Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Why I Shop on Thanksgiving, and other Veteran's Day Musings

What you don't realize, getting out of the Army,  is that you don't have a lot of practical experience to set you up for success in a civilian field.  There are exceptions, of course, but 11B (Infantry) doesn't really make a resume shine.  The military has very helpful ways to overcome that, there are government jobs to be had in limited numbers, and, more importantly, the GI Bill which helps cover education costs so a person getting out of the military can get training/education which will qualify them for other jobs.

My husband got out of the Army in 2010 with a wife, two kids, and no real job prospects.  Going "back to school" was our only real option, so that's what he did.  He got certified as a wind turbine technician in a year, and was hired as a contractor fairly quickly.  He liked the work and was making good money, but contracting work is hard (you never know how long you will be in one place, or even how long you will keep the job at all), and being a wind turbine technician is hard physically; in his early 30's, he realized that he simply couldn't climb 200-300 ft ladders for the rest of his working life, and, without any retirement plan or anything, it wasn't a good long term career path.

So, at the beginning of this year, we went back to the drawing board.  My husband's dad works as a helicopter mechanic, and that had always appealed to him, so, even though the training/certification would take two years, more than he previously wanted to spend at school, we decided that would be the best path to take.  My husband got a part time job at his dad's shop and started school full time.  Our income, even with the housing allowance the GI Bill provides, is currently a quarter of what it was this time last year.  We are living in the basement apartment at his parent's house.  We tell our kids, "no, we can't afford to buy that," a lot.  

I don't want to give the wrong impression, I'm actually super grateful for this time, despite the sacrifices.  Our "basement apartment" is nicer and bigger than our last house, in a great neighborhood.  We have a great relationship with my husband's parents, and being near family has made a difficult year much easier for me after my dad died suddenly in February.  Our kids go to an amazing school.  And they can walk near the toy section at Target without crying and begging (it's amazing how the less they get, the happier they are with what they have).

That said, we have a budget for this Christmas, down to the dollar, and we would like to get the biggest bang for our buck.  Call it "consumerism," but I want to say "yes" to my kids who were told "no" most of this year.

So, here's my specific example.  My kids want Disney Infinity 2.0.  The cheapest I've seen it so far has been $69.99.  Am I willing to spend $70 on my kids for Christmas?  Yes.  Is it in the budget.  Yes.  But when Target has it at 6pm on Thanksgiving for $39.99, am I willing to stand in a line to pick it up for them?  Heck yeah.  That's an extra $30 I can spend on other presents for them.  I hear people say, "your kids care more about the time they spend with you than the presents they won't remember."  True, I agree with that.  But they also won't remember if I sneak out during movie time, post-Thanksgiving dinner.  And while I don't remember very many specific presents growing up, I remember the feeling of just being blessed.  My family didn't have a lot of money while I was growing up, but I remember getting more than I could imagine, even if I don't remember the specifics.  I remember knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that my parents sacrificed to show me they loved me.  I don't know if love languages are born or bred, but that's mine.  And, yes, I remember a Nintendo, Mario Brothers, a bike, modeling clay, a Gameboy, Legends of Zelda, an electronic chess set...I do remember some of the "stuff."

I've been Black Friday shopping for quite a few years.  I've also shopped on Thanksgiving the last couple of years.  I've gone with various family members, I've gone with my husband when we've had a grandparent willing to watch the kids.  We've never pushed or punched or yelled at anyone.  We've never been pushed or punched or yelled at.  Mostly, we find ourselves surrounded by strangers, hands wrapped around red Starbucks cups, happily full of turkey, happily chatting with their loved ones, happily trying to get the best possible gifts for their kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters....  It feels like family, it feels like the beginning of Christmas, to me.

But what about everyone else's family, the people who miss out because they are working?  All I know is, if my husband had the choice to work a full day on Thanksgiving Day, he'd take it, in a heart beat.  I know that that normally half-day he works on a normal Thursday is money we need, and a full day would help out a lot.  We've had to readjust our budget and plan for months, not only to save enough money for Christmas, but to save enough to make up for the hours he's not able to work on Thanksgiving and Christmas, since he doesn't get vacation days.  All I know is, when he was deployed over Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2009, we celebrated when he came home in January, and we didn't feel like we missed out.

And, not to be even more anecdotal than I already am, but when I worked at a movie theater, and worked almost every Thanksgiving and Christmas for three years, mom and dad and siblings worked around my work schedule (and I theirs, they often were in the same predicament).  Yes, we ate very early or very late Thanksgiving dinners some years.  We had a Christmas breakfast rather than Christmas dinner.  We made it work.  I don't remember anyone getting into a huff about how unfair it was to me, or threatening to boycott movies forever because theaters happened to be open on holidays...people that didn't want to see a movie didn't see a movie.  I never really thought it was unfair myself, a day off would've been a day to recover from financially, I would've happily made it work, but it wasn't a big deal either way.  That's life.

I think we all have an idea of what a perfect Thanksgiving holiday looks like.  For some people, it's food and family and nothing else.  For some people it's food and family and shopping.  For some people it's food and family and a movie.  For some people it's just the family.  For some people it's just the food.  For some people it's just the movie.  For some people, it's the Star Trek movie marathon on Syfy.  For me, I love ending a day of cooking, drinking, eating, and playing, by bringing home a pile of Christmas presents to wrap.  Maybe it's because I'm a #basic consumer with #firstworldproblems.  If that's what you want to think of all Thanksgiving shoppers, don't let me be the one to change your mind.

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