You’re going home for Thanksgiving and it’s time you started to view this excursion as a money-making opportunity for the starving student. There are a few simple ways to assure that you leave with a wallet as full as your belly, so pay attention to these simple steps to financial success:
1. Bring Gifts.
Whether you’re a freshman in college or a 30-something grad student slinking home for the pie, bring gifts for the people most likely to fund your departure. Especially the cook. And remember that it’s the thought that counts (nobody really wants the gift). A coffee mug from the school bookstore for Dad, a plush school mascot for little Susie, an 8×10 picture of yourself for grandma and some beef jerky from the rest stop for cousin Bubba. All the better if you can charge it to mom and dad via the school account or the “emergency” credit card. Abide by basic gift-giving protocol: DON’T re-gift and DO wrap. And, be sure to make a big production out of handing out your bounty…moms like an audience when their children appreciate them.
2. Stuff the Bird.
Get up early on Thanksgiving morning and offer to help with the cooking. By early, I mean no later than 9:00am (no one said this would be painless). The cook is miserable on the big day and will be muttering about the ungrateful members of the family when you walk in. Imagine her surprise at your offer to help! Forget that you’re useless with a paring knife, don’t know your rutabagas from your Brussels sprouts, and couldn’t find the cavity of a turkey with a GPS. You’ve just earned the undying gratitude of an exhausted, soon-to-be-drunk, menopausal woman. There is nothing she will deny you after you’ve buttered her bird. Ewww. That sounded kind gross, but you catch my drift.
3. Dress for the Occasion.
Thanksgiving is the one day in the year when fashion doesn’t matter. It’s your family. Pretty much everyone stopped caring circa 1990. The majority of your blood relatives will be wearing elastic pants in anticipation of the 17 pies, and any guests will be two bourbons in by the time you make your entrance. So, pull on the fuzzy, pink macramé sweater with sequins that Nana gave you last Christmas, or the hand-knitted, rainbow elf slippers from Aunt Evelyn, or the reversible, mallard-covered, quilted vest from Uncle Larry (?!) and act like you LOVE them. Cha-ching! You’re earning gas money from the happy gifters every minute you’re in them. (And don’t worry about what your teenage sister says…it’s her allowance they’ll be forking over when you leave.)
4. Start a Tradition.
Do you think anyone really looks forward to the green bean casserole and half-hearted rounds of “I’m grateful for . . . .” each year? Spice it up and endear yourself to the crowd by suggesting a family walk (no one will go, but big points for the idea), teach the room a drinking game (they’ll either be grateful or horrified, but definitely entertained), whip up a holiday scavenger hunt (that mallard vest can be the prize), or rope Aunt Edna into singing the National Anthem (c’mon, it’s more entertaining than doing the dishes). Doesn’t much matter what you do, just announce that you are “STARTING A NEW THANKSGIVING TRADITION” and, bingo, you’ve gone from being the grumpy, 20-something slacker to Willy Wonka for an afternoon. And who doesn’t love Willy Wonka?
5. Put the phone away.
Unless you are taking pictures of the meal, table, clothes, and post-meal activities to post on Facebook so you can gleefully boast that you have the BEST FAMILY EVER.) Better yet, suggest (loudly) to someone else that he or she should put his/her phone away and “enjoy family time, for once.” That’s right, seize the moral high ground before anyone else can plant a flag. Just watch the warm glow spread across Mom’s face.
6. Do NOT ask for cash.
I know, this sounds counterintuitive, but it’s been said that if you ask for money, you get advice. And if you ask for advice, you get . . . that’s right, dinero! So, as you’re heading out the door for your Black Friday binge, look pitifully at Dad and ask his advice about how to afford a really nice Christmas gift for Mom, because “she deserves it this year.” Or, wonder aloud (in close proximity Bubbe) how you will be able to afford “a Chanukah gift for Ben that really tells him how much I care.” Don’t stop there. Ponder your low cash reserve, and how it’s cramping your dating options, in front of Gramps. He’s sure to slip you a twenty. Mutter about not being able to afford fresh fruit near Mom and watch her shell over $17.50 in quarters (good for the school laundry). NOBODY wants to be asked for money, but EVERYBODY wants to give you their 2 cents (or more!).
7. Be grateful.
No matter how the weekend turns out, declare robustly, as you open the front door to depart, that this was “THE BEST THANKSGIVING EVER!” Either it was, in which case you’re not lying. Or it wasn’t, in which case . . . you better get a jump on Christmas!