Commercialism In Valentine’s Day

So a couple days ago, my beautiful wife, Andrea, posted a seemingly random thought on Facebook:

I know I am going to sound like a grumpy old lady…But I don’t actually like Valentine’s Day.  It’s so fabricated and commercial.  Too much pressure for me 😉

Thanks to direct access to this particular source, I was able to delve further.  She told me, “It’s hard to feel romantic when everyone is trying to do the same thing.  It feels forced.”  What makes it feel forced, she concluded, was the overly commercial aspect of it.

Speaking of commercials, did you happen to catch the Teleflora ad during the Super Bowl?  My reaction to supermodel Adriana Lima’s floral sales pitch was to awkwardly preoccupy myself with the chips and dip to hide the spontaneous nervous laughter that erupted at its conclusion, as Ms. Lima instructed my gender: “Guys, Valentine’s Day’s not that complicated.  Give, and you shall receive.”  Feeling the stares of all the women at a small Super Bowl gathering, I attempted to declare, foolishly, with as straight a face as humanly possible: “That commercial was…um…effective.”

The ladies present gave me grace and laughed at my helplessness, but I can’t but wonder whether the forced romanticism of which Andrea spoke wasn’t perfectly personified in Teleflora’s wanton objectification of women.  (For a discussion on the wanton objectification of MONEY itself, check out my post on Forbes this week, “For Love, Not Money.”)  After all, my guess is that Teleflora didn’t spend $3.5 million to stir a healthy discussion over the inherent self-interest in gift-giving, but to sell a boat-load of roses!

Teleflora wants guys to give flowers, and there is no question what they implied guys should expect to receive.  So, we give this and we get…that.  Sounds much less like a gift and more like a transaction.  A transaction no respectable man should be willing to make.  A transaction that strips every ounce of romanticism out of Valentine’s Day, or any occasion for that matter.

A gift from a heart of love simply isn’t a gift unless it’s given without reciprocal intent.

It’s no wonder that the results of my unscientific poll, based on Andrea’s and my Facebook and Twitter comments and questions, revealed that 60% of respondents share generally negative sentiments about V-day, with an additional 20% blithely apathetic.

While I recognize all the reasons for turning our back on V-day as valid, my not-yet-completely-extinguished optimistic streak inspires me to redeem, instead of discard, this beleaguered day.  My friend and colleague, Joe Pitzl, put it well in his poll response:

Valentine’s Day has become a commercialized “Hallmark holiday,” but that doesn’t mean you have to let that destroy the spirit of what it really stands for.  Our society has effectively redefined celebrating a holiday (and why we celebrate it) as spending money on stuff.  We ought to remember WHY holidays exist in the first place…and pausing from our busy lives to simply celebrate our love for one another (whether you spend anything or not) is a great a reason to celebrate as any!

What do you think?  Are we capable of redeeming Valentine’s Day from its commercial, transactional devolution?

Gifting: The Pressure is OFF

A-christmas-story-ralphie-santa We’re now in the midst of Hanukkah and Christmas will be here in a few short weeks.  The Season of Giving, right?  And with all of the great things about this season also comes gifting stress.  You know how it works…You get together with someone this time of year for lunch or coffee and they come bearing gifts.  You immediately feel like a putz because you didn’t get one, so as soon as you leave, you head to the mall and buy them a gift…out of guilt.

Or, your children spend the entire month of December hearing about all the presents that their friends at school are going to get.  They start listing out the aggregate of ALL the gifts they’ve been hearing about at school on a daily basis and you are burdened by the thought that your child might be hanging his or her head at the lunch table when all the kids are discussing what they got.  So, you get them…everything.

You have a new boyfriend, girlfriend, fiancé or spouse and this is your first holiday season together, so you decide that you’re going to show them you know how to do it right.  And, you’re scared to death that they are going to outspend you, so you make sure that they don’t…out of fear.

Fear and guilt are not good motivators.   Thoughtful, heartfelt impulsion, on the other hand, is a great way to gift.  So, if you’re a last minute gift buyer like me, I suggest that you sit down and think about who you feel impelled to give a gift to, and then actually apply a budget to each gift – a guideline on how much you want to spend.  NEVER use credit to pay for a gift, because then you start the New Year off with a lower net worth than you had the day after Thanksgiving.  If you free yourself from giving out of guilt or fear, you’ll enjoy the season all the more.

The Cure For Greed

Interesting, isn’t it, how all that seems to be good about the holiday season recently incepted also seems to be accompanied by something… less than good?  Along with the bountiful feast on Thanksgiving comes the gluttony of eating like animals preparing for hibernation.  Along with the tradition of competitive college and professional football comes the sloth of watching three games… back-to-back… in the same spot… on the same couch.  And along with the season of giving comes the season of frenzied consumption, driven by marketing that at times seems downright manipulative.

Please don’t perceive my tone as judgmental; I only used the examples mentioned because they are those temptations to which I am most susceptible.  I am not a member of the naturally frugal minority condemning the profligate materialistic majority.  It is, after all, my tendency to prefer more over less, better over worse, cool over dorky and hip over unfashionable.

So it is with humility, then, that I posit this “Cure for Greed,” learned quite unintentionally through an experience many years ago that helps me avoid succumbing to the tug of materialism, an enticement we all face daily:

Defense Wins Championships

The fall is, without a doubt, my favorite time of year. And a not-so-insignificant element of that is the joy that fills my heart when huddled around my parents’ television on a Sunday afternoon with my family, a belly full of “linner” (a lunch big enough to be dinner) and the smell of apple pie wafting over a group of adults and children yelling in unison at the images of modern day gladiators chasing around an odd-shaped leather ball.  Football is philosophy… and some of that philosophy translates especially well in our personal finances.

Wag The Dog

Let’s face it: the topic of taxes is just… plain… boring!  Boring, but IMPORTANT.  Here’s the most important rule to remember about taxes in your personal financial planning in the least boring way I could muster.

From The Financial Crossroads Chapter Thirteen of, Wag the Dog:

There is an alien in our house.  Even though we willingly invited this being into our midst when it was very young, it’s become abundantly clear that it does not fully understand the cultural norms of the human realm.  For example, when left to its own devices, it will pillage our human food stores even though it subsists on its own specialized alien food.  It seeks to re-create the style and substance of our outdoor landscaping by relocating the dirt and mulch of our purposefully designed flower beds onto our sidewalks, and creating anew trenches and holes in parts of our yard that were previously flat and covered with grass.  And despite our munificent creation of an alien habitat inside of our home, it seeks to live in, and often bring destruction to, our human habitat, furniture, and creature comforts.  It’s…a dog.

Tim’s dog can’t catch a Frisbee with her mouth, but tries with her paws!

She is, as much as it pains me to say it, our dog, and unless she hears Jack London’s Call of the Wild, she will be for quite some time because she’s still only a puppy.  She was a shelter puppy—an adorable, lovable mix between a German Shorthaired Pointer and a Labrador Retriever (at best guess).  An especially strong case can be made for the pointer, because as she grew, she became so tall and lanky that her youthful coordination simply couldn’t keep up with her growth.  The result was an hysterical few months of physical comedy.

After a February winter storm, she looked like Bambi scrambling to find her footing on the ice-covered snow.  If she made it up a flight of stairs, she’d have to be carried down to avoid tumbling over her stilt-like legs.  And her tail grew to a point where it seemed to double her overall length.  That tail is a weapon capable of clearing off an entire coffee table.  And she’s so annoyingly happy that her tail is always in motion.  I have, on more than one occasion, seen her lose control of her overjoyed tail, collapsing her entire awkward frame into a heap on the floor.

“Don’t let the tax tail wag the dog.”  In college, I heard that quote for the first time from the professor that made the greatest impact on me in those years, Dr. Daniel Singer.  He was—and is—that professor that unnerves students because he’s not predictable.  One semester, he’d teach a class with three tests and two quizzes in between; the next semester, your entire grade was based on only one presentation.  But it was his unpredictability, his passion, and his depth of conviction that drew me to him, and I aimed to take as many of his classes as possible.  It is now my privilege to teach alongside Dr. Singer as an adjunct faculty member at the university from which I graduated.

Dr. Singer would not claim to have been the first ever to say, “Don’t let the tax tail wag the dog,” but to me, in my junior year of college, it was groundbreaking, and it still is.  Too many people, too often, make poor economic decisions because their judgment is clouded by tax concerns.  In most financial decisions, the tax consequences are a secondary or tertiary—at best—consideration.  Drew Tignanelli, a Certified Public Accountant and Certified Financial Planner™ practitioner with 30 years of experience balancing tax planning within the framework of good financial planning put it to me this way: “First, forget about taxes!”

How could he make such a claim?  It’s not because he sees taxes or tax planning as irrelevant or unimportant.  He simply recognizes that in the realm of personal financial planning, you should make decisions first based on the wisdom of the investment, insurance, retirement, or estate planning strategy, and then take a look at the taxes.