Around the bend: Can’t teach an old Santa new tricks

For couples with conflicting spending habits, the end of the Christmas shopping season always comes as a relief.
With these couples, one partner dislikes shopping and hates to waste money on overpriced gifts. This person declares solemnly, “Christmas isn’t about presents; it’s about family spending time together.”
That’s a lie, of course. But for people like me, who get chest pains at the thought of paying $119.95 for a set of Legos that will fit in a shoebox, it’s all we have.
The other partner is a profligate spender who shops eagerly and without reservation, convinced that money equals love and that if there is so much as a quarter left in the bank account on Dec. 26, Christmas was a flop. That would be my husband, Mark.
My girlfriends envy the way he showers me with outlandish presents. Unfortunately, I’m so averse to the thought of money being spent unnecessarily I don’t know how to show my appreciation. Apparently, when a man buys you diamonds, you’re supposed to squeal and throw your arms around his neck, not recoil in horror and say, “What on earth is the matter with you?”
But to Mark it’s not Christmas without at least one major purchase, and each year the gifts get larger. At the current rate, by 2015 I fully expect him to buy me an NFL team. Sweet, but as I have already warned him, we don’t have the closet space.
My reluctance to part with money takes a lot of the fun out our annual Christmas shopping trip, the whole purpose of which is to part with money. Since that is one of Mark’s favorite pastimes, this year I asked him to do the shopping alone.
I made three requests: (1) Promise not to buy me any precious gems or professional sports teams; (2) don’t get anything for the kids that is too big to store out of sight (such as the regulation-size air hockey table we now use as a sideboard) or so pricey that I would have a breakdown if they lost or spilled Pepsi on it; and, above all, (3) do not tell me, under any circumstances, how much you spent. I can’t handle the truth.
It worked. Not only was I spared the chore of slogging through that echo chamber of consumer hell other people refer to as “the mall,” but I was able to pretend Christmas didn’t cost anything. Best of all, Mark picked out great gifts for the kids and me, gifts that were surprisingly practical and reasonably priced. He showed remarkable restraint.
But it didn’t last.
The day after Christmas, two events coincided. First, Mark confessed guiltily that he had come in well under budget, leaving us with a substantial chunk of Christmas money in the bank. I assured him this was nothing to be ashamed of, but to him it was proof he had failed his family.
Second, we went to my sister-in-law’s house for dinner. She owns a certain awesome video game system, and when Mark saw her family jumping around the living room, shouting and laughing and having fun together, I knew it would only be a matter of days — hours even — before he figured out how to free us from the burden of leftover Christmas money.
I was wrong: It took only minutes.
The poor man, who had kept his free-spending ways under control for weeks, snapped. To give his family a proper Christmas, he had to get us our own awesome video game system immediately.
“But Christmas isn’t about presents,” I lied, as he ran out to the car. As he pulled out of the driveway, I shouted after him, “At least ask if they have refurbished systems! Check for pre-owned games!”
It was no good. He came home hours later, glowing with Christmas cheer, clutching the newest and most expensive system available. We were broke, and Christmas was saved.
It’s all right. I’ve accepted that Mark and I are never going to be able to reconcile our Christmas spending styles. Instead of dwelling on it, I’m focusing on areas where we’re compatible.
New Year’s Eve is almost here, and that’s one celebration we totally agree on: No matter what, we’re staying up until the ball drops or the clock strikes 10, whichever comes first.

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