I’ve had a horrible year. I had my hours cut back at work, my rent went up for the first time in two years (by 15%, if you can believe that) and I broke up with my girlfriend. I’ve no one to go on vacation with now, which is probably just as well because I can’t afford to take a holiday this year. I work in retail, and I’m worried about retirement, making my rent and building a nest egg. I have very little money set aside for a rainy day, and it feels like the rest of the world has no problems while mine just appear to be getting worse.
During the lockdown, I went on a shopping spree on eBay
and I have a closet full of shoes and sports jackets that I don’t like and have little opportunity to wear. That brings me to Halloween. I just can’t do it. I have not been invited to any parties, and the prospect of opening my door to a bunch of happy kids screaming “trick or treat!” does not fill me with the spirit of the holiday season.
I can’t afford to buy candy for the neighborhood kids. It would be another $100 gone! I’m considering instituting a “black out” for Halloween night.
Does that make me a scrooge or a bad neighbor?
Not Feeling the Holiday Spirit
Dear Not Feeling It,
There’s nothing spookier than a credit card that’s overdrawn, or a bank account that’s rapidly running out of funds. Of course, take care of yourself first and foremost — and spending $100 is an extravagant and unnecessary expense. Perhaps there is an opportunity to use this moment to take back the power over your finances. Here are some strategies to help you do that.
You’re under no obligation to splurge on $100 candy this Halloween, especially if you are worrying about how you’re going to pay for your next grocery bill or rent check. But I urge you to carefully consider opting out completely. Samhain is originally an Irish pagan holiday that marked the beginning of harvest, and the start of shorter days. As the Irish emigrated to the U.S., it morphed into Halloween, a night for kids and adults to dress up and be someone else for a day.
It allows people to let loose, shake off their cares, and be someone or something else for a few hours. It also gives us permission to have fun with costumes and interact with the world in a different way for an evening. How often I’ve seen a typically reserved person suddenly come out of their shell behind a mask or ghoulish makeup. Halloween enables you to step out of yourself and your own perception of yourself, and the world’s perception of you, for a little while.
My point is twofold: (i) If ever there was a time to forget your troubles and shake off your cares, this is it. You may not get another chance this side of New Year. An hour giving a judicious amount of candy to kids and to interact with them and see how proud they are when you guess who they’re supposed to be could be worth a lot in terms of putting your own life in perspective. And (ii) The candy is just a symptom of your anxieties around your own financial circumstances.
“‘Think about clearing out your wardrobe of unused items. If you do that, you may feel freer to buy fruit and candy. Kids just want someone to open the door and marvel at their costumes. ‘”
You’re not wrong about candy prices. The price of candy and chewing gum rose by more than 13% year-over-year in September, the highest increase on record, according to the latest figures by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. To illustrate just how big a rise that represents: It took nine years, from December 1997 to December 2006, for candy and chewing gum prices to increase by that amount. That outpaces the current rate of inflation (8.2% in September.)
Millions of renters spend more than the recommended 30% of their income writing checks to their landlords. Rents have been rising post-pandemic, as more people have been locked out of the housing market due to higher interest rates and rising prices. In fact, a delegation of tenant leaders set out to Washington, D.C. last summer to campaign for a variety of measures, including a national landlord registry for better accountability and caps on rent hikes.
Which brings me to your current conflict. Isolating yourself is rarely, if ever, a mental-health solution when feeling down in the dumps, so I urge you to do something, even if it’s only for one hour. How much money could you earn by selling some of the loot you bought during the early days of the pandemic — $100 for a sports jacket that was never worn? Think about clearing out your wardrobe of unused items. If you do that, you may feel freer to buy fruit and candy.
Growing up in the 1980s in Ireland, we got 99% peanuts or “monkey nuts” and 1% candy! People didn’t have money or sweets to throw around, even on Halloween night and, as I’ve said before, it wasn’t a time to wander around in a balaclava or an army uniform. But we bobbed for apples and grumbled at the ratio of nuts to candy. Looking back on it, that question of “How much of your swag was taken up by those horrible monkey nuts?” was part of the fun.
Kids just want someone to open the door and marvel at their costumes. They’re not counting the candy. They may compare their swag at the end of the night, but they’re not judging each house based on what they get. You can ask them to open their bags and throw in a couple of sweets with an apple. Sure, they want candy. But they’ll get plenty of that. What they really want is excitement. Ultimately, all those kids running around your neighborhood just want to be seen.
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