What’s the Ugly Xmas Sweater in Your Budget?
The Advent of the Ugly Christmas Sweater
When did you attend your first Ugly Christmas Sweater party? And how much did you spend on that embroidered, bedazzled beauty (or beast)?
Back in 2004, one of my hipper college roommates (they were all hipper than me) suggested we throw an Ugly Sweater party. It’s been so long I don’t remember how much my ugly sweater cost, but it was definitely less than $5. Neil also snagged one for a few bucks and still proudly sports it through the holiday season and beyond.
During a recent visit to the thrift store, I noticed that the Ugly Sweaters were displayed prominently, and over-priced compared to their Regular Sweater counterparts. There was no shortage of discounted jolly jumpers cast off by retired elementary school teachers when my roommates and I shopped for such treasures. Twelve years later, Ugly Sweaters are sold by just about all major clothing retailers, and you can even buy “designer” ones for $40-65 in horrifying prints such as:
Perhaps my fashion sense is a bit outdated, but I’m fairly certain that NO MAN SHOULD EVER LET THAT MONSTROSITY TOUCH HIS BODY! Or woman, for that matter. Neil’s opinion of Santa Centaur sweater: “It’s funny, but not $40 funny.”
But I suppose tastes will vary, so I’ll get to my actual points:
- Trends are stupid.
- Marketers can get people to spend money on anything.
- Fashion is futile.
- Value is relative, but sometimes it shouldn’t be.
The Ugly Sweater In Your Budget
I don’t think I even need to elaborate on those. So let’s end with some application: There is probably an Ugly Sweater in your spending. I’m talking about that line of your budget that owes its existence to a marketing ploy, a cultural myth, or an old habit that’s gone too long unchallenged. Maybe the line item itself is legitimate, but the amount is just nutty, and you can’t see it because Ugly Sweaters have become the norm. You’ve become inoculated against their ugliness and re-conditioned to view them as hip, or at least passable.
I have no idea what your Ugly Sweater is, but I urge you to find and unravel it. One likely culprit is consumer debt. By which I mean anything outside of student loans or a mortgage. Especially a car payment. A lifestyle of continuous consumer debt has only become an acceptable norm recently. Borrowing money all the time used to be as tacky as a Santa Centaur shirt. Living on less you than you make is precisely what we meant by pretending to be poor, and it’s a reasonable but often overlooked financial option with loads of benefits like financial flexibility.
Here are some Ugly Sweaters we’ve discovered in our budget:
- Haircuts for Neil. He’s growing his hair to his knees instead. Just kidding, I learned how to cut it.
- Haircuts for our boy. Neil’s job.
- $50 dates. Since we don’t get out often, we would budget (and spend) $50 every time. While we’re willing to splurge sometimes, we’re trying to get out more and spend less when we do with options like splitting entrees, going to our favorite less expensive restaurants, and buying ice cream at the grocery store. (Also, we visit places like parks, thrift stores, libraries, and coffee shops.) More on why you can’t afford not to date your spouse soon.
- Buying wine by the bottle. Unless there’s an amazing rebate, we’ve found less expensive ways to imbibe the occasion adult beverage. We are not ashamed of buying box wine.
- Christmas Lights. We’ve gone all out on outdoor lighting in the past, and probably will again, but we’ve reigned it in the last two years in order to focus on some big short-term financial goals.
- Buying all-new Christmas gifts. Last year my wonderful mother suggested Goodwill was a perfectly legitimate place to buy thoughtful, useful Christmas presents, and we heartily agreed. We only buy for a select few people this way, but we save a lot buying our kids and each other certain pre-owned gifts. For example, the two-year-old’s Christmas tricycle is totally coming from Craiglist.
- Hang-drying laundry. We started saving about $25 per month in electricity when we stopped using our dryer so much.
- Wearing jeans with holes. I used to throw out jeans as soon as they wore holes in the knees, because that was “not my style.” Then I realized I could keep wearing them for some time before they actually qualified for scrap bag status.
- Cloth diapering. Though we are currently using disposables until (hopefully) potty-training soon, we saved thousands by using cloth diapers. More on this in an upcoming post I wrote for another site.
- Buying boneless, skinless chicken breast. Now I buy whole or bone-in chicken pieces and it saves a ton.
What do you think of the Ugly Sweater phenomenon (literally and figuratively)? Any idea what your Ugly Sweater spending might be?