Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas - the thought is all that counts

How many times in our lives are we told "it isn't the gift but the thought behind it that really counts"? Some will argue that gift giving is better left alone if it is not full of personal thought. I guess from my personal point of view, I agree on the most part. However, I could tell you about one of my relatives who gave the same firecracker gift to me every year, and I remember her well for it. So I can attest to the fact that gift giving has its place even if the person giving does not know much about the person to whom it is given to. A relationship between two people is established and sustained, partially through the gift giving process.

Oops, we just introduced another concept to the equation - "process". Sure, gift giving is a process. For example, if you give to impress, that is the beginning of a process to gain something or expect something in return, thereby initiating a process. If you give to signify love, you expect to be loved. If you give to educate, you want feedback on how the education thought you had helped the one you wanted to educate. Some gifts are very simple and low cost such as a Christmas card. You hope to get a card back in return, not just a card to show off on a mantle or Christmas tree, but one that communicates socially, boosting the relationship you have with another person or family. Some gifts are intended to be worn and you want to see the recipient wearing it and enjoying it, and be remembered by your gift. Sometimes, the gift needs immediate feedback. A simple "thank you" will suffice. There are charitable cases where the gift needs no feedback except the fulfillment of helping another human being survive. But after the gift is given, it too goes through a process even when anonymous. But giving without feedback and reward, even if the reward is self gratification, is empty and defeats the purpose of giving. So the thought of the gift is related to the process.

I tried to test this concept on some of my grandchildren. The value of the gift was not going to be very important, but I would maximize its value given the economic outlook. Although a bizarre approach, I wanted to do this in a way that would create a laugh and be remembered, mainly because the two grandchildren are quite intelligent and they both have some attributes in common which I thought I could leverage.

So thinking that the new year could be an economically stressful one, we decided that the gift would be for the parents as well. So even under economic stress, the boys would be able to go to an entertainment facility next summer on a season pass that we gave them.

Christmas would not be Christmas if the children would not open wrapped gifts. Just a piece of paper in an envelope seemed totally inappropriate. So I packaged the tickets in some gift wrapped boxes. To tie the gifts to their Papaw, inside each box contained an ordinary leaf from a tree; the leaf was attached to a handwritten note indicating what kind of tree it represented and in a tone of good humor. The ticket was hidden underneath the leaf in an envelope. I wanted to take this a step further however. So for the eldest, I made up a large box and put trash in it. Yep, I said trash! All recyclable stuff including boxes, paper, plastic bottles, everything I could find to make sure it looked like trash. I made it where the boxes would be challenging to open (work is required for everything one desires to have in life) and the true gift difficult to find in the box (value is recognized relative to other things). I wrapped the boxes with normal Christmas paper and added a stem of Yaupon berries to decorate the box. This was to connect what I love to their gifts. I warned the parents in advance that something strange might happen in the opening of these gifts.

For a moment, I felt a little tenseness among the adults in the room when my grandchild opened the big box. He looked at the contents and said, "trash!". Of course he has a great disposition and understands his papaw and how different my approach may be. We all laughed. Now what? I put a couple of additional envelopes in strategic locations within the box with a written message that indicated he had not opened the true gift yet, so he would go through a search of the box. He opened those envelopes first, because they were most visible when he opened the box. I could feel a sigh of relief when he finally discovered the actual gift, which was hidden under a piece of Styrofoam packaging material in the box. He laughed and appreciated the gift. His brother went through the same process. They both showed everyone in the room the leaves and my blog's business card. Both can now name those two trees by the shape of their leaves. Both boys are outdoorsy, and I want them to learn more about the forest about them. This worked out fine. It will be a Christmas that both kids will always remember. The process? They will remember where the tickets came from next summer when they go to the entertainment facility. The eldest will always remember the trash gift; I have made a place in his life that he will always remember. (He said a "new tradition", but I doubt we will see this again for a long long time). I am reasonably sure I will hear about this again in the future.

So now you see the rest of the story. Gift giving is not just getting the appropriate gift for the child. It is being remembered for the gift, family tradition and the bonding event memory of everyone there, the learning of something new, and finally the inclusion of everyone in the family to make sure all benefit from it. Mission accomplished.

Don't be afraid to be creative; select gifts with purpose and thoughtful knowledge of the recipients. It is the thought that really counts!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Baby Boomers getting a bad deal for retirement

Let's do the twist! A failing economy for Baby Boomers is not exactly what the doctor ordered for this time of their lives. This generation has many workers ready to enjoy the fruits of their work, but alas! It is crumbling underneath them. The American dream really was put in place by a generation before them, but this group of people certainly lived the American dream. It is with this generation that the world has been explored with the realization of globalization and far reaching technology visions. These people were born under the nuclear threat instituted by the generation before them, lived most of their lives through the cold war and its related nuclear threat, and worked to secure the world. They experienced fear as fear had never before been experienced. Why should that fear be extended into retirement?

And yes, this and the following generations have comprised what we know as the generations of consumerism, as well as those of "anti-consumerism", counteracting the destruction of the earth. Witness the population explosion. Not only was it here in this country, but worldwide after World War II. Soldiers returned home to start families and catch up with lost time. They were world-savvy, prepared to work and play in other countries as well as in the USA. Like a bulldozer, streets of life were carved out of the earth as fast as possible to return to normality. The birth rate soared! Construction soared! Consumption of materials soared!

There has been a significant concern that these people would leave the employed in recent years. There would not be enough workers to support the economy, nor would there be enough money in Social Security.

I suppose that will all change now. 401K's have greatly diminished value by as much as 50%. So much for the lifestyle of this population. Oh sure, some will retire. Some have plenty. Many many others will see this not only as a loss of wealth and quality of lifestyle, but as a future threat to their financial security as well. Surely the stock market has proven that we cannot depend on it. We cannot depend on commodities either. Oil prices are down. Sure, gold is up, but I have known people who lost their shirts in gold during the 90's. The bottom could fall out on it at any time. It is at a fictitious price level, inflated by a temporary demand.

This generation's financial solution is to continue working as long as it can. That is the only way to secure the future. Putting money under the mattress does not seem a good idea either, nor holding it in a money market account. Face it, retirement money is indexed to the health of business, here and afar. So the flower generation will likely continue to rock and roll for a few more years. Maybe retiring at 70 is better than 66 and certainly better than 62.

I have found a site where this type of thought is shared by several writers - Boomer Cafe.