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Every year at this time, retail establishments are touting Black Friday sales at the top of their advertising lungs. Consumers may or may not respond with the expected volume of purchasing, but the whole concept should, by now, be a little stale for anyone over the age of ten.
There’s the fatigue of trying to think of what a loved one or friend would want, need, or really use in the coming year. (Men especially have a difficult time with this. If we want it, we’ll buy it ourselves, for ourselves. If you want to buy me something, let’s go to a pub and drink some Guinness.) There is the frenzy of the shopping mall stampede where, it seems almost annually, someone in America is seriously injured or killed while trying to get the latest model of the latest gadget or toy. Finally, there is the credit card debt that consumers will hoist on their financial backs, simply out of a sense of obligation, rather than a real joy of giving.
Old Money has an alternative, and it warms the hearts of not just the person who gives the gift and the person who receives it. It changes lives.
Heifer International is a 70 year old charity that brings sustainable agriculture and commerce to impoverished people around the world. It doesn’t provide a handout; it provides resources and guidance for people in need to be self-sufficient.
The work they do and the global impact they have, year in and year out, is unmatched in the world of charitable organizations, in my opinion. And the price range of your donation can be as little as ten dollars or as much as five thousand.
My personal experience with making a donation in lieu of giving a material thing to friends has been extraordinary. When people receive an email notice from Heifer that you’ve donated in their name, they’re touched at the thought. Second, when they discover how much good fifty bucks is going to do for people in need–rather than go toward the purchase a sweater that they don’t want or need–they’re delighted. Finally, it offers them an opportunity to hop off the holiday/retail/consumer merry-go-round and give a gift to their loved ones that has meaning.
Most of the people you’ll buy gifts for this holiday season don’t need a damn thing. So why waste your time and money? Make a difference in somebody’s life.
Click on the Heifer International website and see how you can give a gift in honor of someone you love.
Shine a light this Black Friday. Give to Heifer.
We talk about the concepts of Old Money constantly on this site, but there’s nothing like real world encounters to make the concepts come to life.
In this case, the real world encounter is with an OMG (Old Money Guy) I know who recently sold his company and experienced a substantial financial windfall as a result. He grew up on the east coast and would cringe at the prospect of discussing his family’s background.
However, it was a comfortable childhood with educated and hardworking parents and grandparents who instilled certain values in him and his sister. When I spoke with him last week and congratulated him on the transaction, it was obvious that these values had stayed with him.
The first thing he wanted to make sure I understood was that he was very lucky to have had the chance to start his business in the first place. (It started in his parents’ garage.) He emphasized his parents’ patience and support. He discussed hiring really talent and dedicated employees as the business grew and how it was their skills as much as his that led to the success of the company. (Not just hollow praise, as I later learned that each received eye-popping severance packages when the company was sold.) His modesty was refreshing, but I knew he was really, really intelligent and had busted his butt to make this company work.
The OMG talked about his luck in having the right buyer come along at the right time and what the opportunity would mean for his wife and children. (He and his wife could spend more time together and his children’s education was now paid for.) It had been a few years of ten-hour days, and he could take a deep breath.
He talked about having to shift his focus for the time being from growing a business to managing money. He and his wife were having discussions about how much to tell their children about the windfall and how to structure finances so that the children were taken care of but wouldn’t be spoiled. He was asking his parents for much of this advice, which, he said, humbled his highly-accomplished father. “When I told him I wanted my kids to turn out the way I did, he said it was the biggest compliment he’d ever received.”
Finally, after listening to a very modest and circumspect discussion of his new situation in life, I’d had enough and did my best surfer impersonation: “Dude, that’s all fine, you know, but what are you going to buy?”
He cracked up laughing, then had to take another call. Before hanging up, he promised to email me with his list and warned me that I would be “incredibly underwhelmed”.
Sunday, I received his email. “The Conspicuous Consumption Windfall Purchase List”, as he called it, was enclosed. He graciously consented to have it published, as long as he remained anonymous.
So, here’s a list of what an OMG spends his money on when he sells his company for eight figures:
1. Had driver’s seat reupholstered in Volvo. $200.00.
2. At wife’s insistence, purchased new pair of brown dress shoes (wingtips) online from Allen Edmonds. $400.00
3. 3 new pair of khakis from Bill’s, $450.00. And a brown belt, $75.00, both online. Note to self: do not gain weight.
4. LL Bean boots, $100.00. Online. (Yes, I hate shopping.)
5. Half dozen shirts from Brooks Brothers, online, depending on what’s on sale.
6. Leather strap to be replaced on watch (inherited, old) $100.00 est.
7. Dinner with wife. $100.00.
8. Bought drinks at The Hill, paid cash. Total damage: large and unknown. Attitude toward expenditure: do not care.
9. Possible: share costs of Red Sox season tickets with neighbors.
That’s about it.
Many of us are going to brave the malls and the crowds and the chaos soon in search of the perfect holiday gift for someone special. We’re going to rack our brains–especially us men–in order to conjure up that perfect, awe-inspiring material thing that says it all to the one who means everything to us.
And we’ll probably come up short. We’d be infinitely better off preparing a meal, opening a bottle of wine, lighting a candle, and inviting our beloved to have a seat and enjoy.
Of course, at some point over dinner or dessert, we could produce a small, thoughtful gift that was personal, meaningful, and enduring. There is a little-known law that states that the amount of thought given to a gift generally reduces the cost of said gift exponentially.
Anyone with a surplus of money and a shortage of sense can give a piece of retail jewelry. It takes a very affluent man, however, to locate an out-of-print book by his darling’s favorite author and give that as a holiday gift. (If your significant other would rather have a piece of retail jewelry than a gift of more subtle and enduring value, consider your future together carefully.)
The true value of a gift is the moment it represents, the history it holds, the sentiment it confirms. To translate these emotions that are by definition difficult to articulate into appropriate (and hopefully affordable) gifts can be challenging. But let’s elevate the process: let’s think of something that will be used, as well as treasured; something that will endure, and not just shine for the fleeting moment; something that will improve with age, like memories and the people who help make them.
Think more. Spend less. And give a better gift this holiday. The true value will show.