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The holly and the miser

You're suddenly poor; suck it up and be cheap
By KARA BASKIN  |  December 9, 2008


Let the current financial tsunami be a lesson to you, arrogant plebeian consumer: greed cometh before a fall. When dealing with money, it's best to crouch in a permanent mental fetal position and brace for the end of the world. At no time is this more apparent than at the holidays, when middle-class people max out their Capital One cards to buy flat-screen TVs from big-box retailers and cubic zirconium from Kay's.

I'm reminded of my grandmother, a woman who lived through the Great Depression and whose Etienne Aigner wallet (half off at Jordan Marsh, thank you very much) was overflowing with coupons. I was rifling through her fridge once when I discovered, wedged between cans of Market Basket ginger ale, a plain envelope. Inside were hundreds of dollars and receipts dating from the Kennedy administration. This, my friends, is the right way to freeze one's assets. Playing it safe in uncertain times means checking your ego and resorting to desperate measures. So pass the imitation eggnog and allow me to share some tips for thrifty holiday money management.

Get to know your friendly bank teller
I used to bank exclusively online. But, see, the people who run your online account exemplify why Darwinism is a crock of shit. They are the cockroaches of the job market. Long after oncologists and teachers have taken to panhandling in the streets, these people will be answering your 1-800 calls and mispronouncing your name. Indeed, Bank of America once confused me with someone named Carab Basin and deducted $12 from my account per month for some sort of triplets-with-no-chromosomes research foundation. Don't debit-card anything. Withdraw money directly from your bank and pay for those gifts in cold hard cash. You'll miss the money more. Moreover, you'll be able to sneer directly at the moron who knows you have only $67 in your checking account.

Don't travel to places you can't afford
Would I like to winter in Bermuda? Why, yes. I'd like nothing more than to toast my pasty skin on a beach while Juan and Tito spritz me with Champagne. Hell, I'd like to go any place that doesn't offer Keno in the lobby and free meals to anyone recently out of jail. You want to know where I spend my holiday vacation? At my mother-in-law's condo on Cape Cod, where I share my bed with four obese cats. It might not be glamorous, but it's free. I can cover my watery eyes with sunglasses, and the rash I get from her Christmas Tree Shop quilts blends winningly with my hives.

Give the stingiest presents dignity will allow
A few years ago, my sister-in-law gave everyone on her gift list homemade ketchup in tiny mason jars. Then she jetted off for a month-long vacation in Australia. I was appalled. But I was also intrigued. Give Aunt Hortense some Girl Scout cookies wrapped in holly and call it a day. Then count your money and chortle with evil glee.

Don't pay other people to do things you can easily do yourself
I used to spend $25 every other week to get my nails done, until it dawned on me that I was throwing away perfectly good money to listen to a woman tell me about her annoying best friend, her ungrateful children, and why I need an eyebrow wax. Thing is, I already have relatives. And now I have 50 extra bucks for my holiday wet bar.

Don't be ashamed to shop at embarrassing supermarkets
Yes, the cashiers are all named Rita and their hairdos should be on the national register of historic places. But the prices! Sure, the salad bar might offer nothing but old olives and wet feta cheese, and the "green" aisle consists of VO5 hot oil in a biodegradable container. Who do you think you are, Nigella Lawson? Get in line behind the rest of the hoi polloi sneakily leafing through the National Enquirer and deal with it. Your turkey and cranberry sauce will still taste the same.

Wear party clothes from warehouse outlets
I was at the Natick Mall (excuse me, the Natick Collection) the other day, and it was a ghost town. An acne-scarred midget with chicken samples paced back and forth like a character in a broken video game. The kid at the jewelry kiosk was trying to pierce the security guard's ear. Nowadays, you can't afford to dress like an extra on Gossip Girl. Yeah, I know, the discount warehouses aren't exactly glamorous. A shopping trip there rewards only those who enjoy picking through mounds of velour elasticized "activewear" to find a flattering pair of pants. The dressing rooms are stained with urine, and the mirrors make you look 10 feet wide. Your cashier will be of dubious gender and speak no recognizable multi-syllabic language. However, with a little persistence, you'll find the exact same kind of stuff offered at the mall, but for half the price. Hold your nose, close your eyes, and dive in. You'll look great at your next holiday soirûe!

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Related: Jews just want to have fun, Rare treats, On the 10th drink of Christmas, More more >
  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Cape Cod, Christmas gifts, Seasons 2008,  More more >
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