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I am a constant source of frustration to my husband.

Unlike most women, I have scant interest in things feminine. Clothes, makeup, jewelry, perfume … they leave me cold. So when it comes to buying me something for a special occasion, my husband is often stumped. (Though I’ve explained that an excellent default present is always a bookstore gift card.)

On normal gift-giving events such as Mother’s Day and birthdays, he’s solved the problem by giving me a big sloppy kiss. I reciprocate on his special occasions. Works for me.

But this strategy becomes awkward when it comes to Christmas, the time of year when you look like a heel unless you’ve placed a present under the tree. So what do you give someone who really doesn’t want the traditional stuff?

Always creative, this year my husband gave me a cow.


Matilda

Yes, really. He gave me a pretty little Jersey cow named Matilda. Technically she doesn’t fit under the tree, of course (imagine the mess). I got her well before Christmas – Nov. 21 to be precise – and she’s a wonderful addition to our farm. She gives between three and four gallons of milk a day. I’m making cheese and butter and yogurt and ice cream like crazy. (My husband doesn’t seem to mind this.)

After 18 years of marriage, Don has accepted the fact that his wife truly would prefer, say, a vacuum cleaner for Christmas rather than diamond earrings. What would I do with diamond earrings except be worried someone would steal them? But a vacuum cleaner is something I’d use every day. And it’s almost guaranteed that no one will want to steal it. (Heck, I have trouble even finding someone else to use it.)

This Christmas we are facing tremendous amounts of uncertainty about the future – not just personally in our home business, but nationally as well. It’s already been shown that people are no longer buying big-screen TVs and diamond earrings with such recklessness.

In the past month, 10 percent of Americans with a mortgage have either fallen behind or are in foreclosure, and it’s estimated that the U.S. is on track for 2.25 million foreclosures this year. Over half a million jobs were lost in November alone. Unemployment stands at 6.7 percent. Doom gloom doom gloom. Welcome to the future.

So what do you give someone for Christmas under the new economy?

Well, how about a cow? Or some canning jars? A chainsaw? A gift card to Goodwill? A clothes-drying rack? A food dehydrator? A gun? A pressure canner? A generator? Some basic tools? A bicycle? A rototiller?

See where I’m going with this? Perhaps it’s time to shift our focus from the frivolous to the practical for our holiday gift-giving.

After all, when the cowpat hits the fan, I’d far rather have my pressure canner and non-hybrid garden seeds than diamond earrings or a big-screen TV. My husband would rather have his hunting rifle than an iPhone.

 

I can hear the arguments now: By not buying luxury or frivolous gifts, we hurt struggling businesses even more, who then lay off employees, which exacerbates the economic downturn, yadda yadda yadda. These are the people who lament the passing of the good old days of wild consumer spending and living beyond one’s means.

Sorry, folks, too late. The state of the national economy is light-years beyond our personal control. There ain’t nothin’ you can do about it – except batten down your personal hatches and hang on for a bumpy ride. Stop putting yourself further into debt buying stuff you don’t need. Start buying useful things that may mean the difference between hardship and comfort in the next few years.

Frugality is now fashionable, and if you want to survive in these uncertain times – both as a consumer and as a business – then you need to shift your focus to accommodate the newly frugal mindset. Take it from us; we know.

While I regret terribly the passing of a more vibrant economy, I cannot regret the dawning realization among Americans that being thrifty is something to be proud of, not ashamed of. Who can argue that greater self-sufficiency is preferable to being another serf to the state?

Some say I’m a doomsayer. Maybe I am. But I prefer to think of myself as an economic Paul Revere, riding my (Jersey cow?) and yelling, “The recession is coming!” Nobody seems to want to see the cracks in the dike, least of all our federal government. We all hear the dire news, but we pretend not to notice anything wrong – perhaps in the touching hope that if we don’t say anything it will all go away.

For millions of people, the recession isn’t going away. These are the people who are already facing bankruptcy, unemployment, reduced retirement savings, foreclosure, or other frightening developments. What good does a big-screen TV or diamond earrings do then, except to earn a few bucks at a pawnshop?

If people are going to spend money and buy gifts during the Christmas season, doesn’t it strike you as sensible to invest (yes, invest) your money in practical gifts that will have a long-term usefulness in the dire times to come?

Thanks to Matilda, we no longer have to buy dairy products at the grocery store. Thanks to our Dexter cattle, we don’t have to buy beef. Thanks to our chickens, we don’t have to buy eggs. Thanks to our garden, we don’t have to buy many vegetables. See where I’m going with this? Matilda and all the other resources we have on our farm are basic and sensible things, far better than a useless pair of diamond earrings sitting in my jewelry box.

Obviously, not everyone can get a cow for Christmas. So what’s your Matilda? What useful, practical items would make dandy presents in your particular circumstances? What kind of creative Christmas gifts could be placed under your tree?

Think about it. The answer could be very important in the next few years.


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