Thursday, December 9, 2010

A wiff of Cranberry and a battered bank account

Found this on "We the Savers Website".  Wish I wrote it, but did not.  What are your thoughts to this article?

The Holidays are a funny thing. It’s the time of the year when my desire to save and my compulsion to spend come to a knock-down, drag-out royal rumble. And when the smoke clears, there’s nothing left but a faint whiff of cranberry and a battered bank account.
Making the merry is pricey. Especially if you want to do things right. That means a real tree. And why not buy the big one? It’s only 20 bucks more. Oh, they sell real wreaths too? Better pick one up for the door. Yeah, you’re right. Both doors. Oh, the lights don’t work anymore. Better buy some new ones. What’s this? Inflatable Santas?!? Riding motorcycles?!? I’ll take two!
And that’s just dressing up the house. That doesn’t include traveling back east to visit family, all of the extra food bought for the various get-togethers, holiday pictures of the kids, and of course, the presents.
Oh, the presents.
When you have a kid, I think a blast email goes out to every toy company in America that says “send your catalogs to this address in a never-ending barrage of consumerism.” It’s pretty ceaseless year-round, but during the holidays, the number of and consistency with which catalogs hit our door climbs to epic proportions. Whole forests are in my recycling bin right now.
And my kids eat it up. My three-year old will quietly sit on the couch, studying a toy catalogue as though she was studying for the Bar Exam. I’ve never seen such grim determination in a little kid as she slowly devours an entire section of Barbie toys with her eyes. Ask her what she wants, and she points in the catalog and says “This, this, this, this, this, this, this, this…” — times infinity.
My wife and I are no better. It’s not that we want a lot of things. It’s that the things we want are really, really expensive. You know it’s bad when the least expensive thing on your wish list is a new iPhone (me) or a KitchenAid mixer (her). Needless to say, I don’t think a laptop or a motorcycle will be under the tree for me this year.
And of course, this year, the holidays are a little wonky. As I mentioned previously, we’re having a third kid. This addition, while welcome, will make our current car and housing situation obsolete. So the house is on the market, and a new car is on the horizon. I talked to my wife about not buying each other anything and the new car being “a Christmas present to each other,” to which she replied, “Okay…but I still want stuff under the tree.”
But if I’m honest with myself, I really want stuff under the tree, too.
So, we’re back to square one. Happy faces, and our bank account takes a flying elbow from the top rope to the face. We’ll do what we can, not using our credit cards (or paying them off immediately), not dipping into emergency funds, trying our damndest to stick to a budget (ha!), but the sad simple truth is that to get full of Holiday Spirit in November and December, you’d better be prepared to live off of Debt Ramen Noodles in January and February.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Confessions of a bartender, part II

It's Christmas party season at the golf course.  Corporations, small businesses, and large families take advantage of the holiday decorated banquet room to hold celebrations, enjoy good company as well as fine dining and drinks.  The festive atmosphere is contagious, even the bartenders get into the holiday spirit.

For the past several years the Lenzen Chevrolet auto dealership out of Chaska has held their annual Christmas party at the Ridges at Sand Creek golf course in Jordan.  This Christmas party, in particular, has become one of my favorite events to bartend.  It has become so, because of one man.

John Lenzen. 

To describe John I have to tell the story of my first experience bartending the Lenzen Christmas party.  The party traditionally takes place the first Saturday in December.  When I enter the banquet room I notice outdoor inflatable decorations dotted around the hall, Christmas trees, a table full of sporting event tickets, TV's and other prizes.  Then at each table setting there is a bag of gourmet coffee.  All these are gifts for the Lenzen employees.

At 6 o'clock the employees start to filter in and order a few drinks (which are paid for by their employer).  Mr. Lenzen comes up to the bar and orders a 5-Star Brandy and water - tall.  I pour the drink, set it in front of him and I receive a hearty thank you and a $20 bill in the tip jar.  This is a very unusual surprise, as most of the people so far have tipped very little.

"This guy is pretty generous." I reply to Scott, my colleague bartender. 

"Yeah, he ordered a drink earlier and did the same thing," says Scott.

As the employees are mingling with Christmas music in the background the chefs start to bring out a Christmas feast.  Ceasar salad, pasta salad, baked potatoes, scalloped cheesy potatoes, wild rice, green beans, seasoned chicken, barbeque ribs, and prime rib.  Never has any event, in the history of the golf course resulted in such a large spread of delicious, mouth watering food.  Oh did I mention there were appetizers beforehand and dessert after?   There was.  This cuisine doesn't come cheap.

Then, at the end of the night John surprised all of us again.  He tipped each golf course employee $50.  Not just the bartenders, but the chefs, the dishwasher, the manager, and the teenage bus staff each received a $50 bill.

Have you ever heard the phrase, "Live like no one else, so you can give like no one else?"  John Lenzen personifies that phrase.  He gives like no one else.  I can't help but want to be able to give like he does.  

I think we have it backwards here.  We think of the rich as cheap, lying, arrogant bastards that have screwed the little guy on their way to the top.  Yes, there are rich people who are like that, but I choose to believe those are in the minority.  I think you would find most millionaires are like John Lenzen.  They are hardworking, honest, and treat people with respect. 

I also like to think that God blesses those who spend their money wisely.  He blesses those who know that the money isn't theirs, but HIS.  They tithe 10%, they don't buy things they don't need.  When they give and you are the recipient, you are blown away.

This December I did not work the Lenzen Christmas party, but I did work in the building on the same night.  John came up to the bar, and tipped me $40.  I told him he was the most generous guy I have ever met.  He said that in his 33 years of owning a car dealership, he has only been in the red one month.  One month.  John went on to say, "I treat the customer right, I expect a lot from my employees, and I give back to the community.  I've been blessed.  Some people, they take from the community, those people don't last long."