I hate turning on the radio after Thanksgiving every year. Without fail damn near every station is playing Christmas music. “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” makes my ears bleed. “A Holly Jolly Christmas” induces digestive pyrotechnics. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” makes me want to end it all.
I swear I am not a Scrooge. I just have an aversion to schmaltz and shitty music, and let’s face it 99.9% of Christmas music is the epitome of schmaltzy shit. However, there is that .1% of Christmas songs that I get down with. Mariah Carey is the Christmas song whisperer with her trifecta of the standard “O, Holy Night”, the classic jam “All I Want for Christmas”, and the carol to slit your wrist to “I Miss You Most At Christmas Time.” However, before Ms. Carey revolutionized Christmas there were Wham! and Donny Hathaway.
Harrison Ford wasn’t the only white man with stubble my beloved mother had the hots for in the 1980s. She also may have thrown her panties at George Michael.
In the ye olden days when MTV aired music videos my mother would record them on VHS tapes which I would later spend hours watching. One of my favorites was the video for Wham’s “Last Christmas.” While it made me yearn for adulthood and couples’ vacations at a luxurious ski lodge, it also made me acutely aware of heartbreak. Even at six-years old the longing stares, wistful glances, and charged encounters punctuated by the tender breaks in George Michael’s tenor did not escape me.
Conversely, Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” is downright giddy with the anticipation and hope that new love brings. And unlike “Last Christmas,” the song didn’t play in my house when I was growing up. I heard the intro lyrics, “Hang all the mistletoe/I’m gonna get to know you better/This Christmas,” on a commercial for a compilation album of Christmas soul songs. I didn’t hear the full song until years later, but the rest of it is just as good as the snippet from the commercial.
It’s The Most Spendiful Time of the Year
November thru the New Year is always an expensive time of year for me since I have to travel to spend the holidays with my family. Flights alone can cost several hundred dollars and some year’s I’ve spent thousands to go home to West Africa to hang out with my grandma, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Add presents to the tab and paychecks get depleted with a quickness. Thankfully, as people get older the expectation of receiving Christmas presents lessens so my list of people to shop for is pretty compact. As December 25th barrels toward us at breakneck speed I’m feeling like these two songs represent my relationship with my bank account during the holidays. “Last Christmas” got downright ugly. I’m hoping for better “This Christmas.”
I can be a bit of a tightwad when it comes to spending money on other people, but I pride myself on being an expert gift giver. I enjoy picking out just the right present that demonstrates attention to people’s needs, interests, and our relationship. Last year the confluence of a greater than normal spirit of generosity and the urge to support Black owned businesses led me to buying gifts for people beyond my immediate family. Ironically, these noble aspirations converged at a time when almost no money was being deposited into my checking account.
Yes, I had a job, but my paychecks were anemic because I decided in November to max out my 401K contribution for the year since I was only a couple thousand dollars shy with my current contribution. Alas, making up a couple thousand dollars in only two pay periods required more than a 25% withholding from each check. After the mortgage, utilities, student loan payment, other bills, and feeding myself, there was nothing left for gifts. Not wanting to raid my emergency fund, I decided to find additional sources of revenue.
I did a few test drive mystery shops that brought in $85 and got a flu shot and cholesterol test for a $50 gift card from my insurance company. Although the $115 was a good start it was not nearly enough to cover the gifts I’d picked out for my parents, siblings, cousins, and friends. So did I select less expensive presents?
I kept my list in tact and sold my body instead. Well, I sold a part of my body. My blood plasma to be exact.
Yeah, not my finest moment, but in my defense
Or rather, her fault. I was on my favorite online forum in a discussion thread about side hustles and another poster kept talking about getting paid $100 for blood plasma donations. Normally I would ignore the suggestion but when your cents got that much in common and you’ve been hustling since your inception, fuck perception go with what makes cents. It all sounded as easy as going to the donation center, getting your blood drawn for 20 minutes, then scooping up a Benjamin.
First, the donation center did not accept appointments for first-time donors. Everyday they take a limited number of new people on a first come, first serve basis. Being at the center when it opens is the best shot at getting a spot. Since the donation center opened at 7:00 a.m. and I live on the other side of the city, that meant waking up before God does on a Saturday to still get there late at 7:15 a.m. Arriving fifteen minutes after opening earned me the number 6 position in the waiting room.
No, it wasn’t bad. It was downright horrible. They didn’t start calling on the new people until after 8:00 a.m., at which point we were summoned into the first screening room one person at a time every 30 to 45 minutes. It was almost noon before I even had my blood pressure taken and I still had to pass five more screenings, including a health survey, iron testing, peeing in a cup, and a modified physical, before I’d be cleared to donate plasma. Of course none of the pre donation testing happened continuously. Nope, after each phase of the process I was sent back to the waiting room to hurry up and wait.
During all of this waiting I learned that the $100 payment was broken up into two $50 installments which required two separate donations, because a one-time donation is unusable. If cleared to donate I would get $50 that day, but would need to come in again that week to make another donation. Since you can’t give plasma two days in a row and the center was closed on Monday, that meant the first and only time I could come back was on Tuesday, which was the same day I was flying home to New York. Thankfully, I was able to make an appointment for my second visit. Unfortunately, the only appointment times were way too close to my flight departure so I had no choice but to arrive at opening and hope to be seen early in order to
get the other $50 make sure my first donation would be usable.
At 1:45 p.m. I had completed all the finger pricking, pee testing, organ prodding fun and was awaiting an available donation station. Observing the dozens of people in the waiting area with me it looked as though the Human Services office and neighborhood halfway house had teamed up to have a party at the donation center. It was at that moment that I wondered where my life had veered so wildly off course.
It was 2:30 p.m. when I finally finished my donation, received my prepaid Mastercard, and left the center. I had spent 7 hours and 15 minutes of my day to get 50 bucks. Sure, I could have left hours earlier without the money, but that sunk cost fallacy is a bitch. When it was all said and done I’d received less than minimum wage for my time and I returned 72 hours later to spend another four hours mostly waiting.
Was it worth it? Considering the fact that my mother’s Christmas present alone cost $100 and I wound up pillaging my emergency fund anyways to the tune of $753 to by myself gifts under the guise of supporting Black owned businesses…
Even though I am sans job this year, I am not going anywhere near the plasma center. With my severance check I cleared almost all of what I would have made if I was still employed. However, I’d like to preserve those funds for as long as possible, so I did not factor Christmas gifts into the December budget.
Now, now! Just because I didn’t budget for gifts, it doesn’t mean that I’m giving nothing. I just figured out a way around spending the money in my bank account. Here is how.
Credit Card Rewards
Capital One Quicksilver gives 1.5% cashback on all purchases. Since the redemption value is a paltry $.01 per point across all reward categories it makes sense to use my accumulated points to purchase gifts. It also just so happens that Capital One is running a promotion where spending $2500 between November 15 and January 15 gets me an extra $75 cash back. Got that covered when I picked up Silver Betty from the dealership this morning (she was sounding like a six pack a day smoker). With no annual fee, as long as I pay off the card in full each month (which I do), I make money and never need to come out of pocket whenever any of my loved ones decide to get hitched or knocked up.
Another type of reward points that are coming in handy right now are Swagbucks. I earn points that I can redeem for gift cards for doing activities like online shopping (only what I’d normally buy), dining out (within my budget), taking online surveys, and pretending to watch videos. This week I racked up over 1000 points for buying a much needed new pair of jeans and eating fried Oreo’s at a neighborhood restaurant. The surveys can be a total time suck to get to a winner, but since I am funemployed…
As few as 300 points can be redeemed for gift cards, but right now I’m stacking mine so I can get a $25 pre-paid Mastercard. I find Swagbucks to be an easy way to keep my money and still enjoy frivolous things. Check out my referral link if you want to get started.
A Craigslist Christmas
Despite my father’s multitude of warnings that it’s dangerous, I love me some Craigslist. Craigslist saved me from Restoration Hardware’s clutches when I was doing the absolute most trying to furnish and decorate my condo. Craigslist gave my fiddle leaf fig tree a beautiful, spacious planter when he was suffocating in the plastic pot in which I bought him. Craigslist provided solid oak chairs for my kitchen counter. Craigslist relieved me of the queen size mattress taking up space in the second bedroom while bestowing upon me the rare feeling of cash in my hands. Craigslist is God’s gift to mankind.
In this season of joy, I have emptied my closet of that wine rack I never installed, the IKEA table legs that didn’t work for my DIY vintage suitcase table, and more and posted them on the list of Craig for other souls in need of their utility to purchase. I already made $15 today, which I will then turn around and use to buy another Craigslister’s perfectly fine, gently used items to gift to my loved ones.
This year I took the initiative to put my family on a gift budget. With the magic of group text I have gotten everyone to agree to a reasonable $25-$50 range per gift and set the example myself by asking for socks. Setting expectations ahead of time, as well as asking people what they want give good safeguards against overspending. My dad, bless his heart, just wanted a few packs of Hanes undershirts. I am still working on raising his standards, but at least his request is simple and affordable. Heck, buying his gift will probably earn me even more Swagbucks and credit card reward points.
So what are your plans for getting through the holiday gift minefield with your bank account intact? Did you save money all year and finish all of your shopping already? Are you still waiting for your December 15th paycheck so you can hit the mall on Christmas Eve? Maybe you found your own ways to bring in some extra dollars this month. Is regifting your jam? Hit the comments and share your thoughts. And may the odds be ever in your wallet’s favor.
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