I remember the first time I went to my future in-laws’ house and as we’re turning onto the private drive, my fiance turns to me and says, “When you see my parents’ house, don’t judge me as a spoiled rich kid or anything, okay?” Uh, yeah, you’re totally a spoiled rich kid, honey.
Luckily, most of the time our lifestyles and spending habits line up pretty well. My husband values wise spending and I can appreciate the occasional need to pay for quality. We did have a few of bumps during those early years (and some hurt feelings) to learn to talk about money and how to spend it. But, we’ve managed to finally speak the same financial language.
Except at Christmas.
Christmas tends to bring out our socio-economic differences and we go through quite the negotiations process determining how much to spend. I hadn’t realized growing up just how frugally my family managed Christmas. From the two foot artificial tree that sat on a side table in the living room, to the handmade gifts and real socks taped to the fireplace (yeah, I borrowed my brother’s sock one year since his was bigger), the way my husband and his family handled Christmas couldn’t have been more different.
So again this year, as I’ve learned to do every year, my husband and I sat down to start our negotiations for Christmas spending, beginning with how much money to spend on each child. I gave my number and my husband gave his — five times my amount.
As we talked further my husband, now more adept at helping us find common ground, pointed out his real objective was to make sure the children had one nice, larger present and maybe one or two smaller presents. He conceded that the amount didn’t necessarily matter, or even what we decided to buy, but that the children had something nice for Christmas.
Yeah, I can agree with that.
Negotiations aren’t always easy. Just look at the difficulties facing the government with the national budget. I’ve talked before about government budgets, spending, and why our government has been shutdown in recent years. Leaders seem to struggle more and more with navigating through these necessary but difficult tasks. And it looks like we might be in for another, though partial, shutdown as a nice Christmas present. Funding for certain government agencies expires December 21st and without agreement between Congress and the White House, the government would be forced to shut down. *Sigh, really? We’ve already had two government shutdowns this year. Is it really that difficult to agree?
Yes, it is. Just like with Christmas at my house, there are certain issues that are very difficult to work through. Once again immigration policy, more specifically funding a stretch of wall between the United States and Mexico, is causing major problems in our efforts to find common ground. Whether you agree with building a wall or not, it seems that we still struggle to figure out what we CAN agree on and to understand why certain items and aspects are so important to people.
My husband and I have managed to get through our negotiations by learning some vital strategies. Here they are in a nutshell:
1 – Understand each person’s position, yours and the others’ involved.
2 – Look for common threads that can lead to agreement.
3 – Be flexible and open to new ideas.
4 – Remember the goal is for everyone to feel satisfied with the outcome, not to prove one person is right and one person is wrong.
In my Christmas budget scenario, I love being frugal and creative. Last year I spent less than $2 on materials to make all three of my children fun and exciting presents – a potion set, a doll fashion kit, and a portable fabric activity page. I used things I already had around the house. My position always includes keeping Christmas fun and creative for the least amount of money possible.
My husband doesn’t really enjoy making things but loves watching our children squeal with delight on Christmas morning. He loves experiences, activities, and toys that make the season so exciting. He would never turn down an experience or refuse to buy something on a wish list because of price tag alone, unless it’s completely unreasonable. Though, we don’t exactly agree on the definition of “unreasonable”, the point is he still has a limit and he is reasonable.
You’ll notice in my earlier commentary about our negotiations this year, my husband has already learned how to change the focus on our discussion away from numbers and instead emphasize something we can agree on — useful and meaningful presents. When he did that, I found it easier to agree with him and we were able to move forward, away from haggling over dollar amounts that might not actually matter in the long run.
When we sat down and evaluated the wish lists of our children, we realized some presents were more expensive and some less. Together we shopped around for deals and sales until we both felt we were making wise and prudent purchases. My husband likes getting a good deal too, so that was another common thread that helped him be willing to do that extra work.
This year we didn’t spend as much as my husband expected to spend and we did spend more than I had hoped to spend. But we are both happy with the result.
It’s not impossible for our nation’s leaders to do something similar. Even if we focus on the singular issue of the wall, I bet we could come up with something that everyone would be happy with. But do we find ourselves stubbornly sticking to one aspect of the issue? Do we really understand what matters most and are we willing to find alternative ways to accomplish the same thing?
Christmas budgets come in all shapes and sizes. Regardless of how big or small yours is, how elaborate or simple, may you have a very Merry Christmas!