Folks lose their minds around the holidays. Seriously. Lose. Their. Minds. Somehow, conveying love for their children, parents, or significant others gets tangled up with how much they splurged on presents this season. They can even go all-in trying to bring the “wow factor” at the office gift swap. Meanwhile, the next couple of weeks — sometimes the next couple of months — are dedicated to playing catch-up because they’ve let the light bill or the car note slide, so they could have a little extra cushion for Christmas materialism. I know this from experience. I’ve been guilty of it myself before. Ho-Ho-Ho.
Like everything else, there are some people who take it to the extreme. I am, in between typing this post, having a belabored conversation via text with a friend who is shopping for his recently-promoted-from-jumpoff girlfriend. Early this morning, he sent a picture of a Marc Jacobs bag for me to shower my opinion all over. The purse itself is aight, a plain black leather hobo with two vertical zippers in the front and silver hardware accents. I typically love MJ designs but as far as this one goes, it’s just OK. It doesn’t move me.
But far be it from me to begrudge another woman the opportunity to find a high-end handbag under her Christmas tree, so I told him he done good and kept it moving. Just as I was about to close the pic and carry on, I saw the price.
“$900!?!!” I typed furiously on the keypad. “R u outta your mind?”
“No ur cheap,” he retorted a few minutes later. “My chick gotta have the hot sh*t.”
And there it is. The old-hat mentality that’s sopped up so much potential for Black wealth-building — the pursuit of fabulosity at all costs. Honestly, I thought that way of thinking had been kinda on its way out after the shiny suit era wheezed its final few breaths. It seemed we’d kind of turned a corner with the maturing of hip-hop and a focus on entrepreneurship. I mean, we’re always going to have folks who drape themselves in the façade of being well-to-do when they’re really barely doing. Some of them are behind the boom of “Bag, Borrow, or Steal,” proving that we are still very much into the thrill of having a Gucci label somewhere on our person as opposed to getting a high from signing a deed or opening a college account for our kids.
“OK, I’m cheap,” I snarked. “And ur foolish.”
As you can imagine, it’s been about 20 minutes since the last time the little message indicator dinged with a new incoming text. I’m ready to keep going, even though I’m sure my poor, beat up little BlackBerry is probably wishing I’d just make my point already and get it over with. He can call me cheap, tight, or penny-pinching, and I’m sure he will. But he can’t call me disillusioned.
I say folks lose their minds around the holidays, but truth be told, I’m not so sure some have them in the first place. I feel like this right here: if you don’t have a house or a piece of property to call your own, and if you aren’t sitting on a nice cushion of savings or a tidy little nest egg for retirement, and if you have just enough money to pay your bills every month and find yourself singing lead on the “Ain’t Got No Money Blues,” and certainly if you have someone calling you at any point of the day from an 800, 877, or 866 number, you have no business buying a $900 handbag for yourself or anybody else. Homeboy qualifies for at least three of those can’t-dos.
A couple of weeks ago, I interviewed Ramit Sethi, author of The New York Times bestseller I Will Teach You to Be Rich. His gracious publicist offered to send me a copy of it as the background for my story, and I — never one to turn down too much of a free anything, much less a free book — was excited to get it. My prayer for a long time has been to change the financial dynamic for my family. I was raised in an anti-label household. My mama wasn’t hearing nothing about no Nikes or Adidas when she was running the show on a meager salary, trying to make a dollar holler and a dime do the darn thing. But I got caught up in college, trying to be the designer diva like some of my friends. In the end, all I had to show for it was a heap of credit card debt and a closet full of outdated clothes that, once loaded onto the donation truck, were going to make some less fortunate person very stylish.
Material things, for so many of us, are a source of empowerment and comfort and even control. You may not be able to be where you want to be professionally or get where you want to get personally, but dang-it you can look good while you wait. That emotional attachment to our consumer buying power sets us back from real power — having and maintaining wealth. This is the first year I’ve set a real budget for my spending. An honest-to-goodness, once-it’s-gone, it’s-gone budget for everyone I want to buy for. It’s hard when you want to do amazing things for amazing people. Don’t I know it. But I hope that I’ve told the people I love enough how I sincerely feel about them to not have to wait all the way until December 25 to show them in wrapped packages and heaven help me, $900 handbags.