Christmas of 1974. Even though this was almost four decades ago, I still remember this holiday season just as vividly as if were yesterday.
I was six years old and in the first grade, while my sister, Cheryl, was three. My family and I had moved to Charleston, South Carolina in March this same year, because my father had been transferred to the Charleston location at his job. I was currently out of school for the Christmas holidays, and we had traveled to Ridgeland to visit family and friends for the Christmas season.
Just before my school was dismissed for the Christmas holidays, my maternal grandparents--Floyd and Bessie Smith--decided to take my sister and I to K-Mart, or a store like it, to look at the toys. They wanted to get some ideas about what to by us for Christmas. Immediately, as I almost always did whenever I visited a store at this age, I ran to the toy department of the store to make my “wish list.”
My grandparents, my sister, and I continued walking the aisles of the store, as we continued to look at the toys. And there it was….the perfect Christmas gift! There on a shelf was a car carrier with two toy cars on a trailer. I fell immediately in love. I just had to have that car carrier for Christmas!
“There it is, Granny!”, I shouted. “That’s what I want for Christmas this year! I want that truck with the two cars on it!”
“We’ll have to see, Michael,” my grandmother said.
After this, all that I could think about from then on was that car carrier. I counted down the days until Christmas, hoping that my grandparents bought me this “dream toy.”
My grandparents managed a hotel for the owner in Ridgeland. Because they were the managers and ran the hotel as if it were their own, they had their own room at the hotel where they could stay. The room had a small kitchenette, a bedroom, and a small bathroom, and was joined to the hotel lobby. In the hotel lobby was the front desk, and a small office area where my grandparents could keep up with the paperwork. One could walk out of the lobby and immediately into the bedroom.
This hotel is where we stopped by to visit my grandparents, and of course, to get our Christmas gifts from them. Granny then told Cheryl and I that our Christmas presents from them were on their bed in the bedroom. Almost immediately, my sister and I ran into the bedroom to retrieve our Christmas presents. There on the bed sat three wrapped gifts.
“Three gifts? Why are there three gifts on the bed whenever there is only two of
us?,” I thought to myself.
I pushed this out of my mind as I ran quickly toward the bed to get my gift. I was just beginning to learn to read at this point, so I was able to read the names on the presents. There on the bed were two gifts for Cheryl, but only one gift for me.
I immediately began opening my gift. And there it was---the toy of my dreams; Granny and Papa had bought me the car carrier!
Unfortunately, I wasn’t as excited about receiving the toy of my dreams because it was suddenly overshadowed by the fact that Cheryl had received two gifts, while I only received one. Suddenly, receiving the toy that I had been dreaming of for months didn’t seem important to me anymore--all because my sister received one more gift from Granny and Papa than I did.
“Surely, there must be some mistake”, I remember thinking. All sorts of thoughts raced through my mind. “ Why would Granny and Papa do this to me?” “Why would they buy Cheryl two Christmas gifts, but only one for me?” “Did they love Cheryl more than me?” “Did I do something to upset Granny and Papa?”
“Maybe my other present is around here somewhere”, I said to myself. So, I began looking under the bed, in the kitchenette, the bathroom, and even in my grandparents closet. Unfortunately, there was no other Christmas present to be found with my name on it.
By this time, my mother noticed that I was starting to get restless, and frantically looking all over the room for my other gift. “What are you doing, Michael?”, my mother asked.
“I’m looking for my other Christmas present”, I said. “Cheryl’s got two, so I’m looking or my other one.”
“You only got the one”, Granny said.
Now there was no mistaking it--my grandparents did deliberately by Cheryl one more Christmas gift than me. Granny had just confessed to this! But why? This made no sense to me.
So with tears of disappointment in my eyes, my grandmother sat me down on the sofa in the hotel lobby and tried to explain to me that my gift was a little more expensive than the gift that they had purchased for Cheryl. Therefore, to make up for the difference in the price, my grandparents bought Cheryl a second gift. Later on as an adult, I understood why my grandparents did this. For now, there was no explaining to this six-year old boy that his sister had just one-upped him that year in the gift department from Granny and Papa.
What were my grandparents trying to teach me in this important lesson? They were trying to teach me that it is important to be fair whenever you buy your gifts for others. That meant---in this scenario ---that you spend the same amount of money all of the gifts that you purchase for your family members, even if it means buying more gifts for one person than for another. Eventually, I got over my disappointment that my sister had received one more gift than I for Christmas from my grandparents that year, and went on to enjoy that “dream” toy that I had received for as long as the toy remained in tact.
I never really realized how much of an impact this experience had on me and my thought process until I became an adult myself, got a job, and starting earning my own money. Whenever I would buy gifts for people--whether it was birthdays, Christmas, etc.---I found myself feeling the need to spend the exact amount on everyone’s gift that I was buying for. This became especially stressful for me during Christmas. If I spent $50.00 on my brother’s Christmas gift, then I knew that I could only allow myself to spend $50.00 on Cheryl’s gift as well. If I found myself in the position where I ended up spending $75.00 on a gift for Cheryl, I would then have to go back and find something else for my brother for $25.00 to make up this difference. This was also true of any gift purchases of any kind. For example, if I spent $100.00 on Rob and June’s wedding present, then I felt obligated to spend $100.00 on Tom and Marcy’s wedding gift as well.
Does the money that we spend on our loved ones for gifts equal to the amount in which we love that person? I used to think so. That is why whenever I would go shopping for my loved ones, family members, or even that “special girl” that I liked, I always felt the need to spend more for their gifts, even if another store or place had that exact same item for much less. I could never stoop so low as to try to find a bargain--or worse yet--get something used for my family. After all, if I truly “loved” them, then I would show them by the amount that I was spending on their gifts.
Those “special girls” were the same way, maybe even more so. I wouldn’t hesitate to spend boatloads of cash on a girl that I had feelings for. And since I loved them, then only the best would do. How dare I buy Jennifer--my (then) love interest--a cheap piece of jewelry from the K-Mart or the Wal-Mart counter whenever I could show her my love and affection for her by spending more on the exact same item at a jewelry store at the mall? Perfume, a dozen red roses, chocolates--you name it, and I felt as if I had to spend more to “prove” my love.
I am thinking a lot differently now, thanks to the lessons that I learned from taking Financial Peace University at Savannah Christian Church. Thanks to Dave Ramsey’s teachings, I realized that I didn’t have to spend all of my hard earned money trying to prove my love to my family, friends, and even those “special” girls. Although, I will have to admit that old habits still die hard; I still feel the need to spend the same amount of cash on each of my family members. Now, if I decide to find a good deal, I have two choices: I can either give them the gift that I have purchased for them, or I could always buy them something extra with the money that I am now saving. And that is always a good option to have.
So, to answer my own question: does the money we spend on our families, friends, sweethearts, or even acquaintances equal the love that we have for them? In my opinion, not in the least!