This holiday season, Refinery29 is proud to champion financial confidence alongside SunTrust — the bank providing you with all the tools and resources you'll need to live out your #bestlife. Ahead, hear one real woman's story about pursuing her goals with financial confidence in the midst of the holidays.
When I was a kid, my grandfather — a hardworking German immigrant — seemed endlessly amused by the sheer variety of stuff available to him and his American family. He loved to spend time in department stores, and my mother and I inherited not only his affinity for shopping but also his particular brand of generosity. When the holidays arrived, we sang carols in German, ate pfeffernüsse (a spiced, German cookie), and piled mountains of gifts under the Christmas tree.
But, also like my grandfather, we loved the thrill of a low price. Half the fun of holiday shopping, in my family’s view, was in discovering the disarmingly cheap specials made available to early bird shoppers. Each year, on the morning after Thanksgiving, my family and I would pile into the car at the crack of dawn in search of Black Friday bargains, inevitably leaving with three-for-one vanilla candles and luxury soaps galore.
Often, on these trips, I was entrusted with a crisp $20 bill and instructed to purchase a gift for each of the four members of my family — a task I anticipated with great joy. At the time, $20 felt like a fortune, and through some strange fourth-grade alchemy, I'd manage to find the "perfect" gift for everyone. For my grandfather, cold cream to remind him of his European roots. Bath-oil beads for my mom. My uncle would typically receive a cologne gift set; my father...a cologne gift set (variety was not my strong suit). Were these good gifts? Decidedly, no. But all the same, I took great pride in choosing them, wrapping them, and watching my family unbox them joyfully.
By the time I graduated from college, with more than $20 to my name, I had become a well-seasoned gifter. Classmates, professors, friends, coworkers — I practically pelted them all with candles, crafts, cards, scarves, and other symbols of holiday cheer. Gifting made me feel good...or so I thought. Then, something in me shifted.
One Christmas in particular, I reached a turning point. I remember watching my mother as she unwrapped a cashmere sweater I'd chosen for her. She never would have bought it for herself, I reasoned, and she deserved beautiful things. But as I watched her hold it up, I realized the sweater represented the cardinal sin of gift-giving: I had made the gift about me — about my capability to provide her with something spectacular, when I knew my mom had never been one for luxury goods. I hadn't considered what my ever-practical mother would enjoy, need, or use. (More than a decade later, the sweater, which she admired but deemed for special occasions only, remains neatly folded in her closet.)
And thus, I determined that I needed a new way of showing gratitude, love, and generosity. So I stopped buying gifts. Instead, in my attempts to find ways of packaging my love and admiration without investing in meaningless trinkets, I tried something new: Gifting to charities in honor of my loved ones. For my passionately feminist best friend, I donated to a rock and roll camp for girls. Through Heifer International, I bought a goat for my parents (well, not for them, but for a family in the developing world). As I soon discovered, no matter who happens to be in your life, there is a charity doing work they'll care about. And for the most part, people deeply appreciate the personal quality to these donations in precisely the same way they appreciate a gift selected perfectly for their temperament.
Initially, I worried that this new philosophy might come across as lazy or tacky. Sure, it was awkward to hand over a card with information about the charitable donation at first. But let me tell you, people love to know that something good has been done in their name. In fact, the feel-good factor lasts even longer than the momentary excitement of opening a traditional gift for most recipients. My mom, on whose behalf I sponsor a boy through Save the Children, gets giddy whenever her young pen pal replies to her letters. This is a far superior sensation to burning a snickerdoodle-scented candle.
When I think back to my family's Christmas Eve celebrations, I can't recall more than a handful of the toys I unwrapped over the years. But charity gifts are different: They make a real, lasting impact that can change the course of a life, or many lives. That's something you'll never forget.