Archives For Simplicity

Welcome to the holiday shopping season. Where the same thing happens every year.

The same damn thing.

While the crazed and wild eyed stampede into the late night/early morning hours to acquire their iPads, TVs, handbags and other assorted crap no one needs for a successful and happy life, I was doing the same thing I always do this time of year.

Namely, drooling on my pillow. Watching the back of my eyelids.

The previous night at my in-laws was another Thanksgiving success, breaking bread with family and overindulging a bit on the turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, and assorted vegetables and appetizers.

And don’t get me started on the pumpkin pie.

Whether it was the food, or perhaps that one extra cocktail, the morning came slowly. As I opened my eyes, the digital clock across the room read 9:30.

9:30?? WTF?? I have to get the dog his breakfast, and then outside to do his business. It’s late!

One problem. The dog was still sleeping as well. Thanksgiving can be tiring to our canine counterparts, too.

When Black Friday Comes

Cooper - the last member of the family I expect to over sleep

Cooper – the last member of the family I expect to over sleep

And so begins the biggest shopping day of the year in our house. In typically tardy fashion. I’m not sure if you’d call what we do traditions, but my family spends the post-Thanksgiving day pretty much the same way every year. For example:

After rolling bleary-eyed out of bed, it’s coffee time. After Cooper is taken care of, we’re ready for our morning ritual. If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know we rarely go out for coffee. Not with our full size steel espresso pot on the stove top, standing at the ready.

Strong, creamy, and just like my Nonna used to make. We enjoy this every day, but today, it’s a special cup.

After some chatting in the kitchen, and a couple of phone calls to relatives, my son decides he wants to start a new Black Friday tradition. A little game of hoop in the driveway, on this sub thirty degree day.

It’s a new tradition because we just got the basketball set-up this summer, found on Craig’s List for a fraction of its original cost. Thank you, nice neighbor.

Researching new portable basketball hoops with full size backboards, the prices ranged from $300 to $800 to start. We got our slightly used one for under $120.

Boom! How’s that for savings? And I didn’t even have to wait in a line. Take that, Black Friday!

Relaxation And Entertainment

After a half hour of exercise, I decide to come back in the house and burn a little time on-line by entertaining myself with tales of Black Friday stupidity.

Did you know that fifteen thousand people waited in line for Macy’s flagship store in New York City to open its doors?

Fifteen thousand!

Horrified by what I was reading, I shut the laptop down to go to another Black Friday tradition, house hold chores. Since I’m still a little groggy from my overload of turkey, I’m not going to do much, just vacuum the hall stairs that need cleaning. That one task wears me out.

Physically, I’m not worth much today. A perfect opportunity to write a blog post. And here we are.

Winding It Down

As I write this, my wife is watching a quality show on PBS, which is commercial free. Good thing, because the Black Friday ads on other channels attempt to make all of us look like total jackasses who are concerned with nothing but shopping, over consumption, and greed.

Since we’re not contributing to traffic jams on roads and in stores, there obviously won’t be an over indulgent trip to a restaurant, either. We’ll be eating at home, with a mouth watering rendition of homemade macaroni and cheese, made with rigatoni, cheddar, swiss, and parmigiano reggiano.

Decadent. And again, a fraction of the cost of the Olive Garden meals that shoppers will consume today after their exhausting marathon. After all of their “savings” goals have been met.

After dinner, we’ll probably relax again after the dishes are done. I may take my son to my Dad’s house for a visit, or we could just wind down with an old movie. Hopefully, with as little advertisement as possible. I’m mentally scarred from the limited ads I’ve seen already.

Another year, another Black Friday passed. We’ve lost out again. No big deals, no rude shoppers, no shoulder to shoulder jostling for the latest designer labels. No stress. No generous savings from inflated retail prices.

Unless you are of the mindset that saving 100% is absolutely the best deal you can get.

My grandfather, young and handsome!

My grandparents could not take advantage of much education when they came to America as they had to go to work at a young age. But in many respects, my grandparents managed to acquire more financial intelligence than most of us, including me and you.

Makes little sense, right? How can someone’s grandparents possibly be smarter than they are? The older generation did not have access to all that we do. This is the information age. We have Google and Bing to search at the speed of light, and Twitter and Facebook to share any piece of information that we have in real time.

Most of us would also have an edge in education, as well. My grandparents never attended college. They went to work as soon as they possibly could, to aid in the support of their family. So, naturally, our intelligence must be more advanced too, right?

Look at me now, typing away, publishing my words on-line and competently stringing a few sentences together. You might say this talent makes me a little smarter than, say, my grandmother.

We may be able to gather information more quickly, that’s a given. More intelligent? The jury’s out on that one. As far as being common sense smart, the previous generations might have it all over us. I’d like to offer some of their “money handling” examples:

They spent their money wisely – Yeah, at times my grandfather would splurge on a lottery ticket (or two). And yes, my Nonna liked to buy a surplus of imported cheese that was fifteen dollars a pound. But most times, they were not crazy with their money. They went to stores infrequently, shopped sales when they did go, and they didn’t have any expensive hobbies like golf, boating, or weekends in Las Vegas. Things were pretty simple. And when your needs are simple, you tend to not spend money.

They saved the same way – Since there wasn’t a lot of spending going on, they saved a lot of money. As they worked hard and built their business, they were also able to build a house in 1969 without taking on a mortgage (that one still amazes me). They purchased another restaurant after operating their first one for several years. You’re able to do that by saving- not dropping all your cash.

Their house was not an investment – Very simply, they bought their house to live in. Period. They weren’t concerned about the house’s market value, if they could tap it for equity, or if they could retire if it was sold. They lived there. It was their home – not a piece of an investment portfolio.

Meals were prepared at home – There were very few trips to restaurants when my gram and her sisters were around and cooking at full throttle. Dinners out were special occasion only. For them, the term “take out” meant taking out the garbage. These girls made some of the greatest lunches and dinners to ever hit a table. It never occurred to them;

“Gee, why cook? Let’s go out for dinner tonight!” or “Honey, I’m tired from my day doing piece work at the factory…can we go out?”

Ridiculous. They knew they would never get a meal of the same quality at a restaurant as one they cooked themselves at home. I feel the same way.

They brewed their own coffee – Especially in my grandmother’s house, the coffee pot was ritual. Granted, in my grandparents’ prime, the Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks of the world were not at all prevelant. But if they were around today, I’m sure they would probably think “Really?? People like paying seven dollars for a cup of coffee?” Myself, I’m not here to bash Starbucks. I love their coffee, and every six months or so, I’ll treat myself to one. But every day, like some people? Not me. That’ll really put a hole in your wallet.

And last but not least…

They were happy with what they had – Keeping up with everybody else was not in their playbook.  They didn’t give a shit about what the neighbors had. If there was ever any envy or jealousy, it was about who had a bigger fig tree or had the best spread on the Sunday dinner table. My grandmother’s one extravagance was a fur coat, and she wore it out. She wore the same dresses, and my grandfather wore the same flannel shirts, forever. And they were perfectly happy. They weren’t concerned with clothes, jewelry, fine wine, or exotic vacations. The only concern was whether or not you had enough to eat.

What say you? Should we adopt some of the financial principles of yesterday? Or should we continue guzzling Starbucks and lusting after BMWs while the economy falls further into the outhouse? Agree or disagree, comments please!

Some guys have all the luck.

Aside from this being a song title for a very good Rod Stewart remake in the musically potent 80’s (1984 to be exact), the above is a well worn phrase that some people are just luckier than others.

You may have been told that many things have nothing to do with luck. You make your luck with hard work and preparation.

You may think when I speak of luck, I’ll write about good fortune in the relationship I have with my wife, or taking the enjoyable journey of watching my kids grow to be adults. In that respect, few people are as lucky as me.

Just about two weeks ago, I was turning 49 as I was coming home in a plane, touching down on ground that had been dusted with the real first snow of the winter. I had been traveling on business for four days, and couldn’t wait to see my wife and kids.

No, the luck I speak of is a little different. For 47 of my now 49 years, I had the great fortune of having not one, but two mentors to guide me through my life. My grandmother, Rose, (with me in the photo below) and my godmother, my aunt Nicolina, were those strong forces.

Although my aunt passed away last year, and my grandmother’s been gone since 2010, their influence will not be going away any time soon.

They always told me to “eat my vegetables“, “waste not want not“, and my favorite “sit down, have a cup of coffee“. But, influence was more than their words. Their influence was action, and the obvious priorities in life.

The great football coach Vince Lombardi had a quote, a mantra that has stuck with me for a long time. In relation to his players, he believed that:

“There are three things important to every man in this locker room. His God, his family, and the Green Bay Packers. In that order.”

I’m not a Packers fan, but I’ve long been a Lombardi fan. His view on the priority pecking order is spot on. Focus on your God, your family, and your life’s work will make for a more successful, stress free you.

My grandmother and godmother were the poster children for this way of thinking. They had a great zeal toward their faith, a world centered around family, and the work that supported that family.

My opinion? This is not just another pretty Lombardi quote (although there are many). It should be a way of life.

We live in an age that is a constant bombardment of communication. What that translates to is consistent distraction. It becomes easy to feel restless. Impatient. You can take your eyes off what’s most important.

I’m no different. I can be a victim of social media (and other) distractions as easily as the next person. An advantage that I do have to bring me back to earth is the example of the life lessons of two Sicilians that I grew up alongside.

Lombardi would think they got it right. Their time spent here was old school principle in its simplest form, pure in concept and execution. And I observed it from both of them for 47 years.

You know what they say. Some guys have all the luck.

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It’s getting close to crunch time. If you haven’t gotten your remaining holiday gifts for the people you buy for, you’re running out of days and minutes.

For many, panic mode is soon to set in.

My wife was feeling the pressure. With the nephews and other relatives still on the list, I saw her mind starting to race, and her actions becoming harried. I’ve already had to tell her to go slower.

Women especially feel obligated to purchase gifts for everyone, as an expression of love. Even though most of us have everything we need, the ladies (and a lot of men) have hit the malls in record numbers.

I am of the opinion that if you’re becoming short on time, maybe gift cards are your solution. But my wife won’t have it. “What seven year old wants to open a gift card?”

She’s right about that.

But, what seven year old (or person of any age) would not like to open an envelope with some cold, hard cash in it?

If you’ve read this far, some of you may be thinking, “What an unthoughtful gift!” And to that I say, keep an open mind. When I was younger, I was privy to the Christmas shopping genius that was my Grandmother.

Her shopping method? Order her grandson to get in his car, and take a trip downtown to the bank. When there, grab a couple dozen fancy bank Christmas envelopes, go to the teller, and make a withdrawal of varied denominations of dead presidents.

Boom. Christmas shopping completed.

Now, while it may not seem thoughtful to you to give cash gifts I, like Jimmy Fallon, can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like money. Aside from the fact that practically no one will say “You gave me money??” with a disdainful look on their face, there are other advantages to the glorious gift of cash:

There is no stress involved - The process for cash gifts is one stop shopping. The bank is your store, and the teller your retail clerk. “Can I help you?” “Why, yes, I’d like a pound of twenties, please.” And you’re done. No running from store to store. No jostling with others to be first in line.

And no pepper spray. Easy breezy.

You take away the possibility of overspending - At the bank, you can’t buy another toy other than what was on your list, and there’s no sneaking a little something for yourself there, while you’re buying for others. Even if you really deserve it.

If you’re gift giving budget is $300 or $500, there’s no overspending. That’s what you get.

You can focus on family and fun - Gram had no time to go to stores, unless it was to the import store for cheese and mortadella (I drove there, also). She had people to make happy, and mountains of food to prep and cook. And she had to go to church, too. Because that’s what the holiday is about anyway.

You help the economy! – Yes, you do help the economy when you shop at Macy’s or J.C. Penney’s. I’m aware of that. But why not help the economy and your mental state? Instead of going on expeditions through shopping mall jungles looking for hidden treasure, admit to yourself that cash is the perfect gift! It’s a win win! The economy gets a little boost, and you don’t feel like strangling your fellow shoppers!

My Grandmother handed out envelopes like she was the Queen handing out royal appointments. She gave gifts to her favorite people, and every single one of them appreciated the gesture. She would be met every once in a while by an “Oh, you shouldn’t have!”, but every gift was accepted.

I even tried to tell her on a couple of occasions, “Gram, I don’t want your money. You do enough for me.” Remember, I ate meals at her house 300 days out of the year. Or more.

“Oh, come on!!” was the response I would hear. And my hand would extend to take the envelope.

This week, don’t wrack your brain trying to buy yet another gift. Use a gift from an old Sicilian lady instead. Stick a greenback in an envelope, relax, and enjoy the sights, sounds, food, and events of the holiday with those people closest to you. That’s the true spirit of Christmas…

Buon Natale!

Presently, I don’t have a cell phone. That’s right, no cell phone. When I look around at my little world when I’m out and about, I feel like the only person without one. When people find out I don’t have a cell phone, they stare at me with that quizzical look as if to say “How do you get along without one?” Or the less likely “No cell phone? What…are you homeless?”

I get along just fine without a mobile phone. I work in an office, and there’s a phone right next to me on my desk. There’s a landline in my house when I get home from work. My wife has a cell phone, and my daughter does as well. I will, at times, use my wife’s phone to communicate. You can text on it very easily, and you can also make a call and actually talk to someone.

I’m currently convinced there is a wealth of phone power always within my general vicinity. Why be redundant and add one more?

I was sitting with a friend recently who was showing me the wide range of things his phone could do for him. He has a new breed of SmartPhone that could instantly grab some NCAA basketball scores, look at the weather report, update his Facebook status, and play some on-line games. I was thoroughly confused.

As I’ve stated before, I love some forms of technology and how much easier they can make our lives. My wife and I just joined the flat screen TV revolution, and we’re very happy we’ve been finally able to join this exclusive club. Of course, we had to join because our current television had finally kicked the bucket. It was a wedding gift from my sister and my brother in law, meaning it was just about 18 years old. I think that’s much older in “TV years”, however.

As I enjoy baseball and basketball games in all their high definition brilliance with our new television, and my appreciation of all things new increases, I have to ask myself: Well, what do you think? How about getting a cell phone?

I just can’t pull that trigger. I do love talking to people, and I love new toys as well. But for me, a cell phone is akin to a colossal waste of my dollars. I know I could probably use such a phone in an emergency situation…but everybody else has a cell phone. And I’m a sociable and brazen individual at times.

If my car ever breaks down, the conversation could go like this:

“Hey buddy…can I borrow your phone?”

That’s not all there is to it. Phones aren’t just phones now, they are status symbols. If you’re caught outside of your residence without the right phone…well, what’s a neighbor to say? What, no IPhone? No Android? You just make calls from your phone? Really? That question would come up again. How do you get along without one?

You know the answer. Just fine, thank you.

Kids, just remember: The “Old School” principles aren’t just about paying homage to the previous generations. No, it’s also about realizing what’s necessary in your life, focusing on that, and doing away with (or not even bothering with) the rest of the crap that everybody else is doing.

Here it is. That time of year again.

The time where it seems everyone is stressed out about the big holiday. Christmas. Many of us are still searching for an appropriate gift for someone, or making last minute Christmas dinner or holiday party plans. A lot of people say they are stressed. My wife has said it. My co-workers have said it. I overhear strangers in the stores say it.

The pressure is on. They feel the stress of so much to do, coming down to the wire.

Why bother with all this stress? Stop. It’s not that hard, very easy to stop, really. Your kids will not be disappointed if you stop. The adult who you absolutely have to buy that gift for will not be disappointed. If you stop the stress and remember the real (read: old school) reasons for this holiday, you will feel better about it.

This holiday is not about Target, WalMart, or Toys R Us, no matter how much you are persuaded to believe. It is not about the commercials and advertising bombarding you with the idea that this upcoming day will be perfect if you buy that one last present, or go overboard and put yourself into extreme levels of debt for the next year.

It is not about the gift of a Lexus with a big red bow on it (who does this anyway?).

It is about watching Rudolph again. It is about the excitement of your kids finding that one special present under the tree. It is about creating memories with your family and friends, and dropping some money into the Salvation Army kettle when you see one, to help those who might not have much of a Christmas at all.

Remember the birth of Jesus Christ? If memory serves me right, this is the original reason we celebrate this holiday.

It’s not necessary to get all religious on you here. But if we can reflect on why we hold this holiday in such reverence in the first place, it just might lower that stress level. You may be able to breathe a little easier. You might just think…”there’s no reason to be stressed at all, and plenty to celebrate”.

Especially in a year like this one. If you’re lucky enough where your only concern is what to buy your friends and family (and not how you’re going to pay for it) and if you’ll have enough time to do it, you’re doing just fine. No stress necessary.

So, relax, have some egg nog, and have a good time. That’s what the season is all about.

Buon Natale! (Otherwise known as “Merry Christmas”!)