do list of things I should do to save money, like doing my own laundry instead of dropping it off, or cooking every single meal at home. Everyone I know swears by it. “You don’t have to go to the store! You don’t have to deal!” they say as they open boxes full of new things from the comfort of their own home.