With September mere days away, it’s time to start thinking of Christmas.
*Wince* OK, don’t kill me! I’m only kidding!
But it is true that the Irish Mamas are already preparing, and have done for months. This current recession may be recent, but these sharp Irish Mamas have known how to stretch budgets for generations! One big way you hear about around these parts is the time-honoured Penny Bank.
I have never seen people be so faithful about saving money all year long as they are with their Penny Bank. It’s a service provided by the local Augustinian Church – drop a few bob in every week, and collect your lump sum in November. The trick is that you can’t get the money out, no matter how much you may want to – you have to wait. It’s a great system. Frank’s mam got me started on it a few years back, and while I was never as dedicated in my contributions, I found it very helpful come Christmas. Even if I got in the habit of adding in 10 euro here or there, it really added up, and it was totally out of sight, out of mind until November. The Penny Bank seems to be a Drogheda institution, at least I’ve never heard of it being done anywhere else. According to a 2008 article from the Drogheda Independent, an estimated 10,000 locals take part! It’s a great benefit to the church, as well, which uses the interest earned in their parish budget.
Round about now, you’ll also start seeing signs go up in the shops for “Christmas Clubs.” This is the same idea as a Penny Bank, but more on a sort of Layaway system. If you know you’re going to spend some serious money in a particular place, even if you don’t know exactly WHAT you’ll be buying, you can start putting money away to spend in the shop at Christmas. I actually do this through Tesco – every time I shop there, I accrue points that will give me vouchers. I can get the vouchers four times a year or all at once for Christmas. I can even put extra cash into my eventual voucher stash so I’ll have a bigger lump sum. Last year I used the money I had saved to buy all my Christmas baking supplies and treats. Right now I think I’m up to about 17 euro, but I’ll be putting some more by soon. As they say in the Tesco ads, “Every little helps!” So true.
Another brilliant, and national, way people save money here is through their local Credit Unions. Instead of going to a bank for a loan, many people will instead seek help from the Credit Union. I believe you have to open a savings account first and prove you can be responsible with money. But once you’ve been a member for a while, you can take out a loan for any amount of good reasons, from family vacations to home extensions to art projects. The key here is that you’re required to pay a bit back every week, and in that payment, a portion is also put into savings. When your loan is cleared, you’re also given a great bonus in that you have a pile of savings you’re now free to use! Credit Unions also tend to be more approachable and personal than some of the big banks, and you see a wide spectrum of people using the services offered there.
The Irish have funny little ways with money, I’ve found. They can be quite stingy if they feel you’re overcharging them, but they’re also incredibly generous. On an average day, there are probably half a dozen different organizations on the street with buckets, collecting change for charity… Irish Cancer Society, Autism Society, Wheelchair Association, Lung Association, Heart Foundation, football clubs, rehab institutions, hospitals… and most people stop to give change. You know how well the Salvation Army bell-ringers do at Christmas in the States? Imagine that all the time.
Irish folks are quite generous with gifts as well. Perhaps when Christmas comes around they feel like they have to spend all the money they saved!?! Weddings, Christenings, Confirmations and First Communions are also occasions when your friends and family dish out the cash. Where in America we tend to register for gifts and people always pick the cheapest ones first (come on, you know you do), here people skip the gift and just give a nice wad of money. Always appreciated! Even if you’re just going out for a birthday dinner or a congratulatory drink, a lot of people around here will bring you a little box of chocolates or a nice bottle of bubbly. Our neighbour goes so far as to buy Evelyn a little outfit every time their dog breaks into our yard! So unnecessary! But very sweet!
Maybe all the lovely Paddys are giving people because they secretly belive it will come back to them in the end. How, you ask?
We all faithfully play the Lotto! Again, something I never did in the USA, but seems second nature here. And tonight it’s heading for 4.5 million.
As the old song goes:
Although we have no silver spoon
Better days are coming soon
Your sister’s working at the loom
And she gets her pay on Friday
Perhaps one day we’ll make a splash
When Irish Sweeps provides the cash
We’ll get a house that’s oh-so-posh
And buy your da a brewery