The annual bonus. At some point, either you or your partner may find yourselves so rewarded at the end of the year. I still remember my first time. I was at Sun Microsystems, in 1998. Those were the days when dollars dropped from the sky, as the company furnished the server underpinnings of the Internet. After years of frugality enforced by my desire to stay home with my children, I was suddenly and impulsively free to buy something I’d always wanted.
Hence my trusty black and white Chanel jacket.
Was it a wise choice? Surely there were debts to pay. Surely that money invested might have compounded. But I think yes.
- Most of the bonus went to other family expenses.
- The debt to my childhood affection for luxury was pretty steep back then.
- The jacket has made me happy in the wearing.
This year I find myself again with a bonus, for which I am extremely grateful. I do not take these things for granted. I don’t know how, but my parents managed to bring their children up believing that we owe the world a good job, and that no rewards are ours by right.
So how to spend the bonus this year, 15 years older and wiser?
The decision still comes down to debts and generosity, and the interplay of these constructs. We ask, where does duty stop and the gift begin? Are they always in opposition? We ask, is all self-control and future-thinking good? All release and splurging on the moment evil? Few large questions are answered with the word, “All.”
I entertain the idea, as best I can, that some people find great joy in self-restraint for its own sake. Whether it’s an artifact of heritage, or hard-wiring around small motor precision, I don’t know, but I myself require some Dionysus. Imagine the Geico pig in the backseat, shouting, “Whee!” Yeah. That.
So this year first I paid down a chunk of my home equity loan. Wait! Does Dionysus care about mortgages? The ability to remove anxiety about future living and financial security eventually becomes a source of joy rather than an obligation. I’m generously paying for future Lisa’s peace of mind.
A future, older Lisa, that I see more clearly every day.
But of course today’s Lisa wanted something too. A pair of turquoise earrings, from Barneys. The luxury wasn’t the item itself, rather it was allowing myself not to bother with a return when I realized they were small for the price. Spared myself a dutiful value for money calculation.
Then I emailed my kids. “Hey,” I said, “I’m good for a present. Something less than $500. Act now, this will end once I re-retire.” They got right on it. The boy child wanted this coat. I added a sky blue scarf. Dapper, no?
The girl child needs a new bag. I particularly liked this “Rider” bag, from Loeffler Randall. All the ladylike sass of Kate Spade sans show-off logo display. She’s considering.
Was it duty, on my part, giving presents to my children? No, although the parent-child relationship is arguably the most dutiful of all. Whenever I have enough it’s more fun to give, to my children or to other loved ones for that matter, than to myself.
Finally, I said to Significant Other, “Honey, I want to buy you a present.” He considered. His choice? That I pay down more of my HELOC. Now that’s love.
Generous duty is so much better than dutiful generosity. Debts repaid from the heart serve as gifts, even to oneself.
Have a wonderful weekend.
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